Six Mississippi University for Women faculty members have been chosen to participate in the inaugural Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor (FURM) Institute, a collaboration by the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Kossen Center for Teaching and Learning.

Dr. Cecilia Brooks, Dr. Catherine Cotton, Dr. Travis Hagey, Dr. Melissa Smith, Dr. Dorothy Berglund and Dr. Barry Smith will take part in a four-day intensive institute to rewrite materials for existing courses they’re teaching in order to encourage students to participate in first-hand research experiences. The focus of this year’s FURM Institute is creating equitable opportunities through the Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience, or CURE. The FURM Institute is May 13-16 for faculty members to develop materials for upcoming courses.

Dr. Cecilia Brooks, assistant professor of family science, will incorporate a CURE in her Emerging Adulthood course based on theories and public policies that impact people in the 18–25-year-old age group. Brooks said, “I want to challenge students by meeting them where they are in their academic journey so that together, we can create opportunities for early professional advancement. The FURM experience can help me identify the tools I need to provide a learning environment that fosters curiosity and inquiry for students at the start of their academic journey.”

Dr. Catherine Cotton, assistant professor of speech-language pathology and interim department chair, will use her independent study course to include original student research centered on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s code of ethics. Cotton noted, “The proposed research would allow student to discuss and conduct research concerning the role of speech-language pathology student or professionals and their interaction with clients who exhibit differences based on disability, ethnicity, gender identity/ gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, culture, language and/or dialect.”

Dr. Travis Hagey, associate professor of biology, will incorporate his ongoing research using R, a statistical environment for quantitative research, into classes he will teach in spring 2025, including comparative anatomy, and possibly a newly proposed course. On his CURE, Hagey hopes “to develop a research methods course for W research students that focuses on experimental design and analyses.”

Dr. Melissa Smith, professor of communication and Gibbons Chair of Journalism, is proposing a research project for students in her Mass Media and Society Course. “I’m excited to participate in the FURM Institute,” Smith said. “The research project that my students will be doing will look at an online community related to Columbus and its importance to those who are members and those who run the site. We will be looking at several things, including whether marginalized people have used the site to build community ties.”

Dr. Dorothy Berglund, professor of family science and Department Chair, hopes to refresh her Human Sexuality course. “The overall purpose of my project is to help future family life educators counteract inaccurate messages regarding sexual health information posted on social media, to help their clients counteract such information and to help medical and other sexual health professionals respond to client concerns,” noted Berglund. “I hope to use the time at the FURM to plan the project out, even setting due dates and Canvas assignments, before the term starts.”

Dr. Barry Smith, professor and chair of communication, wants to develop a content analysis project for his Senior Seminar in Communications students that uses popular streaming TV shows. “I’m participating in FURM because I want my students to better understand how media representations affect us as individuals and as a society,” Smith said. “This program will help me mentor students in original research that will both improve our understanding of this issue and prepare students for their careers as media professionals.”

The 2024 FURM Institute’s information and schedule are available on the Office of Undergraduate Research’s website,

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

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