Sun’s up and the SURF is on this summer at Viterbo


Reinhart Center where students can find more information about the SURF program.

Jessica Schneider, Campus Life Editor

When students hear about surfing, their minds may wander to images of sandy beaches and tall waves, but this summer, the word “surf” can mean something totally different. Viterbo’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program is an opportunity for students to receive guidance on research projects for subjects that they are interested in exploring.  

According to the Viterbo website, “Viterbo’s SURF program affords undergraduates an opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor to develop meaningful research questions and/or ideas for creative work, hone their research and presentation skills via the SURF Brown Bag Seminar Series, and learn and grow within a tight-knit community of faculty and student scholars.” 

Dr. Charlie Lawrence, Coordinator of Undergraduate Research, talked about the benefits of the program. “Both students and faculty who engage in it will get mostly different benefits—but it’s beneficial for both parties,” he explained. According to Dr. Lawrence, students who participate get the opportunity to have “hands on” experiences in their research topic. “For example,” he said, “let’s say our students who are majoring in dietetics, right, they’re going to get an opportunity to work with patients, to ask questions, potentially designing treatments and meal plans, etc.”  

Academic benefits aside, the SURF Program is a valuable opportunity for students to build communication skills and teamwork, Dr. Lawrence says. “As part of our assessment of the program, we have the students and the faculty evaluate their readiness and understanding of topics. And so the students are able to see growth in their ability to not only perform research, but to understand their topic, their fields of study that they’re working in, and themselves.” 

One anonymous faculty review on the Viterbo website said, “This summer research project pushed me outside of my scholarly comfort zone. The resulting expansion of my knowledge will enhance my teaching in several of my upper-level courses. In addition, it has opened up at least a couple new avenues of scholarship development for me.” Another anonymous quote, this time from a student, reads, “The summer research internship at Viterbo was a great learning experience for me. I learned how to work with other students and was able to work in a professional manner with my research mentor. It helped me develop my research skills as well as my interpersonal skills.” 

The program isn’t limited to dietetics or science majors either. “This is a program that is open to everybody on campus,” Dr. Lawrence explained. The only qualification is that a student participating in the program must be considered a full-time student at Viterbo and enrolled for the following fall semester. According to Lawrence, the program doesn’t even limit students to following their major. “We routinely have science students who are doing projects in ECAS or religion, or even nursing students are doing projects in music.” 

On average, 20-25 students apply every year, and according to Dr. Lawrence, funding in the last five years has allowed them to accept all the students who applied. Funding comes from Viterbo’s budget for research and donors that have set up funds for undergraduate research in general or specific topics. Dr. Lawrence added that in the past they’ve had funds specifically denoted for religious studies or biblical scholars, as well as to cancer research.  

This year’s application window closed on March 27, and applications are currently being reviewed. Once applications are approved, research will take place from May 15 to July 7. Dr. Lawrence shared that he enjoys reviewing the applications. “It can be a lot of fun because a lot of the faculty members I know, but I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. And then to see what the students’ research plans are and how they connect to them—those are really interesting. And I love research,” he added, “so that’s one of the reasons I like doing this.”  

While the application window is closed for this semester, students from across campus are encouraged to apply next year. “I’d love to have more applications than I can handle,” said Dr. Lawrence.