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Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

Undergraduate Research Magazine

Website Update

Overview of Undergraduate Research in the College of Science and Mathematics

William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innocation renderingRendering of the William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation (ZGF Architects).

The Limitless Future of Learn by Doing

APRIL 2023
by rachel henry

When students engage in undergraduate research in Cal Poly’s College of Science and Mathematics, there is no final frontier. Student researchers’ greatest discoveries are the excitement of exploration, the freedom to ask questions no one has asked before and the confidence gained from overcoming obstacles and creating new knowledge.

Through this immersive, hands-on learning, students make a genuine impact on the local community, California and the world. Working with faculty mentors, biology and chemistry students team up to tackle climate resilience; kinesiology researchers collaborate to solve human and public health challenges; future elementary school science educators make STEM more inclusive; physics students help reveal the formation of the universe; and fledgling mathematicians and statisticians enhance studies in all fields with critical data and analysis.

“These students are engaged in top-notch, high level research,” said Dean Wendt, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “They’re working on and solving really meaningful problems. They’re making the  kinds of contributions that scientists and mathematicians make throughout their careers, and they’re doing it as undergraduates.”

This magazine celebrates student learning and achievement through research. Though non-scholarly publications focused on undergraduate research are rare — student researchers and their faculty mentors in the college have  earned their own forum through the contributions they make.

Graduate and undergraduate students with chemistry and biochemistry Professor Leslie Hamachi in the Behr Process Polymer Synthesis Laboratory.

As participants in one of the premier undergraduate research programs in the country, Cal Poly science, math and education students enjoy transformative opportunities and resources not typically available to undergraduates. From working side-by-side with faculty members to presenting their findings at professional conferences, students engage in research as a core Learn by Doing experience.

“The lessons I learned from my undergraduate research experiences at Cal Poly put me ahead of the curve when I entered a doctoral program,” said Karoline Eckhart, a former recipient of a Frost scholarship who graduated with a biochemistry degree in 2017. “I joined a lab at Carnegie Mellon University and was able to immediately start productive research with a high level of independence. My advisor noted that I was her ‘most-efficient graduate student.’”

Thanks to a transformational gift from Bill (Chemistry, ’73) and Linda Frost, the college’s financial investment in undergraduate research is substantial at $4 million annually. Of that, $1.4 million is paid directly to undergraduate students working with faculty mentors. While research opportunities were limited when Bill Frost was at Cal Poly, now they are abundant.

The results of this investment are striking. Within a relatively short time, the volume of undergraduate research within the college has dramatically increased. More than 1,200 undergraduate students — over half the college’s student body — engage in real-world discovery and innovation through research each year. This uniquely powerful form of learning begins early with the majority of students in the college joining a research lab in their first year.

Undergraduates participate in the research process from start to finish, posing questions through publication. More than half of the professional papers published in the college during the last two years were co- authored by undergraduates with 406 student coauthors on 298 papers.

The level of engagement of our undergraduates in the scientific process is exceptional.

Dean E. Wendt

Dean, College of Science and Mathematics

“The level of engagement of our undergraduates in the scientific
process is exceptional,” Wendt said. “They’re asking questions. They’re designing their approach. They’re conducting the experiments and analyzing data. They're publishing and presenting their results. They're owning the entire process.”

Outstanding research needs outstanding facilities. The William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation will open on campus this spring. Largely funded by private donations, the 102,000-square-foot building provides 13 new labs for the college as well as teaching and research space for the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. In the new space, undergraduates will delve into questions in areas as diverse as particle physics, cell therapy and weight-loss maintenance.

The Frost Fund has secured the financial foundation of the undergraduate research program for generations to come, ensuring that students will continue to work with state-of-the-art equipment and receive research stipends.

“There’s no way to fully express the importance of the Frosts’ gift in helping us realize this transformational expansion of Learn by Doing,” Wendt said. “The Frost Center is a significant and essential increase of the  space dedicated to supporting undergraduate research. It’s so powerful to have small groups of students working with faculty mentors, and having state-of-the art equipment is also essential. The Frosts’ generosity has guaranteed all of these resources for the future.”

Bill Frost attributes much of his professional success to his student research experiences at Cal Poly, and so student learning and success lie at the heart of the Frosts’ gift and are the main focus of the undergraduate research program.

Student researchers discover so much more than new information about how galaxies form or how to develop ecologically friendly adhesives. They learn how to approach and analyze situations no one has encountered before, how to propose and develop solutions, and how to persevere in the face of setbacks. They explore and succeed, lessons that will take them far beyond Cal Poly.

Student success in the College of Science and Mathematics goes beyond the classroom into the field, into the ocean, into the genetic code, into the unknown. Undergraduate researchers are writing the future of scientific discovery – and their own future – from San Luis Obispo to South Africa, and that’s a story that deserves to be told.


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