For Professor Joel Veenstra, research success comes from the motivation to endure and move forward despite the obstacles one faces. He looks for students whose passion and drive push them toward excellence. Once projects have been completed, Professor Veenstra encourages his students to reflect thoroughly on the process, which enables them to develop a much greater understanding of what they have learned. He describes his mentoring style as warm, supportive, and engaging, while encouraging his students to pursue greater discovery. UROP is pleased to recognize Professor Veenstra for his dedication to excellence in undergraduate research.

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

Teaching at UC Irvine, one of the preeminent research institutions in the world, we are empowered as faculty to push the boundaries of the known world and to make innovative discoveries that will positively impact the future. I believe that a fundamental aspect of this calling is to engage in this endeavor at every level, especially with undergraduates as they are our future. The type of projects I have directed tend to explore the intersection of creative and artistic endeavors, especially intuitive and comedic art forms such as improvisation, and the structural constructs needed to support them. It is the delicate balance that we see in all of the industrialized art forms (e.g. film, television, and theatre). Researching these projects on a micro-level allows undergraduate students to understand processes and practices on the macro-level of these industries.

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

The expectation that I have of my undergraduate researchers is a sense of passion and drive. I am thrilled to guide them in their work, but if they are unable to make the choices to motivate themselves and vigorously engage in their research, I will not be able to do the work for them. Likewise, if they have any desire to be successful within the larger entertainment industry, it is all about passion and drive. It is essentially a marathon; one needs to endure and continue moving forward despite the challenges one faces. This also reflects on the ability for an individual to be counted on to do what they say they will do; it is essential that they can get the job done.

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

Pre-production is everything within entertainment. As Benjamin Franklin originally stated, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." My mentoring of undergraduates focuses on helping them to set up their research successfully in order for them to clearly be able to evaluate their outcomes. I engage with my undergraduate researchers directly on an as needed basis. My style is one of warm, supportive, and direct engagement to push them towards excellence and discovery.

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

My students have benefited significantly from their undergraduate research experiences; I encourage a significant amount of reflection on the data that was developed from their projects and all of the data reflects a greater understanding of their specific research areas. Some of my students’ research outcomes have included an increased level of professionalism, skill development, job opportunities, life applications of artistic conceptualizations, and further insight into the entertainment industry.

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

As a researcher myself, all of the data that the undergraduate researchers work on assists me in my own research. I also benefit immensely from seeing the students take risks and achieve success in exploring challenging research topics. Still my greatest joy is seeing my students graduate from UC Irvine and continue on the path of a successful career within the very demanding entertainment industry.

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

My best advice would be to clearly define your goals and the steps you plan to take to achieve those goals. I believe research functions best within a sandbox model—one must clearly define the parameters or edges of the sandbox in order to fully focus on the exploration and discoveries within.

Research Interests: Stage Management in the American Theatre, Improvisational Theater including Improv History and Application (Comedic, Dramatic, Applied), Film and Television Development and Production

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '14 Emiliana Borrelli
Nov. '14 Joel Veenstra
Oct. '14 Jonathan Alexander
Sep. '14 Leslie M. Thompson
Aug. '14 Jonathan R.T. Lakey
Jul. '14 Diego Rosso
Jun. '14 James Kyung-Jin Lee
May. '14 Lisa Pearl
Apr. '14 Jayne Elizabeth Lewis
Mar. '14 Donald Jay Patterson
Feb. '14 Dritan Agalliu
Jan. '14 Stephanie Reich