undergraduate section


Undergraduates are welcome to apply for research opportunities to pursue interests that they have developed while taking classes in the Composition program.

The Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (OUR) allows students to define and carry out research projects with the support of a faculty mentor. They also offer exciting field research opportunities and small grants. 

OUR's Spring, Summer, and Fall Undergraduate Research Awards give you a stipend the term you are doing your research. You can read more about deadlines and applications on the OUR site. 

The University Honors College (UHC) also supports undergraduate research. Browse the Summer Brackenridge Fellowships and the Fall and Spring Brackenridge Fellowships, as well as the Community-Based Research Fellowships pages. UHC also offers a Community Scholars program and organizes an Undergraduate Research Fair.

Examples of Undergraduate Research

Below are project descriptions from undergraduates who won support for research in the areas of pedagogy and composition studies:

Fall 2014: Steven Boyd, Elizabeth Rakow, Sarah Bixby, and Jerome Dopkin (shown left to right in the photo) presented their research at the International Writing Centers Association conference in Orlando. Steven, Elizabeth, and Jerome were awarded grants from Dietrich School's Office of Undergraduate Research to support their trip to the conference. Similarly, Sarah Bixby won an Academic Achievement Scholarship from the College of General Studies to support her trip. Here is their abstract: "Undergraduate peer tutors face a unique challenge in the writing center to redefine their new collegiate academic experiences and integrate them creatively into the tutorial setting. This research reimagines essential (and strikingly broad) textbook definitions of English pedagogy terms like 'teaching efficacy' that are introduced to many undergrads fresh to education, finding inventive and structured ways to contextualize and apply them to many one-on-one tutoring situations – even for special tutorials involving students with learning disabilities." All four students are planning to graduate in April 2015. Steven is an English Literature major with a minor in Applied Mathematics. Elizabeth is majoring in English Literature and Nonfiction Writing. Sarah is majoring in Public and Nonprofit Management and is earning the Public and Professional Writing certificate. Jerome is majoring in Mathematics. All four students are peer tutors in the Writing Center.

Spring 2013: Zaneta Franklin won an OUR Undergraduate Research Award to study high school writing centers. Her faculty mentor was Barbara Edelman. "My research investigates the role that the writing center plays within a high school and explores whether coming to the writing center should be mandatory or voluntary for students. I will be investigating the implications of compelling students to go to the writing center and evaluate whether the arguments for not requiring students to go to the writing center (in college) apply for high school students and high school writing centers. In addition, I will be investigating various writing center models that high schools have implemented and examine how they impacted students: For instance, if students continued going to the writing center after being initially required to go, what was it that they liked? Is a firm no-mandatory sessions policy and focusing instead on making the writing center inviting for students through fun outreach events enough to make sure that the maximum range of students take advantage of the writing center and benefit from it? I will be working with articles to discuss the importance of the writing center experience for high school students and evaluate whether students would seek out and benefit from this experience on their own. Based on my research, I will discuss how integrating writing center sessions with the curriculum could benefit a wider range of students by providing them with invaluable one-on-one guided instruction during a critical period in their academic development. In addition, integrating the writing center with curriculum could help avoid the negative stigma that may come with mandatory writing center sessions." Zaneta presented her research at the International Writing Centers Association conference in Fall 2014.

Summer 2012: Olivia Enders won an OUR Undergraduate Research Award for her project on "Summerbridge Pittsburgh": "This past summer, I had the opportunity to combine my love of English and my love of education into a research project, made possible by the Office of Undergraduate Research's Arts & Sciences Research Award. In my project, I studied how writing assignments promoted middle school student learning in a Religious Studies course that I taught at Summerbridge Pittsburgh. With Marylou Gramm, a lecturer in the English department, I researched and designed different types of writing assignments, and explored how they could stimulate the thinking of my students. These writing assignments varied from creative stories, to thought experiments, to responses to religious videos, to journal entries. I carefully documented the classroom atmosphere, student verbal responses, and student writing responses, and evaluated the successes and failures of my lesson plans after the course ended. Not only will the project help me in my future endeavors as an educator, but it also allowed me to see the importance of writing, not merely test-taking, as a way to deepen student understanding."

Summer 2011: Matt Diabes won an OUR Undergraduate Research Award to explore an aspect of gender and writing instruction: "Do male and female undergraduate students write differently, and if so does this difference correlate with performance in writing intensive classes? This study investigates hedge word usage in a sample of 195 student papers for an undergraduate Critical Writing course at the University of Pittsburgh.  Correlations were found between certain hedge terms and gender, gender and performance, and gendered hedge terms and performance, suggesting differences in gendered language actually affect scores given to the papers. This study builds on a foundation of controversial, sometimes contradictory findings in different contexts, and makes an attempt to sort out this ambiguity in the context of persuasive writing in an undergraduate course. It is recommended, based on the body of research analyzed for background research in this article, that the approach of only analyzing gender-language relationships in very specific contexts taken in this study should be widely adopted, since context has shown to affect gender-language study results dramatically." Matt's faculty mentor was Jean Grace.