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

Jonathan Robins

  • Associate Professor of History
  • 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.

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
  • Semesters Offered: On Demand
  • Restrictions: Permission of instructor required

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.

Spring 2021 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 (Spring 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

  • Instructor, Social Sciences
  • Director of Student Programs

Water Scarcity in El Salvador (Spring 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

  • Director, Peace Corps Prep Program
  • Principal Lecturer, Department of Social Sciences
  • Sustainability Science and Society Program Advisor

The US Navy and the Antebellum Slave Trade (Spring 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) (Spring 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

Historic Cemeteries: Mapping, Management, and Memory (Spring 2022)

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

Applying an Indigenous Methodology: Storying a Tribal Landscape System (Spring 2022)

Faculty Mentors: Professor Melissa Bairdand Professor Valoree Gagnon; Graduate Mentor: Larissa Juip

Project Description

Indigenous storywork, as described by Jo-ann Archibald (2008), combines traditional and life-experience stories to produce a holistic narrative by building “on the storywork teachings of respect, reverence, responsibility, reciprocity, holism, interrelatedness, and synergy” (2). These stories recognize different ways of knowing, such as those present in Indigenous communities and they often reflect a great emphasis on place-based knowledge and relationships.  This storywork project is designed to complement a National Science Foundation research project (Tribal Landscape Systems) being conducted in partnership with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), Keweenaw Bay Natural Resources, Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), and Michigan Technological University researchers. Storywork has great potential to serve as an important method and pedagogy to reflect on responsibilities of Indigenous-University partnerships.

Students will assist a graduate research assistant in producing stories shared by partners in this project that reflect place-based connections and relationships as they form or are strengthened through research.  The collection of stories shared by partners will become an iterative process that sheds light on the importance of place-based knowledge within the research project.  For more information about Indigenous storywork, go to Indigenous Storywork.

Potential Benefits

  • Learn about Indigenous methodologies, focusing on storywork.
  • Learn the protocols for working with Indigenous communities, including relationship building, knowledge exchange, and the “four R’s” of Indigenous research: respect, relevance, reciprocity, and responsibility (Archibald 2008; Kirkness and Barnhardt 1991).
  • Gain experience in a research method: conducting storywork (collection, editing, and production).
  • Gain experience conducting team research: Work with transdisciplinary faculty and local community partners to gain experience conducting community research.

Student Time and Commitment

  • Varies based on student availability.  Some travel will be required (provided by graduate mentor).
  • Research team meetings monthly; faculty advisor meetings; graduate mentor meetings weekly.


Melissa Baird

  • Associate Professor of Anthropology
  • Graduate Director, Social Sciences

Community Solar Policy (Spring 2022)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Richelle Winkler

Project Description

Community solar projects offer people the chance to buy into a collective solar array, and earn back returns based on the energy produced by their share of the project. They are driven by communities, for communities and promote energy democracy. Michigan House Representatives have introduced two bills 4715 and 4716, which would enable community solar projects across Michigan. This project will research community solar enabling legislation across the United States, follow the progress of these bills through the Michigan legislative process, and work with student organizations, non-profits, and energy organizations across Michigan to support outreach and education about these bills. Students in the Fall 2021 Communities and Research course are currently doing this work. We are looking for one or more students to continue the project for Spring 2022.

Potential Benefits

  • Participate actively in the Michigan legislative process.

  • Learn about community solar policy in Michigan and beyond.

  • Build networks with energy and environmental organizations around the state.

  • Gain skills in community organizing.

  • Practice communication skills- translating technical information to lay audiences.

Student Time and Commitment

  • 1-3 credit hours (student chooses), amounts to 3-9 hrs/wk., depending on number of credits.


Richelle Winkler

  • Professor of Sociology and Demography, Social Sciences