“If you had told me in high school that in two years I would be doing top-of-the-line, cutting-edge research in astrophysics, I would have called you a liar,” said computer science major Sean Moorhead, a participant in UT’s enormously successful Freshman Research Initiative, or FRI.
FRI is turning students like Moorhead into innovators by putting them in advanced research labs at the beginning of their educational experience rather than at the end. Originally introduced in biology and chemistry, the program has expanded to physics, astronomy, math and computer science, serving more than 750 first-year students each year.
FRI provides an authentic research experience and in the process a richer college experience. Mentored by faculty and graduate students, freshmen conduct and contribute to modern science by designing experiments, performing data analyses and publishing peer-reviewed papers. The best news? Participants do better in school. They earn higher GPAs than their non-FRI peers and graduate at a 35 percent higher rate.
“I really believe that all education is self-education, and so all I really want are students who are excited enough to go and learn for themselves,” biochemistry professor Andy Ellington said. “I can guide them and direct them, and I can save them some time, but mostly I’m looking for them to come in and be excited. And if they do that, the rest is easy.”