Social Sciences

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 with a faculty mentor (or advanced graduate student) to undertake research, creative work, or a community-based project.

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. Please note, the Spring 2020 UPERSS cohort are not required to present, due to COVID-19.

The presentation format:

  1. Either a poster or visual representation of the project.
  2. A 4-5 minute overview 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.

SS 3090 - Undergraduate Program for Exploration and Research in Social Sciences (UPERSS)

An undergraduate research experience for students to work with a faculty mentor to undertake research, creative work, or community-based project. The student typically signs up for 1-3 credits per semester. Requires GPA of 2.5 or higher.

  • Credits: variable to 3.0; Repeatable to a Max of 9; Graded Pass/Fail Only
  • Semesters Offered: On Demand
  • Restrictions: Permission of instructor required

Who You Should Contact

All questions about the UPERSS program should be directed to Melissa F. Baird at

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.

Research Project Descriptions

Western UP Food Systems Collaboration and Regional Food Justice

Faculty Mentor: Professor Angie Carter

Project Description

The student will work with community partners in Western UP Food Systems Council to assess local food systems at MTU and throughout the Western UP region, including gardens, pantries, farms, markets, institutional procurement, transportation, energy, and cultures. The Western UP Food Systems Council is currently working projects on a few fronts, and seeking funding to support these long term. Current projects include: assessing local food systems infrastructure; creating communities of practice for school garden/community garden coordinators, small farmers, and home gardeners; informing education and holistic management in small-scale fruit/vegetable production within UP region; informing future of the Wads garden; informing future development of a regional food hub; creating community healing gardens at women's shelter and Horizons school; employing community food nutrition survey.

Potential Benefits

  • Learn to compile literature reviews and to do community-based research skills.
  • Analyze existing policy, undertake comparative and case studies of existing programs.
  • Collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data to inform the next steps of community food systems development.

Student Time and Commitment

Depending on interests, on their own, time students could:

  • Compile databases of existing policies.
  • Do literature and/or comparative reviews.
  • Create policy templates.
  • Work with a research team more closely and attend occasional meetings with community partners and/or community events to collect data.


Angie Carter

  • Assistant Professor, Environmental/Energy Justice
Academic Office Building 207

Anishinaabe-Gikendaasowin Integrated Assessment Research in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for Stewardship and Governance Partnerships

Faculty Mentor: Professor Valoree Gagnon

Project Description

Students will work with Valoree Gagnon and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for one-semester on a Michigan Sea Grant (MISG) integrated assessment project (2020-2022) to contribute to Great Lakes environmental literacy and workforce development by compiling and synthesizing Anishinaabe- gikendaasowin (knowledge) within the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and sharing this knowledge with stewardship and governance partners throughout the region. Current environmental literacy initiatives and workforce development training are rarely inclusive of Indigenous knowledge. The KBIC will compile and synthesize Indigenous knowledge in the Community, develop an integrated Indigenous Knowledge Guidance document for Community planning and governance, and implement an Indigenous Knowledge Symposium for our region’s stewardship and governance stakeholders. The KBIC expects this research to strengthen capacity for resource stewardship, adaptation planning, and community resiliency in the wider Great Lakes Region.

Potential Benefits

  • A better understanding of Anishinaabe perspectives and practices.
  • Knowledge/practice building equitable research relationships with tribal partners.
  • Practice engaging as a social and/or environmental science/policy professional.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 3-9 hours a week.
  • Tasks include: data entry, compilation, and transcription for KBIC, contributing to an annotated bibliography for KBIC stewardship and governance reports/plans/other publications, and assistance in planning/implementing a writing workshop for the MISG project research team.


Valoree Gagnon

  • Director, University-Indigenous Community Partnerships, Great Lakes Research Center
  • Research Assistant Professor, College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science
GLRC 310

Ethnic Organization and Diaspora Engagement in the Keweenaw

Faculty Mentor: 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 at

More-Than-Human Heritage: The Political Ecologies of the Paul Robeson Tomato

Faculty Mentor: Professor Mark Rhodes

Project Description

Paul Robeson’s heritage globally poorly reflects the extent to which the famous African American activist, actor, athlete, singer, and scholar impacted international culture and politics. Robeson’s memorials, while few and far between, particularly in the United States, reside primarily within college campuses, theatrical and musical productions, alongside a few more traditional plaques, works of public art, and his own work. While there has been some interest in these various memorials, commemorations, and works of Robeson, no one has yet explored one of the most widespread and historically loaded aspects of his commemoration: the Paul Robeson Tomato. This heirloom tomato, developed by a Soviet botanist, has, as one seed website states, “a cult following.” Reading through various gardening and seed websites, you quickly understand that the tomato has a special place among heirlooms. At the same time, you quickly realize that a game of telephone has seemingly been played with the commemorative narrative of Robeson himself. This leads me to ask a number of questions, particularly how we might understand this tomato within the broader memory and memorialization of Paul Robeson? How does this human-environment interaction of more-than-human memory impact Robeson’s legacy? And how can we further think of living memory beyond the human experience to the remainder of the natural landscape around us and the power it has. This project explores these notions of living memory, more-than-human, and memorialization in the context of the histories which envelop Paul Robeson and the tomato.

Potential Benefits

  • Able to utilize their own strengths and interests to focus on the areas and research strategies most relevant to them. Also the potential for an even more hands-on competence for students interested later on in the project, and some simple secondary literature gathering.
  • Training in social media network analysis and in the software NodeXL, potentially a year subscription to NodeXL Pro depending on the student’s interests and findings.
  • Considered co-authors for any future grant applications or publications which result from this study, which would signify to employers and graduate schools the student's ability to work collaboratively on research projects.
  • Professor also open to continuing to work with the student beyond the official UPERSS schedule IF that is something the student would prefer.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 3-9 hrs/wk.
  • Time commitments would be solely dependent on the students themselves.
  • One credit for roughly 3 hours a week would probably not engage in more than one avenue of this research (i.e. social media, web scraping, etc…) during the course of the semester
  • Engaging in interviews would only be possible at the three credit level (9 hours)


Mark Rhodes II

  • Assistant Professor of Geography
Academic Office Building 211

Analyzing French-Canadian Immigrant Experiences through the 1887 Lake Linden Fire

Faculty Mentor: Professor Sarah Scarlett

Project Description

The UPERSS student working on this project will contribute vital early research to a large 7-year international project about Francophone migration across North America funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Lake Linden attracted early immigrants from Quebec setting up logging operations and sawmills. In 1887 a fire devastated the town and records from insurance claims give us a rare glimpse into the material lives of the residents — where they lived, what they owned, the tools they used, how they cooked their food, and how they arranged their daily lives. This UPERSS student will delve into the insurance claim records, map and record-link households using the Keweenaw Time Traveler database, and identify patterns in how the quality of life for French-Canadians compared to their neighbors and/or their homes in Quebec. The student will create a Story Map to demonstrate and share the patterns they identify.

Potential Benefits

  • Gain experience working with archival records and gaining an introduction to historical analysis using GIS.
  • Be introduced by Professors Don Lafreniere and Sarah Scarlett to the larger SSHRC-sponsored project (with 40+ international cross-field researchers) for experience contributing to a larger interdisciplinary effort to analyze migration patterns and cultural patterns over 300 years.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 1 credit, 3 hrs.
  • Prerequisite SS3541 or otherwise knowledgeable in the region.
  • French language knowledge is a plus.


Sarah Scarlett

  • Assistant Professor of History
Academic Office Building 221

Historic Cemeteries: Mapping, Management, and Memory

Faculty Mentor: Professor Tim Scarlett

Project Description

Help Copper Country community organizations with their legacy cemeteries. Community leaders approached Michigan Tech seeking help with mapping and remote sensing, geospatial visualization, planning for sustainable management, enhanced protection, and potential public interpretation of neglected cemeteries. Using tools like Ground Penetrating Radar and other remote sensing and mapping technologies, in conjunction with archival and oral history research, to help build inventories of burial grounds. Through a review of published literature on cemetery archaeology and management, provide recommendations on best practices for community organizations and municipalities for a problem facing many rural towns in the United States. Help to build connections between the cemetery inventory and online geospatial research tools, like and, with an eye to building a robust management tool, facilitating heritage building/place-making among local and the online communities of the “Copper Country Diaspora,” creating useful interpretive material, and enhancing heritage tourism development in these communities.

Potential Benefits

  • Dovetail with other student classes, individual skill learning choices, and career plans.
  • Place more emphasis on remote sensing and geospatial technologies; community-engaged or collaborative study; development of web resources, tools, or data structures; archival and/or oral history work; or heritage tourism or educational program development.

Student Time and Commitment

May vary based on student commitment ability/availability.


Timothy Scarlett

  • Associate Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology
Academic Office Building 210

Renewable Energy Transitions In Michigan

Faculty Mentors: Professor Chelsea Schelly and Professor Richelle Winkler

Project Description

Renewable energy transitions in Michigan. As part of a large interdisciplinary and collaborative project, there are student research opportunities to engage in understanding the social, policy, economic, and technical contexts for a renewable energy transition in Michigan. Activities and commitments can vary based on student interest.

Potential Benefits

  • Varies based on student interest

Student Time and Commitment

  • Varies based on student availability
  • Students may also choose to register for directed study credits in association with work and study on this project


Chelsea Schelly

  • Associate Professor of Sociology
  • Graduate Director, IA/H and EEP
Academic Office Building 226

Michigan Tech Inventory of Historic Scientific Instruments (IHSI)

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
Academic Office Building 224