Dr. Nathan Elkins and Dr. Tamarah Adair have been appointed director and assistant director of URSA, Baylor’s popular undergraduate research program.
Contact: Whitney Richter, Director of Marketing and Communications, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 254-710-7539
Written by: Gary Stokes, Office of the Vice Provost for Research
WACO, Texas (September 7, 2018) – The Baylor Office of the Vice Provost for Research has announced the appointment of two veteran researchers, Dr. Nathan Elkins and Dr. Tamarah Adair, as director and assistant director of the university’s successful Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement—URSA—program.
Elkins is associate professor of art history and a recognized authority in Greek and Roman art and archaeology. His primary research areas and expertise include Roman art and archaeology, coinage and coin iconography, topography and architecture, sport and spectacle, and the illicit antiquities trade. A member of the URSA steering committee, Elkins is an enthusiastic advocate for undergraduate research. In 2014, he received URSA’s Mentor of the Year award. In accepting the URSA director position, Elkins recalls how undergraduate research influenced his career path.
"When the position of Director of URSA became available, I felt I should apply because I value undergraduate research," he said. "The reason I push research experiences and participation in undergraduate and national conferences to my students, and mentor the honors theses of promising students is because I was similarly mentored as an undergraduate at the University of Evansville. . . . [My advising professor] suggested courses and language not on the degree plan to best position me to be competitive, and encouraged me to develop novel research projects and to present at multiple conferences during my time as an undergraduate. These experiences contributed greatly to my preparedness for graduate work, even providing some advantages in graduate school, and still impact my drive to conduct high-level research today."
Tamarah Adair, senior lecturer in biology, conducts research in microbiology and genomics, and most recently has focused on developing research-based curriculum for introductory biology labs. As director of "The SEA-Phage Lab," an undergraduate research program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Science Education Alliance, she has mentored students who have discovered over 100 bacteriophages and published annotations of the genomes of both arthrobacteriophages and mycobacteriophages. In addition to also serving on the URSA steering committee, Adair is faculty co-sponsor of the Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology (BURST) program. She sees undergraduate research as a way to amplify learning.
"My investment in undergraduate research is based on the overwhelming evidence that it enhances the learning experience of students. Beyond developing research skills, students learn the nature of critical thinking best while participating in authentic research experiences. My involvement, as well as many comparison studies, confirm that students that develop questions, take ownership of their projects, work collaboratively, and communicate their findings to others, develop a love for independent learning and demonstrate gains in behaviors and attitudes essential for success in professional fields," Adair said, adding, "It is a win-win situation and well worth the investment."
URSA was founded in 2007 to spur interest in research among undergraduates. The program awards competitive grants to faculty members to be used to support undergraduate students’ research and scholarship projects under their mentorship. Each spring the students present their findings via poster and platform presentations during a week-long showcase event known as Scholars Week. In 2018, 450 students representing more than 30 academic departments made presentations of URSA-sponsored projects during Scholars Week.
As he takes on the role of URSA director, Elkins is quick to credit URSA founding director Dr. Susan Bratton—now conducting research out of state—with the program’s growth and success, saying, "I have profound respect for Susan Bratton for all that she did to build URSA and to make it the resource and presence it is on campus today. I look forward to working with [Dr. Adair] to continue to enhance URSA’s programs and to increase faculty and student involvement on campus. In particular, I plan to develop ways to increase participation of the humanities and fine arts in both Scholars Week and in the grant programs."
Baylor Vice Provost for Research, Dr. Truell W. Hyde, applauds the appointments and anticipates a smooth transition and continued success under the new leadership team.
"The opportunity to experience genuine research as an undergraduate has a greater positive effect on a student’s success than anything else I know. URSA provides this opportunity," Hyde said. "[Dr. Elkins and Dr. Adair] are as devoted to teaching as they are to research—URSA’s future couldn’t be in better hands."