For Professor Donald Jay Patterson, mentoring undergraduate research is a natural extension of his teaching, but with a greater focus on each student’s individual interests. Professor Patterson sees a number of benefits for students who pursue research projects, including the chance to develop a close relationship with their mentor and being able to make their own contribution to the growth of human knowledge. He asks students looking to start research to have a clear idea of their interests and a passion for their subject that will motivate them throughout their project. For himself, Professor Patterson appreciates the enthusiasm and open minds that his undergraduates bring to his research group. UROP is proud to honor Professor Patterson for his passionate support for undergraduate research.

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

My interest in mentoring really grew out of undergraduate teaching and wanting to continue the teaching process in a more directed and individualized way. Usually it is initiated by students who catch a vision for a subject area and want to dive into something more deeply. Most of my projects start like that—as extensions of class projects in human computer interaction.

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

I'm looking for students who are self-motivated, who have an idea of what they want to research and what they want to get out of a research experience. It really helps if the students bring some skills to the research project that they want to grow, or know specifically what new things they want to learn, either as a research topic, or as a skill.

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

I usually integrate undergraduates into my larger research group. That includes having them join our weekly meetings and collaborating with graduate students as appropriate. I like to meet individually with students I'm working with in smaller groups as well, but I really look to the students to bring a passion and energy to the project so that it is a fun and exciting relationship.

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

Some basic practical things, like having a faculty member who knows them and has worked with them who can write a letter of recommendation for grad school or fellowships or help them network for jobs. More abstractly, I think the students start to understand that the things that are in textbooks today were assembled and discovered by people like them 10–15 years earlier. That realization makes them look at their projects differently and taps into a creative process that is great to see emerge.

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

I love the energy and enthusiasm that undergraduates bring to research. Usually they are less concerned about changing the world and just want to discover something themselves. If I can get in there and push them in the right direction they sometimes do both along the way.

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

Set goals for yourself and assess your skill levels before you approach a potential mentor. As a faculty member I'm wary of starting a relationship with someone who is completely undirected about what they want to accomplish. Learn about the research process on your own and what the potential mentor is interested in and then approach them with some ideas, your time frame and a willingness to work hard.

Research Interests: Collapse Informatics, Ubiquitous Computing, Human Computer Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Bitcoin, Cloud Computing, Collapse Informatics, ICT4D, Mechanical Turk, Sensors, GPS, RFID, Accelerometers, Gesture Recogniition

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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