SS3090: Undergraduate Program for Exploration and Research in Social Sciences (UPERSS)

The UPERSS program provides research opportunities for undergraduate Social Sciences students to work closely faculty (or advanced graduate student) to do research, creative work, or community-based project.

Program Contact

Richelle Winkler

  • Professor of Sociology and Demography, Social Sciences
  • Social Sciences Undergraduate Studies Director

The UPERSS students share an overview of their research experiences at the annual Social Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium (date TBD). Students have two options for presenting your UPPERS project and fulfilling this requirement, described below. Other options, such as co-authoring an article in a journal, presenting to a class, or presenting at a conference are also an option. All decisions on this requirement should be made with the faculty mentor.

The presentation format:

  1. Either a poster, website, or visual representation of the project.
  2. A 4-5 minute recorded presentation of the project (4 slides maximum)

Interested and Want to Know How to Get Started?

Review the project descriptions and weigh decisions on time commitments. Contact the faculty member to initiate the interview/selection process. Send to the faculty:

  • a short description of your research experiences to date
  • a statement describing your academic, personal, and career interests
  • and a statement on how participation in UPERSS aligns with your interests and goals.

The faculty mentor will review and contact you. After confirmation, your faculty mentor will contact the Social Sciences administrator to sign you up for the course.

The Course You Need

Students sign up for SS 3090 Exploring Undergrad Research in Social Sciences. 1-3 credits; pass/fail. Students earn 1 unit of academic credit for every 3 hours worked per week (limited to a total of 3 credits per semester). UPERSS is open to all Social Sciences undergraduate majors.

Learning Objectives

  • Communicate effectively through writing, speech, and visual information
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Develop teamwork and accountability skills
  • Practice presenting results and conclusions of the research

Application Process

Contact the faculty mentor for the project. Provide a short description of your research experiences to date and a short statement describing your interest in the project. If selected, your faculty mentor will contact the Department Administrator to allow you to sign up for credits for SS3090.

Fall 2022 Projects

Currently available projects and faculty mentor — link will take you to full descriptions

Research Project Descriptions

Ethnic Organization and Diaspora Engagement in the Keweenaw (Fall 2022)

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathryn Hannum

Project Description

The Upper Peninsula is home to many ethnic organizations with rich and varied histories. Due to patterns of industrial migrants in the United States, ours is not an uncommon ethnic landscape. But do countries of origin continue to impact these communities, and if so, how? This project will assess the vibrancy of remaining ethnic organizations and the extent to which members have connections (political, cultural, social, and/or economic) to the ‘origin’ country. Students will work to assess the histories, current vibrancy, and future goals of currently operating ethnic organizations in the Keweenaw by using interviews and participant observation methods. Students will also research existing diaspora engagement policies of countries of origin and the extent to which such policies are affecting the organization members in the Keweenaw. Qualitative data will be summarized and coded for patterns and themes and used in a larger comparative project on diaspora engagement policies and their effects.

Potential Benefits

  • Learning content analysis, interview skills, participant observation, and thematic coding

  • Included in all publications resulting from research

Student Time and Commitment

  • 3-5 hrs/wk.


Kathryn Hannum

  • Assistant Teaching Professor
  • Coordinator of Student Programs

Water Scarcity in El Salvador (Fall 2022) 

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kari Henquinet

Project Description

Be part of an interdisciplinary research team working with community partners in El Salvador on disaster risk reduction, water security, and climate change challenges.  Seven graduate students with faculty mentors conducted ethnographic field work in Usulutan Department, El Salvador during the summer 2021.  This work entailed discussions with local government and an NGO partner, Lutheran World Relief, as well as interviews in two communities experiencing severe water scarcity and with key informants.  We invite students to work with us through UPERSS as we process and analyze the ethnographic data, or to conduct their own related work with other secondary data sets to support the larger project.  Spanish language skills are helpful, but not required.

Potential Benefits

  • Gain experience analyzing qualitative ethnographic data.
  • Build expertise in disaster risk reduction, climate change, and water security issues in Central America.
  • Strengthen Spanish language skills.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 1 - 3 credits, according to student availability.


Kari Henquinet

  • Teaching Professor
  • Peace Corps Prep Program Director
  • Sustainability Science and Society Program Advisor

The US Navy and the Antebellum Slave Trade (Fall 2022)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Steve Walton and Professor Jonathan Robins

Project Description

This research project explores how the US Navy responded a new duty combatting the illegal Atlantic slave trade after abolition in 1808. Students will be searching for nineteenth-century primary sources to track how this activity was reported and discussed in the English-language press out of the US, UK, and West Africa (opportunities also exist to expand into the French- or Spanish-language press, if students have the language skills).

Students will perform a comprehensive survey of press coverage of U.S. naval activities of the Atlantic Squadron from c.1820-1860 in a number of online repositories of newspapers, books, and government reports.  Depending on the volume of material recovered, an online repository or finding aid will be developed. 

Potential Benefits

  • Explore and collect primary sources on an important, but overlooked, aspect of critical American history.

  • Develop and manage an online digital repository of primary sources

Student Time and Commitment

  • May vary based on student commitment ability/availability (1-3 credits)
  • Biweekly meetings with mentor


Steven Walton

  • Associate Professor of History

Michigan Tech Inventory of Historic Scientific Instruments (IHSI) (Fall 2022)

Faculty Mentor(s): Professor Steve Walton and Professor Andrew Fiss

Project Description

Work with history of science faculty who are cataloging the surviving historic scientific instruments on campus. Many departments have legacy equipment, sometimes still in use, that shows the important development of scientific and engineering research and teaching on campus from 1885 to present. In assisting with this project, you will contribute to the growing record of instruments at Inventory of History Scientific Instruments, help explain the importance of these instruments within institutional history, and preserve information about some instruments that may be discarded. With alumni, staff, and faculty, you can help argue that historic instruments should be kept as important reminders of their field.

Potential Benefits

  • Assist in direct catalog, including photography of instruments and historical research on the use of instruments within different fields.
  • Write collaborative essays on a class of instruments.
  • Use cataloged instruments as interpretive objects to investigate historical and philosophical perspectives on the material practice of science.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 1­–3 credits, (1-3 hours of work a week) .
  • Proportional amount of time spent researching or reading independently.
  • Students new to the project will be given an initial training session.
  • May also be funded through summer research.


Steven Walton

  • Associate Professor of History

Living Memory Lab (Fall 2022)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Mark Rhodes

Project Description

The Living Memory Lab at Michigan Technological University explores the intersection of food and memory. We explore the naming of fruits, vegetables, and grains as memorials to individuals. More than seeds named after a developer or a tree planted in honor of someone, the Living Memory Lab explores food-based plants named for someone unassociated with the plant itself. Through growing and sharing varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains, the Living Memory Lab investigates how the plants which provide our food simultaneously shape heritage and our understanding of history. The Living Memory Lab pays particular attention to heirloom varieties as living forms of industrial heritage, the representation/commodification of historically marginalized individuals, and the commemorative power structures of white supremacy. Students have the opportunity to explore these living histories and political ecologies through a number of angles including, but not limited to, archival research, digital network and content analysis, interviews, surveys, and oral histories, and more creative more-than-representational means of understanding the power and impacts of “planty agency.”.

Potential Benefits

  • Applying political ecology and environmental anthropology, sociology, geography, and humanities beyond typical coursework.

  • Experience in at least one qualitative methodological practice.

  • Credited hands-on work in a unique and unexplored realm of memory, heritage, and food research.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 1-3 credits, according to student availability.


Mark Rhodes II

  • Assistant Professor of Geography