Professor Richard Matthew believes that undergraduate research helps students develop many important skills and shows them ways to overcome complicated and daunting challenges. In selecting students to mentor, he looks for students who have a deep interest in the subject as well as a dedication to meeting deadlines and working with a team. Within the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, which he directs, Professor Matthew is committed to offering research opportunities to as many students as possible; he considers helping them realize their potential to be a critical part of his job. UROP is proud to salute Professor Matthew for his passionate support for undergraduate research at UC Irvine.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

I think students tend to learn and retain more when their education goes beyond lectures and readings. In my experience, participating in a research project often catalyzes curiosity and creativity, and leads to a deeper understanding of the subject. I also believe that undergraduates can carry out or support research that has a real impact on the world, and that shows them ways in which some very complicated and daunting challenges can be tackled effectively. Under the broad rubric of sustainability, my students have studied the effects of documentary film campaigns and social media movements, investigated opportunities to improve sustainability on campus, considered how climate change resilience might be integrated into peacebuilding operations, produced original artworks, and assisted with the preparation of several edited books.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I offer research opportunities to as many students as my Center can accommodate. We look for some indication of a genuine interest in the subject and try to match students to their interests and the skills they have or want to acquire. I expect them to attend project meetings, meet deadlines and work as a team.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

Students are mentored quite closely. Some work directly with me; others work with one of my Ph.D. students, who are very committed to this side of our activity. I have one Ph.D. student, for example, who has mentored dozens of undergraduate students in her lab, many of whom have presented findings at academic conferences. We have also created a rather unique opportunity for some 200 students each year to carry out supervised original research as part of a course I teach called Sustainability II. We recently published an article about this initiative in the Journal of Sustainability Education.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I believe students acquire or improve a number of valuable and transferable skills—working in a team setting, communicating science, coding survey data, conducting literature reviews, presenting to the public, and so on. I think they often begin to develop their own understanding of what sustainability means today, and where they can have an impact. I know that many have received awards for their work, and have gone on to great graduate programs or jobs.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

This generation of college students has been criticized in a number of studies for taking a long time to complete their degrees, spending more time socializing than studying, and being less aware of the world than their predecessors. But I see in this generation enormous potential and a real desire to understand a complex world and take on its challenges; I am afraid that the capacity is there but formal educational systems often do not capitalize on it very well.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

A major research university like UCI offers a very privileged opportunity to find a passion, something you really care about, and dig deeply into it because it matters to you. And by committing yourself to something meaningful, you are almost certain to receive some unexpected benefits.

Research Interests: (a) The environmental dimensions of conflict and peacebuilding; (b) climate change adaptation in conflict and post-conflict societies; (c) transitions from crisis to sustainability; and (d) transformational media.

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '13 Jean Gehricke
Nov. '13 Sergey Nizkorodov
Oct. '13 David S. Meyer
Sep. '13 Kieron Burke
Aug. '13 Mahtab Jafari
Jul. '13 André van der Hoek
Jun. '13 Abraham P. Lee
May. '13 Sheryl Tsai
Apr. '13 Julia Reinhard Lupton
Mar. '13 Richard Matthew
Feb. '13 Jogeshwar Mukherjee
Jan. '13 Diane K. O’Dowd