Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Man in front of research poster

Every semester our faculty offer opportunities for undergraduate students to work in their labs and participate in research or practical experiences. These are perfect opportunities for students to learn useful skills that will prepare them for graduate school and jobs.

Below are descriptions of projects available in Summer and Fall 2020 and Spring 2021.* (updated 3/11/20)

  • Abriendo Caminos: Clearing the Path to Hispanic Health Lab
  • Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab
  • African American Family (AAFam) Stress and Resiliency Lab
  • Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence
  • Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) Lab
  • Humans in Nature Project
  • Minority Capacity in Rural Communities Project
  • Parental Leave and Family and Work Outcomes
  • Stress and Coping in Farm Families
  • STRONG Kids Program
  • The Autism Program (TAP)
  • Youth Character Development in Outward Bound Research Project

*This list may not be exhaustive. If you are interested in working with a specific faculty member/project not listed here, contact the individual faculty member to discuss any opportunities.

Abriendo Caminos: Clearing the Path to Hispanic Health Lab

Research has shown that people of Hispanic heritage living in the U.S. are at a heightened risk of obesity and obesity-related health threats. Therefore, a need for affordable, practical interventions exists. This project, seeks to develop an effective, low-cost obesity prevention program (available in both Spanish and English) that can be disseminated by educators and community agencies across the U.S. Ultimately, the project has workshops in a community-based environment to significantly increase basic knowledge of nutrition and dietary health with the immediate beneficiaries being Hispanic-heritage families and their children (ages 6- to 18-years-old).

The Abriendo Caminos Project seeks undergraduate research assistants (RAs) that are motivated and excited to serve Hispanic families and are interested in health promotion. Students will learn hands-on research skills in both qualitative and quantitative methods. Students will learn how to manage large data sets, run analyses, be committed to promoting health among Hispanic and low-income/low-literacy families, and collect data. RAs must be at least sophomore standing. If you have questions, please ask for an interview. Commitment to the RA position for two semesters is strongly preferred. This is an opportunity to learn valuable research methods and prepare posters and presentations. Students will register for 1-3 credit hours of HDFS 294. Spanish is not necessary. To apply, please contact Dr. Margarita Teran.

Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab

The Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab is seeking undergraduate research assistants. Students have opportunities to gain valuable research experience in the areas of adolescent stress, parent-adolescent communication, and adolescent sleep. Students will participate in lab meetings and may assist with any of the following: data collection; data management and coding (e.g., entry, cleaning, analysis) of survey, interview, and observational data; literature reviews; translating research findings for families. Students will have opportunities to work on any of the following projects: the Middle School Transition Project (examining mother-adolescent problem-solving discussions), the Adolescents’ Everyday Experiences Study (focusing on adolescent coping with daily interpersonal stressors), and/or the Adolescent Sleep and Well-being Study (identifying the effects of delayed school start time). Current priorities in the upcoming year include the coding of mother-adolescent problem-solving discussions and data collection for the sleep and well-being study. We are seeking highly motivated students who are interested in adolescent stress (e.g., interpersonal stress, academic challenges), parent-adolescent communication (with particular interest and/or experience in data transcribing and coding), and/or adolescent sleep. Commitment to the lab for one academic year is strongly preferred (e.g., Fall-Spring, Summer-Fall). Students will register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work a week per 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. To apply, please complete an application, which can be found at the ADAPT Lab website (please note application deadlines) and submit to Dr. Kelly Tu. (available Summer and Fall 2020, Spring 2021).

African American Family (AAFam) Stress and Resiliency Lab

The African American Family Stress and Resiliency Lab is looking for undergraduate research assistants interested in understanding the connections between race-related stress, mental health, and social support within African American families. Students will have the opportunity to gain experience with multiple research-related activities including, but not limited to, literature reviews, participant recruitment, data management, data analysis, and writing. Lab members must attend biweekly lab meetings and register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work a week per 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. It is expected that lab members are motivated, reliable, and able to work both independently and collaboratively. Additional information can be found at the AAFam lab website. To apply to be a research assistant, please contact Dr. Shardé Smith. Limited opportunities available. (available Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence

We are seeking undergraduate research assistants (RAs) for a project on divorce and intimate partner violence (IPV). The project broadly focuses on how decisions about custody and visitation are made in family courts when divorcing parents have a history of IPV. We are especially interested in how decisions may differ between parents with and without a history of IPV. The project involves collecting data from public administrative records (e.g., divorce, protective order, criminal) for over 600 divorce cases.

We are seeking highly motivated, responsible, and dependable undergraduate students to join our research team. Minimum 3.4 GPA. RAs will be trained in the coding of administrative records and must be willing to collect data off campus at the Champaign County courthouse (transportation from other student RAs can be provided). RAs will gain valuable research skills and experience working in a collaborative team environment. Commitment to the RA position for more than one semester is strongly preferred. Students who remain on the project for at least two semesters will have the opportunity to prepare posters and presentations. For James Scholars, opportunities are available to fulfill the independent research project/presentation requirement. Students will register for HDFS 294 for 2 credit hours (6 hours of work per week). To apply, contact Dr. Jennifer Hardesty or Dr. Brian Ogolsky. (available Summer and Fall 2020)

Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) Lab

Why do some relationships succeed when others fail? How do dating couples transition in and out of relationships? How do couples manage conflict, and other relationship threats? The Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) lab is looking for undergraduate research assistants to help answer questions like these. Qualified students will take part in various activities including, but not limited to, data management, coding, analysis, literature review, and lab meetings. We are accepting undergraduates with any level of research experience. Interested students should send an email to Dr. Brian Ogolsky, briefly explaining their background and interest in the project. (rolling availability)   

Humans in Nature Project

The Humans in Nature project uses technology and social media to encourage individuals and families to spend time in nature as a way of: (a) maintaining physical health, (b) managing stress and restoring the ability to focus on important life tasks, and (c) fostering positive social interactions and satisfying relationships. Students will be part of a team that will develop research-based multimedia products that will include (a) visually rich web-based articles, (b) video interviews and documentary style short films, (c) audio interviews and podcast style “micro documentaries”. Students will gain experience in research by writing for lay audiences, illustrating articles with artwork or digital photography, developing short audio and video productions, using online tools for communication, and developing and implementing social media strategies. Students can volunteer or earn 2 or 3 hours of HDFS 294 course credit (6 – 9 hours of work per week; with a flexible schedule). To apply, contact Dr. Aaron Ebata. (rolling availability)

Minority Capacity in Rural Communities: Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Individuals and Families Experiences of Housing Instability

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations are uniquely vulnerable to housing instability in the U.S. as only 21 states and DC have laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and only 18 states and DC prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity (Movement Advancement Project, 2019). Without state or federal protections, SGM populations are increasingly reliant on municipal-level protections. Given that housing instability and poverty are highly correlated and that same-sex couple families are significantly more likely to be in poverty than different-sex married couple families (Badgett et al., 2013), it is likely that impoverished SGM individuals and families face heightened levels of housing instability, and those rural SGM populations may be more vulnerable.

This study explores how rural community characteristics (e.g., legal, political) impact the lived experiences of unstably housed SGM individuals and families and how these experiences vary by social location (e.g., race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, class).  By focusing on the presence or absence of a local nondiscrimination policy in two rural Kentucky communities, the study addresses the a) needs and barriers of this population b) social organizational processes (e.g., informal and formal networks, social capital, community capacity c) physical and mental health outcomes and d) ways to advocate for change to for the betterment of the lives of SGM populations.

We are seeking highly motivated and dependable undergraduate students to serve as undergraduate research assistants (RAs) for this dissertation project. Qualified students will take part in various activities including, but not limited to, interview transcription, online survey development, data management, coding, analysis, and lab meetings. Interested students should email Jasmine Routon about their interest in the project and any relevant background information. If selected, undergraduate students will register for credits with Dr. Ramona Faith Oswald (available Summer and Fall 2020).

Parental Leave and Family and Work Outcomes

United States is one of four countries around the globe that do not offer paid maternity leave (the others are Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea), and the only developed country that do not offer paid paternal leave. Still, some employees in the United States and recently workers at California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are entitled to paid parental leave. In this study I explore the outcomes of paid parental leave, when offered, on children, couple, family, and work and career outcomes. As a result of taking part in this research opportunity, you will: (1) Develop an understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods; (2) Become familiar with the topic of paid parental leave in the United States and other countries; (3) Gain knowledge in family, sociology, and economics theories; and (4) Gain experience in writing a review paper.

Expectations: Students and I will collaboratively develop a research question related to a joint area of interest that relate to the broad research topic (2-3 weeks). Following the development of the research question students will identify 20 (4 credits) or 10 research papers (2 credits) and will write a review of the current literature, identify gaps and limitations of the current research, and identify future research directions. Students will meet with me weekly and will send a draft of their paper as it progresses every week. Prerequisites: Students must be juniors, seniors or graduate students who completed a research methods class. Interested students should email Dr. Karen Kramer. (available Summer and Fall 2020)

Stress and Coping in Farm Families

Alcohol use, substance use, and suicide are three causes of premature death referred to as diseases of despair, a framework indicating these causes of death are indicators of an underlying sense of hopelessness. This research project is to investigate the prevalence and meaning of diseases of despair among farming populations in Illinois. Psychological distress and depressive symptoms are higher among farmers than the general population, and there is some evidence that farmers have higher rates of suicide as well.  However, there is not much data about mental health or substance use among farming populations, and existing studies are based on limited data. The scope of the prevalence of mental health and substance use issues as well as the meaning of those issues to farmers is unclear. 

This research opportunity is to assist in a mixed methods (i.e., quantitative and qualitative) project about farm stress among Illinois farmers. The project includes surveys and interviews to explore the prevalence of mental health and substance use issues to farmers, as well as their meanings and impacts on farm families, barriers to accessing help, and ideas for programmatic solutions. Project findings will be used to inform development and implementation of programs through Illinois Extension.

We are seeking highly motivated, responsible, dependable undergraduate students to join the project.  Students will learn hands-on research skills in quantitative and qualitative methods. RAs will be trained in research processes such as literature reviews, data management, and analysis. RAs may enter survey data, transcribe interviews, code interviews, and attend regular research meetings. Students will register for 1-3 credits of HDFS 294. RAs who commit to two or more semesters of working with the project will be eligible and may be invited to present findings, co-author publications, and/or work with Illinois Extension educators on subsequent program development, implementation, and evaluation. Interested students should submit an application to Dr. Courtney Cuthbertson. (available Summer 2020 and Fall 2020, Spring 2021)

STRONG Kids Program

The STRONG Kids Program is a comprehensive and transdisciplinary approach to the study of the connections between food and family and how these relationships can contribute to child and family health. STRONG Kids accepts a team of undergraduate research assistants each spring for the following academic year (year-long commitment). Applications typically open in April and rising Sophomore-Senior students are welcome to apply. Detailed information can be found at: http://familyresiliency.illinois.edu/education/undergraduate-students.

The Autism Program (TAP)

This course will provide students with experience in working at The Autism Program by staffing the information and outreach center on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for families and professionals who work with families, and to participate in programs that provide supports or services related to ASD to families and professionals. Coursework will enable students to qualify for certification as a Registered Behavioral Technician. Requirements: The internship is open to students in the social and behavioral sciences, with priority given to students in HDFS, SPED, or SHS. This opportunity is limited to Second Semester Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors, and Grad Students. Students are required to complete an application and interview with The Autism Program staff. Additional information and the application form can be found at the TAP website. For additional information contact Anne Hall, The Autism Program, 904 W Nevada, 217-244-1395. (available spring and fall semesters)

Youth Character Development in Outward Bound Research Project

The Youth Character Development in Outward Bound Research Project is seeking undergraduate research assistants (at least sophomore standing) who are interested in understanding how to support adolescents’ social and emotional learning in outdoor adventure education programs. The goal of the study is to describe how program instructors support learning during the stressful challenges youth participants face on their Outward Bound courses. Findings from the project can contribute to our understanding of positive youth development and be used to improve youth program staff practices.

We are looking for responsible, highly motivated, and dependable students to join our team. Undergraduate research assistants will work closely with a graduate student mentor and gain qualitative research skills, including, but not limited to, analyzing interview data, conducting literature reviews, and writing. Students can earn 2-3 credit hours (6-9 hours of work per week; with a flexible schedule). Interested students should contact Carolyn Orson to apply, and please include why you are interested in the project and any relevant background information. (available Summer 2020)