Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The 30th cohort of scholars in the University of Iowa’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) was recently welcomed to campus for a summer of challenging research experiences.

This summer’s students come from 22 different universities across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The program is led by Diana Sproles, who has welcomed every cohort to campus since the program began in 1986.


Diana Sproles

SROP is a gateway to graduate education at member universities in the Big Ten Academic Alliance. SROP is designed to provide promising underrepresented undergraduate students with first-hand exposure to the graduate school experience and to faculty life. Students are paired with a faculty mentor whose research is closely related to their academic interests and career goals. 

“SROP students get exposure in their research area and make contact with faculty, graduate students, and other students they meet. This all makes for a very positive experience,” Sproles says. “While the students are here, you hear them saying, ‘I can see myself here for graduate school.’” 

Each student is paired with a faculty mentor whose research is closely related to their academic interests and career goals. Students also benefit from a structured set of scholarly activities designed to enhance their academic success, including a series of seminars, workshops, and informal gatherings to better inform them about graduate school opportunities.

The program provides information and encourages dialogue between the students, their faculty mentors and graduate student mentors, and SROP staff. These discussions facilitate an understanding of what it means to be a graduate student and to explore expanded career options, including academic positions and careers outside the academy. To date, Iowa has hosted 755 students, with 66 percent going on to enroll in graduate or professional school, including 18 percent at the UI.

“More and more students are stepping out to get exposure in a research program,” Sproles says. “If they don’t do that, they don’t have the research background necessary for graduate school. Research experience is a key element that everybody is looking for now in terms of admissions to graduate programs.” 

SROP is a family affair

This year, Sproles received unexpected recruiting assistance with the current cohort of students from an alumna of the program.


Sharon Lee Smith and her son, Marquis Smith. Marquis is participating in SROP in 2016--20 years after his mother completed the very same program.

Sharon Lee Smith, a SROP participant in 1996, encouraged her son, Marquis Smith, a junior at the University of Central Florida, to follow in her footsteps and attend the UI’s highly-successful summer program.

“I pushed him to do it. There are advantages to having parents who went to college and know what’s out there and available,” says Sharon Lee Smith, who lives in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. “I told him how the UI’s Summer Research Opportunities Program was a great experience where you meet great people and do great research. This is something you can add to your resume and set yourself apart from others.”

After participating in SROP, Sharon returned to the UI with her family—including Marquis, 5, and his brother, Jaylen, 3—so she could begin work on her Ph.D. in environmental engineering, which she completed in 2006.

“My parents didn’t go to college, so participating in the program opened my eyes to options after college graduation other than just getting a job,” says Sharon, who works as an environmental scientist for the South Florida Water Management District. 

Ten years after Sharon completed her PhD, Marquis returned to Iowa City to conduct biochemistry research as a SROP student. 

“I am most interested in getting hands-on experience in the lab and working closely with faculty mentors and graduate students,” Marquis says. “I used to live in Iowa 10 years ago, so coming back after so long also interested me. I'm hoping to gain experience and more in-depth knowledge and tips not only about graduate school, but also about post-college life.”