- by Mack the Knight
Katie Murray presenting her SURE project to another student at the SURE Symposium.

In case you missed it, previously we took a deep dive into Leila Saleh's Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, aka SURE, to get a better understanding of the program (check it out here if you missed it). Today, we're back to give you more insight into SURE.

The perks of SURE, you ask?

This immersive summer research opportunity is competitive for a reason: students get to spend 5 or 10 weeks of their summer working closely with a professor on a research project of their choosing, they get paid a stipend to conduct this research, and live on campus for free. Think of SURE like a mini semester where you get paid to learn and live in the Hudson Valley during some of its most beautiful weather!

Make SURE a service-oriented program

We know that one of the reasons you chose to study here is because you want to make a difference – to spark change in the world. Although SURE takes many different forms, depending on the project, some students choose to use the program to reconnect to their own commitment to service. Take Kathleen (Katie) Murray for example, and read about her time in SURE below.

Q&A with Katie Murray on participating in SURE

Katie Murray holding up a cup of water

Katie Murray, set to graduate in the spring of 2022 with a degree in General Science and a certification to teach at both the Elementary and Early Childhood levels, participated in SURE last summer with her project, "Live Life Cleaner, Make It Greener," alongside her research partner, Lindsay Byer, under the guidance of Sonya Abbye-Taylor, associate professor of Education.

Project Details

Through an interactive and targeted sustainability curriculum, Murray partnered with Bishop Dunn Memorial School (BDMS) in their mission to educate youth on the impact humans have on the local ecosystem and the planet as a whole. Their project served as an exploration into sustainable living practices on a global scale, and, perhaps more importantly, as a way to make a real and powerful difference right here in the Newburgh community. 

Murray and her research partners created and taught a curriculum that intended to help lay the necessary groundwork for educating students and families about the natural world, the threats it faces, and how they can be part of the solution. Although there are numerous branches of sustainability that merit exploration, clean water and sanitation, recycling, composting, and upcycling served as the main areas of focus for this study.

Here is what Murray had to say about her time in SURE:

Why did you decide to participate in SURE?
I was first drawn to SURE because of my love of science and research...As someone who is studying science and education, I am used to having to choose between pursuing one passion or the other. As the only general science major in my grade pursuing a career in elementary education, it can sometimes be difficult to find like-minded individuals with a similar set of passions...on the final page [of the summer research proposals] was a sustainability themed education research topic.

I could not believe my eyes! For once science and education seemed to be working together and I was overjoyed. I quite honestly think I might have started clapping. On top of all of that, the project was run by one of my favorite teachers at the Mount, and so part of me just knew that I had to pursue this opportunity...I reached out to the coordinating teacher to begin the application process and, as they say, the rest is history!

What were the benefits of working closely with the professor and/or other student(s) on the project?
More benefits than I can ever truly express came from working in a large group of people this past summer. I had the great fortune of working with Dr. Taylor (my mentor), Ms. Benfer (the principal of BDMS, and my research partner Lindsay Byer. As a large part of our early research and analysis came from a pre-assessment on the BDMS community's knowledge of sustainable living, the group decided to expand our circle even more by partnering with the math trails project run by Dr. Fothergill and Dr. Davin and studied by Charles Benfer (who we will be hearing from in our next edition of "SURE Feels Like Summer!").

Our seven-person team would meet once a week to work on the development of our survey, review our current research progress, and to discuss the end of our summer presentation. By working in this group, I got to meet and form connections with Mount faculty members and students that I would have never known without applying to SURE. I also received an instant support system of seven incredibly intelligent individuals across a wide array of disciplines that all helped to ensure that my research was the best quality that it could be.

Also, I met one of my closest friends. Each day we would come to work and push each other to new limits both in the classroom and beyond.

How did the SURE program impact your research skills and/or your time in the classroom during the regular academic year?
As a scientist, the ability to perform effective research serves as an integral part of my education at Mount Saint Mary College. Getting additional practice in this area, over the summer, prior to beginning my Senior Capstone Project, has proven to be absolutely invaluable.

As a future educator, it is my philosophy that all good teachers must be lifelong learners. Due to this mandated online learning format, I was pushed to think outside the box and explore new educational technologies. All of the skills that I acquired through professional development workshops and all of the information gleaned from my newly synthesized professional learning communities will remain with me throughout the rest of my time at the Mount and well into my professional career. In fact, my knowledge of certain emergent technologies might actually give me a leg up on the competition when seeking employment later in life.

Has your participation in SURE opened up any opportunities for you that you may not have been given if you didn't participate in the program?
SURE has opened up more doors for me then I have the ability to step through. I have joined the Knight Reading committee, become employed as a seventh-grade substitute science teacher at BDMS, and have even begun another winter independent study research project on the importance of emergent technology in virtual science education classrooms as a result of this wonderful summer experience. 

What was the most challenging part of your project?
If I am being honest, the most challenging part of my project actually turned into one of the most beneficial components of my research...As someone who had never taught in an online format before, trying to research my topic while learning how to generate engaging virtual lessons proved to be quite challenging.

Murray and her group created this water purification device out of paper cups as a readily available resource for students to work on the project from home. 

That said, all of the professional development workshops and tutorials that I watched on new educational technologies proved to be time well spent, as I quite honestly believe that the field of education has been changed forever by the coronavirus. I learned that using emergent technology with 21st century learners actually serves as one of the most effective ways to educate these students. All of that said, by pushing me out of my comfort zone, I have become both a more well-rounded individual and more effective teacher, and for that I am forever grateful!

Did you feel like you were missing out on your summer break at all by participating in SURE?
I did not feel like I was missing out on my summer break...If you pick a topic that you are passionate about, it becomes a joy to research and explore and the experience feels more like a fun challenge than it does work. 

Apply to SURE today!
Katie Murray's project is so inspiring because, at its least, it was an opportunity for her to conduct important research and learn how to teach children about sustainability virtually; and, at its best, Murray made a massive impact on a group of young people who could one day change the environmental course of the future – if that isn't spending your summer committed to service, then we don't know what is.

The new deadline to apply to this summer's SURE is Friday, March 12. To apply, students and faculty submit a joint application – one application form from the student and one from the faculty mentor. If you've already discussed your application with your chosen faculty mentor, what are you waiting for? If you're interested, but not sure about your project, check out the faculty proposals here.

Get those applications in! Both the application and submissions Dropbox can be found at

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