Clark Research Program Spans University’s History

Aysha Iqbal

Aysha Iqbal, an incoming neuroscience freshman at UT Dallas, explains her summer research project, which investigated the effects of insulin on brain cells.

Students Pursue Projects in Summer Before Freshman Years

This summer, a group of 17 incoming freshman to UT Dallas continued a long-standing tradition of scientific endeavor that is ingrained in the institution’s history and culture and even predates the university itself.

Sponsored by the Anson L. Clark Foundation, the Clark Summer Research Program began in 1968 at the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS) in Dallas, which would become UT Dallas in 1969. For the past 44 years, the program has brought outstanding undergraduate students and recent high-school graduates to campus to work with faculty mentors during the summer in various fields.

Student Erick Gonzalez

Erick Gonzalez (right) an incoming freshman in physics at UT Dallas, discusses his nanotechnology research related to solar cells with his mentor, Dr. Anton Malko, assistant professor of physics.

In 1968, there were fewer fields of study for the “Clarkies” than there are now, and even fewer buildings on the campus that would become UT Dallas. But the caliber of the students, the enthusiasm of the faculty mentors and the rigor of the science have remained consistent.

“Over the years the students were very much the same. Most were very interested in the work they were doing,” said Dr. Ivor Robinson, an expert on relativity theory and professor emeritus of mathematical sciences at UT Dallas. He joined the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest – which later changed its name to SCAS– in 1963 as head of the center’s division of mathematics and mathematical physics. Robinson worked with Clark students beginning in 1968 and oversaw the program from 1977 to 1980. “My first Clark student was interested in relativity and later had a spectacular academic career working in mathematical physics.”

Courtney Breecheen, assistant dean for undergraduate education at UT Dallas, said since the earliest days of the institution, administrators have believed it is important to engage students in research early in their careers.

“The Clark Summer Research Program demonstrates the University’s culture of undergraduate research, which focuses on mentoring and providing students valuable insight into the practical application of their disciplines outside of the classroom,” she said.

In 1968, Clarkies worked on projects in physics, geosciences, math, space sciences and molecular biology. The 2012 summer session recently concluded with a poster presentation by participants. Their projects included nanotechnology research that could lead to thinner, more efficient solar panels; a video game to help doctors improve their bedside manners; and neuroscience research related to aging and memory.

Brook Batten

Brooke Batten’s project sought ways to  develop a network of voice-over-Internet phones

Brooke Batten, an incoming freshman in electrical engineering, said her project, aimed at developing a network of voice-over-Internet phones, was a good introduction to issues in engineering.

“It was a head start to what I’ll be learning about coming in to UT Dallas as an electrical engineering student,” said Batten, who said she worked independently and also gained experience in project management.

Students participated in projects with faculty from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, the School of Arts and Humanities, and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Recipients of UT Dallas’ Academic Excellence Scholarship (AES) awards are eligible to apply for a position in the Clark program each spring. Scholars are provided a stipend and work full-time on campus for nine weeks.

The Clark Foundation established a permanent endowment in 1978 to support the summer research program in recognition of the interests of Dr. Anson L. Clark. Clark had a highly unusual and successful career – first as an engineer, then as a Mayo Clinic physician, and finally as a businessman in the oil and banking industries. Clark’s philanthropic activities have for many decades supported scholarly endeavors at a number of Texas colleges and universities, including the Anson L. Clark Memorial Lecture, the Clark Summer Research Program and the Clark Presidential Scholarship, all at UT Dallas.

A Rich Undergrad Research Tradition

Beginning in 1968 at the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies – the precursor institution that became UT Dallas – students in the Clark Summer Research Program worked on projects in mathematics, geosciences, physics, biology and space sciences.

Professor Ivor Robinson and Richard Schirato

Julia WhitesideChris HodgesEd GillandCindy Peterson

Kay Wolens

Photos from 1977 of Clark Scholars in action  reveal laboratory equipment and methods that still look familiar in 2012, from pipettes and flasks in chemistry and biology experiments to seismographs in geosciences.

The staples of modern research projects, including personal computers and laptops, were still years away – chalkboards and pencil-and-paper sufficed to work through math problems.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].