Recognizing excellence in undergraduate research

August 29, 2018

by Danielle Colburn

Each year, the library’s Undergraduate Research Awards recognize the work of undergraduate students who have demonstrated excellence in library research. Undergraduate students from any U-M campus can participate, and can apply with projects in any format or medium.

In the past, the library has given awards in two categories: the Maize Award, for single term projects, and the Blue Award, for multi-term projects. This year saw the addition of the Outstanding First-Year Research Project Award and the Innovation in Research and Creativity Award.

The students awarded work on vastly different topics, and the resources they find and use span some of the most unknown corners of the library. Scouring the books, whether they’re rows deep in the stacks or shelved offsite, is daunting, and award-winners credit their success in finding what they need to the help of library staff.

Asking a librarian

Lucas Maiman, winner of the first place Maize Award for his research paper,  A History of the Media's Agenda Setting and Framing Effects on Opioid Policymaking and Public Opinion wishes he had worked with staff earlier. At first, he only talked to the staff to ask where or how to find a specific book or journal. As his research progressed, he relied on librarians “for their invaluable advice and expertise on the library's resources.” For example, Catherine Morse — Government Information, Law, and Political Science Librarian — directed Maiman to the Library’s guide on public opinion polling and historical news.

Winner of the Maize Award Global Award Alexandra Paradowski had an especially challenging task when it came to finding which resources would best serve her research paper, Wiwat Konstytucja! Niech nas uczy nadal, an analysis of Poland’s constitution. Her source materials were almost entirely from a different country, and written in another language. She relied heavily on Ask A Librarian to find primary sources, Polish archives, and microform copies of newspapers. Paradowski also learned  how to use a microform reader, which she’s sure will help in the future. “I was honestly surprised at the extent of microform collections U-M boasts — not only was I able to find copies of the newspapers I needed, I also found a lot of microfilm documents that I know for a fact I will utilize later on in various projects throughout my undergraduate (and maybe even graduate!) career.”

The researchers made use of both general and specialized library resources. Alison Burnell, winner of the very first Innovation in Research and Creativity Award, “attended several library sessions and workshops with various classes throughout my undergraduate career at the university.” These workshops taught her to use sites such as JSTOR, U-M Library Search, ProQuest, and more.She spoke with Cinda Nofziger, archivist for academic programs and outreach at the Bentley Historical Library, “to discuss how to efficiently search through the collections within the Bentley, as well as to narrow [her] focus and research more specific aspects of the Great Lakes’ history.”

Looking forward

The skills students learn as they tackle their research projects are ones that they will carry into the future. “Besides learning how to find obscure historical sources, how to navigate the maze that is the North Stacks at the Hatcher and how to use a microfilm reader,” Paradowsi said, “I also learned how to approach such a large project productively and efficiently — all of which will help me with assignments in the future.”

Noah McCarthy, winner of the first place Blue Award for his honors thesis Gerald Ford, Human Rights, and the American Presidency, also spoke about his future. “What I learned in my research will guide me as a writer, scholar, and human being for the rest of my life. The direct process of bibliographic research has led me to my current position as a bibliographic research assistant with the ICPSR [Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research]. This meticulous and rigorous process has also prepared me for graduate school, where I will conduct similar projects. Moreover, the experience by which I allowed my assumptions to evolve and worked beyond predetermined conceptions of my topic left me with a more open-minded, nuanced mindset that will stick with me in all aspects of my life.” McCarthy worked with resources from the Gerald R. Ford Library, the presidential library located on North Campus.


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Last modified: 01/24/2019