Montana State University

New director on board for MSU Undergraduate Scholars Program

May 29, 2002 -- Brenda McDonald


Professor Steve Holmgren   High-Res Available

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Bozeman -- Thinking about things no one has thought about before is how Montana State University chemistry professor Steve Holmgren describes science.

He's hoping to infuse that thinking into his additional role as interim director of the MSU Undergraduate Scholars Program (USP) as he works to get the program more widely known on campus.

USP is designed to encourage, facilitate and support undergraduate research in collaboration with faculty members.

"The key value of the program is that it allows students to see what it really means to be a scholar in their chosen field," he said. "They get to be involved in state of the art, cutting edge research and that's a priceless experience."

"Today's job market is looking for that kind of experience and plus it gives students a better sense of what they want to do with their career."

The research encouraged by the USP is any scholarly or creative activity ranging from traditional scientific experimentation to the creation of new artistic works. USP supports student research by awarding grants and/or academic credit. The projects can stem from a faculty mentor's research or can be developed from the student's original ideas.

Past projects have looked at aiding the treatment of cystic fibrosis, designing an experimental space vehicle, genetic coding and the evolutionary history of dinosaurs. Research awards are made three times a year and students can reapply to the program for a maximum funding of $3,000.

Students who participate in the program are typically in their sophomore or junior year. "But highly motivated freshman can apply to the program," he said.

Students participating in research, Holmgren says, come to realize that it's not some guy stuck in a lab all day by himself. "Doing research is a very social, dynamic and collaborative process. You don't have to be a pinnacle of knowledge all by yourself."

He hopes to locate funding opportunities that will allow MSU to expand the program. "We have 33 applications for USP this summer and we'll probably be able to fund most, but not all of them."

Holmgren came to MSU in 1999 from the University of California at Irvine and currently teaches a variety of chemistry classes.

"Teaching is what wakes me up in the morning and gets me going. I say 'cool, I get to go to work.'" Since arriving on campus he's been a vocal advocate of undergraduate education. "Everything I do is to improve the undergraduate experience," he said. "It's such an exciting time for them. They're struggling with what they want to do with their lives."

Students appreciate his interest as well. "He encouraged me to continue to work at a subject that was a true challenge for me in the beginning. This mindset that Steve instilled in me has led to success in my other college courses," noted student Ashley Morlock in naming Holmgren as her teacher mentor for Awards for Excellence this year.

He takes a serious interest as well in recruiting students to MSU as he dazzles prospective students and their parents with the wonders of chemistry during campus visits.

Holmgren grew up in Glenwood, Minn. and graduated with a degree in chemistry from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. and received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His is married to fellow MSU chemistry professor Mary Cloninger and they have two children.

More information on the Undergraduate Scholars Program is available from the USP Web site at www.montana.edu/usp or by calling 994-2374.

The USP program is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, MSU National Science Foundation-EPSCOR Program and the Montana Space Grant Consortium.

For more information contact Steve Holmgren (406) 994-5393