Freshman Research Initiative Receives Higher Education Awards

January 3, 2017 • by Christine Sinatra

The Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin received awards at this year's worldwide competition which attracted more than 800 submissions in 2016.

A student researcher pipettes in a lab wearing a lab coat

The College of Natural Sciences' Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin received the Gold Award for STEM education and the Silver Award winner for "Presence Learning" in a worldwide competition billed as "the Oscars of Higher Education."

The 2016 Reimagine Education Awards attracted more than 800 submissions from higher education institutions in 56 countries. 

Now in its third year, the annual contest aims to identify the most effective and innovative "education pedagogies enhancing learning and employability." 

The awards are organized by the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and QS Quacquarelli Symonds, which publishes the QS World University Rankings. The 2016 Reimagine Education Awards were given in December at a ceremony in Philadelphia.

In November, Stacia Rodenbusch, director of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), received word that the program was on a list of programs shortlisted for consideration by a panel of 40 international judges. The panel assessed projects for their potential to transform higher education and identified a set of leading programs from a record number of submissions. 

The FRI, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, puts first- and second-year undergraduate students in faculty-led labs for year-long experiences in real-world research. Students participate in small cohorts participating in research streams that explore topics in computer science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, mathematics, and more. Peer-reviewed research of the FRI published last year found that the FRI dramatically increases a student's likelihood of graduating with an undergraduate degree and of earning a STEM degree in particular.

The FRI placed second in one of Reimagine Education's main award categories, earning a silver for "Presence Learning." The program also took first place, earning a gold in the disciplines category for STEM education.