Research Experience for Undergraduates: faculty and students alike reap benefits


by Jess Nickels ('21)

Bella Roman meets with Bill Wood to discuss their research.

SUMMARY: REU program is a launchpad for lifelong learning.

At the College of Business, we pride ourselves on being able to offer our undergraduate students unique opportunities to expand their knowledge, skills and connections. When it comes to business education, there are many different avenues a student can take, whether it be management, international business or accounting. However, regardless of major, all CoB students are eligible to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, one of many programs that sets us apart from other universities. 

Although undergraduate research is commonplace for those studying in the science and technology fields, business students don’t typically have that same opportunity. Therefore, in the summer of 2015, the college launched the REU program. Since then, 268 students and 86 faculty members have participated in research projects together. Overall, there have been approximately 27,000 hours of research work completed since the program’s inception. 

REU program Director, Andre Neveu, says, “given the growth of the ‘knowledge economy’ the students who get to participate in research as undergraduates will be better prepared to enter the workforce and make meaningful contributions at a very early stage…the students in this program are taking part in more advanced research and learning both the process and tools that have practical research uses.”

Isabella Roman, a senior management major, was matched with Bill Wood, the academic unit head for the economics department, to research the impact of colleges and universities on economic mobility in relation to factors such as demographics, gender and income level. “For example,” Roman says, “does JMU do a good job at taking someone in a lower income class to a higher income class upon graduation?”

Roman submitted her research application as a sophomore in 2019. After an interview with Wood, her interest and ability were confirmed and they began researching—just as the pandemic emerged. 

“We started in the beginning of 2020, where we would meet in person weekly and it was way easier to help me understand the Excel and data aspect of it. This was really helpful because a lot of the larger data parts were already done before the pandemic hit,” she says. 

Over the next year and a half, Roman and Wood only communicated by phone or through Zoom. However, this only intensified the dedication and perseverance required to finish the job. Roman and Wood pushed through the challenges that the pandemic hurled at them, and after successful completion of data analyses, their research article, “Higher Education and Economic Mobility: Who Punches Above Their Weight?,” was published in Atlantic Economic Journal, in September 2021, with Roman listed as first author. 

The most valuable part of the REU program,” Roman says, “ was being able to have a hand in another part of the College of Business and diversify my skill set. As a management major, economics is not in the forefront of my skill set, but because of the REU program I get to show employers how I am connected cross functionally.”

Thanks to the faculty members who have helped lead their student research assistants and the commitment CoB students have shown to furthering and deepening their experiences, James Madison University was recently elevated from a masters level research university, to a R-2 “doctoral university with high research activity”, appointed by The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  

“The benefits go both ways. The student gets to see research for real, with all of its false starts and seemingly wasted effort—and then the unexpected breakthroughs. The faculty member gets a conscientious source of research assistance and the fulfillment of seeing a new researcher grow and learn,” says Wood. 

The College of Business and JMU’s dedication to student-centered undergraduate studies, faculty-student partnerships in research and research-focused graduate programs is what enables us to continue growing our programs and offering students exceptional educational experiences. 

“I know that JMU faculty are deeply dedicated to both their research and students! Helping to train young researchers takes time and while faculty working in this program get help progressing on their research, they also report a strong sense of satisfaction working with these students. Research output is very important to the university’s status as an R-2, and we’ve been able to make a lot of progress together with our students. It is wonderful seeing students grow into their disciplines, and I know that students love to see the lessons from the classroom spill over into original research,” says Neveu. 

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Published: Friday, February 25, 2022

Last Updated: Monday, January 8, 2024

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