Richmond Starbuck began classes at the university of Michigan after participating in the university’s summer research program. (Photo courtesy of U-M).

For Richmond Starbuck, who returned to school at age 27 to study computer science at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) provided a chance to pursue what he considered his “long-shot” dream of attending U-M.

Having previously dropped out of high school and community college, he said he was “shocked” when notified that he was accepted as a summer fellow through UROP’s Michigan Community College Summer Fellowship Program, which provides a 10-week summer research fellowship for community college students interested in transferring to U-M. Starbuck said the program has had a dramatic impact on his academic and career outlook.

“My academic goals have been extended further than I ever imagined,” he said. “I now see myself pursuing a Ph.D. in an engineering discipline and assisting with breakthrough discoveries in the sciences.”

Starbuck said his relationship with his research sponsor, Professor SangHyun Lee in the U-M Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, has been crucial in his development as a student and scientist. Lee hired Starbuck as a part-time research assistant after his summer stint was over.

“Rather than seeing me as a lackey … he’s made me a part of the research team,” Starbuck said. “He encourages me to voice my opinions regarding the future directions of our research, and affords me the resources to explore those possibilities.”

The result has been authorship credit on two published papers and a conference paper on tracking and analyzing the movements of workers on construction sites.

Starbuck is entering U-M as an undergraduate student this fall, and credits UROP with bolstering his present circumstances, as well as his future career.

“I have a job that challenges me intellectually, enhances my prospects, and that I thoroughly enjoy,” he said. “Everything about UROP has been beneficial, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me.”

UROP has been in place at U-M since 1989. The program is open to all incoming first- and second-year students, and matches participating students with U-M research faculty.

Besides the summer fellowship program, UROP also offers the Community Based Research Program, which places U-M students in research internships in non-profit community based organizations in Detroit.

Ian Waters


UROP participant Ian Waters said the program and the chance to do biomedical research set him on his academic path, which has led him to the Graduate Training Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“My experience helped confirm my interest in the practical applications of what I was learning in the classroom every day at Michigan,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy the real-life aspect of what you are learning, it makes it a whole lot less interesting.”

Waters entered the program during his freshman year, and studied under Professor Zora Djuric in the U-M Medical School. He said Djuric’s mentorship helped build his confidence and encouraged his academic and professional development.

Waters’ participation in UROP resulted in authorship credit on two papers and a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. The research is focused on biomarkers that potentially relate to cancer prevention.