Researchers in the Making

Author: Susan Sheridan, Associate Professor

Every summer, Jaime Ullinger, a 1999 anthropology major who also just earned her PhD, and I host a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program in bioarchaeology.
And as we begin our 10th year, it is nice to reflect upon—dare I say brag about?—the accomplishments of our alums.
But first, a bit about the program: This REU site has focused on reconstructing life in the ancient Near East, using skeletal remains viewed through the lens of their cultural context. I have curated three large skeletal/dental collections in the Reyniers laboratory here on campus to serve as the basis for these projects. We were just renewed for a fourth time by the National Science Foundation, which along with Notre Dame has contributed almost $1 million to this endeavor.
In addition to REU Fellows from undergraduate programs across the country, participants in the program include graduate students and faculty from 59 other universities and staff from museums nationwide. During the regular academic year, ND anthropology majors in courses such Human Osteology can also use the program library and equipment and build their own research projects based on REU studies.
The program is a competitive one: Each summer, approximately 10 fellows are selected from a nation-wide pool of exceptional undergraduates to receive a generous salary, housing allowance, and a stipend that covers all research and travel costs. During the seven- to eight-week program, they engage in original research, enhance their collaborative skills, receive training in data analysis and presentation, explore ethical issues in bioarchaeology, share in a field trip program and dynamic lecture series to better understand the importance of an holistic approach for studying the past, and engage in a series of professional development activities to enhance success in future graduate study.
The program results are impressive: More than 93 percent of our participants have gone on to graduate or professional school. Two-thirds have presented their REU findings at professional meetings, expanded their projects for graduate theses/dissertations, received funding to further their REU work, and/or coauthored papers for publication in refereed journals.
Through ethical inquiry, the integration of practical research skills, and the synthesis of disciplinary paradigms for viewing human interaction, students gain the necessary tools for graduate study where they can contribute in a meaningful fashion to the field of anthropology.
The success of our alums has far surpassed my initial expectations. The number of applicants has grown exponentially since the program’s inception, and our fellows have gone on to win prestigious awards from the Gates Foundation, Fulbright, the National Science Foundation, etc. Many have become valued colleagues and friends. Had I known what a rewarding experience this would be, I’d have started it 10 years earlier!
The websites for our REU program can be found at and There is also a Facebook group for the fellows and faculty that highlights stories of interest as well as recent accomplishments: ( I encourage you to browse the sites and learn more about the impressive work of our students.