Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Offering students the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors on cutting-edge research projects.

a group of students sitting outside in the dirt doing stream research

About SURF

Student fellows work closely with faculty and engage as junior research partners on faculty-led projects across the disciplinary spectrum. Students working as fellows gain valuable experience while assisting faculty with their research. Each fellow spends half-time or more on a twelve-week project and receives a stipend for participation.

Faculty and students have teamed up on SURF projects in a variety of fields including:

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Literature and literary arts
  • Human rights
  • Ecology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Dance/movement studies
  • Indigenous studies
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Urban planning

Check out our SURF Highlights and History page for more information about past projects and topics.

2023 Projects

Learn about our current projects and what the program is exploring this year. Find detailed information about each project, including fellowship requirements, on the application page. 

The West Cemetery at Isthmia: Creating an Archaeological Database

Ulrike Krotscheck, faculty member

In 1967, near the archaeological site of Isthmia in Greece, construction workers who were putting in water lines unexpectedly encountered an ancient cemetery. Work was halted, and in response to a request from the government, archaeologists began a rescue excavation, which took place intermittently over the next three years. The excavators at the time did an excellent job of recovering material and documenting the process, but despite these efforts, final publication of the results of these excavations has stalled multiple times. Dr. Krotscheck has been asked to finish this project.

This fellowship will pick up where these excavators left off, and begin the documentation of the finds from this cemetery, with the ultimate goal of publication within the next five years. The student fellow will read the historic excavation notebooks and investigate the inventoried finds. They will then build an excel database of individual interments, along with grave goods found in them, so that these can then be analyzed and evaluated.

The cemetery contained over 100 graves, many of which included grave goods such as ceramic vessels, jewelry, fragments of weapons, and some coins. This fellowship should be of interest for any student studying the ancient world, ceramics, and/or archaeology. All work can be completed remotely.

Summer invertebrate development: surveying the reproductive progress of shellfish at the Evergreen Shellfish Garden

Pauline Yu, faculty member

In this project, the fellow will work with faculty Pauline Yu to monitor the reproductive activities of native and introduced shellfish on the Evergreen Beach, including in and around the Evergreen Shellfish Garden.

The project will take place primarily on campus in the microscopy lab and at the Evergreen Beach, with a research and skill-development component, and the potential for gathering sufficient data for a future capstone project. The primary aims of the project will be to collect plankton samples at the beach, to learn to biopsy invertebrates, to learn and apply microscopy for plankton and tissue analysis, and to tend the shellfish bed.

The summer season will provide ideal access to the tidal flats of the Evergreen Beach during daytime low tides, low flood tides, and also provide ample opportunity to observe development of marine invertebrates during the peak of the reproductive season. Additionally this opportunity allows us to specifically assess the recruitment of clam species to the clam beds that are part of the Evergreen Shellfish Garden, and closely monitor the growth of seeded oysters. This activity will provide the opportunity for the fellow to become adept with collecting plankton and identifying plankton by microscopy, as well as to develop familiarity with the fields of larval biology and embryology. These skills will have relevance to the shellfish industry, and to marine conservation, restoration and sustainability activities.

The fellow will finish the summer with a strong understanding of microscopy, plankton collection, and specialized knowledge about mollusc development.

Decarceral Studies: critical literacy + critical numeracy in the age of hyperincarceration

Eirik Steinhoff, faculty member

This multi-year “Decarceral Studies” action research project concerns liberal arts and liberation education in prison in collaboration with students and teachers behind bars.

The project’s hypothesis comes from Victor Hugo: “[Anyone] who opens a school door closes a prison.”

A recent RAND study shows that for every $1 spent on education behind bars, $4-5 are saved on future incarceration. Evidence from the Bard Prison Initiative (founded 2001, with some 400 graduates) suggests that an intensive liberal arts curriculum, in particular, leads to an astonishing reduction in recidivism (2% vs 20-40%); this comes as a consequence not of focusing on recidivism per se but rather on the life-changing power of the liberal arts.

“Decarceral Studies” builds on these findings in collaboration with several cohorts: (1) students enrolled in the Gateways for Incarcerated Youth program, (2) students enrolled in the Black Prisoner Caucus’s TEACH classes, & (3) students enrolled in the Freedom Reads Writers Group.

The objective here is to document, analyze, and reflect on the accomplishments of these programs, & to compose a “scholarship of teaching & learning” essay that presents these findings/recommendations for the world at large.

Research will include:

  • An analytical description of these programs
  • Concrete recommendations for other faculty + students in similar classes
  • Reflections on the theory and practice of teaching and learning behind bars

Areas of inquiry will include:

  • Documentation + analysis of Gateways + BPC-TEACH + Freedom Reads curricula (one deliverable being transferable repertoires of frameworks + classroom practices) 
  • Research into Gateways & BPC-TEACH & Freedom Reads
  • Research on similar prison education projects (FEPPS, UBB, BPI, PUP, P2CP, etc.)

Seeding a Sustainable Campus Food System: Comparative Field Trials

Steve Scheuerell and Sarah Williams, faculty members

This field research project facilitates learning of field trial methods for establishing experimental plantings on Evergreen’s farm and oysters at Evergreen's shoreline shellfish garden in relation to the movement to combine agroecology science and the movement for inclusive, just, sustainable, and participatory food and ag practices.

The project will support comparative research methods including the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) research specifications to address organic seed, plant breeding, production, and culinary traits as well as GRUB’s “Tend, Gather, Grow” community food systems initiative to address Traditional Ecological Knowledge in relation to the living lands and waters of Evergreen’s campus.

The student(s) will learn to design comparative field trials to gather data on oyster growing methods and on-farm assessment of plant variety growth habits, disease, and insect pest infestations or invasive predation. Data also will be gathered on the maturity and grading of harvested varieties, harvesting ease, flavor profiles, and overall yield and harvest potential. The field trials will be designed for incorporation into Food and Ag academic programs to provide summer, and when feasible, spring, fall and winter quarter tasting labs. Sensory assessment protocols will be used, which have been developed by Lane Selman of OSU’s Culinary Breeding Network and Rowan Jacobsen in A Geography of Oysters, The Essential Oyster, and The Living Shore, including attention to seed sovereignty, climate change and sustainability, and culturally relevant, community-based food preferences.

Blood - the Water of Life: a Cultural, Scientific, Artistic Study

Hirsh Diamant, faculty member

All cultures consider blood to be something special. In Chinese culture blood is defined as a special Red Water that carries Qi, or life energy. Circulation of blood in all animals and circulation of water in plants are essential for life. Western philosophy and medicine and Eastern cultural traditions developed different ways of understanding blood. The purpose of this summer research project is to examine and correlate different cultural, scientific, and artistic ways of understanding blood with a specific focus on Chinese and Indian medical traditions. For example, Chinese doctors developed Renying Cunkou and Sanbu Jiuhou pulse diagnosis to give an inner view of the blood system and understand impairments that manifest as disease.

SURF Fellows will research and compile information about blood from western and eastern traditions. We will consider the following questions: how can we correlate different traditions and develop coherent ways of understanding information of standard blood tests and Chinese, and Ayurvedic diagnosis of blood? How can this study help us to re-imagine human anatomy and human development and help us to develop a healthier relationship to ourselves, and the world?

Ecophysiology of Marine Invertebrates

Erik Thuesen, faculty member

Organisms that live in estuaries experience a wide range of environmental parameters, and these fluctuating conditions of temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration, etc. pose physiological challenges that need to be overcome. This project will examine the response of whole animal metabolism to changes in various environmental parameters. Working with one or two specific species commonly encountered in Puget Sound, this project will establish the environmental parameters that the species can tolerate. Appropriate species will be chosen based on mutual interests of the student/faculty and on the availability of specimens. Past research in this lab has focused on crustaceans, cnidarians, ctenophores, nemerteans, polychaetes, chaetognaths and molluscs.

Tree water-use, water-stress and sapling growth in Temperate Rainforests

Dylan Fischer, faculty member

In this research experience, students will work with two discrete collaborative forest tree research projects based at Evergreen.

First, students will join a multi-agency (DNR and Dept. of Ecology), and multiple institution (Evergreen and WSU) team to investigate how tree species use water and affect water cycles in temperate rainforests. Students will study trees instrumented with sapflow (transpiration) probes, and use specialized technology to measure water stress in Douglas-fir and maple trees. This research is part of a multi-year effort, and this summer we will concentrate on measuring water stress and transpiration in a range of tree sizes in forest and semi-urban environments. Second, students will work with two common garden experiments to determine genetic-based patterns in sapling growth and ecological interactions for young trees planted at The Evergreen State College in the past 5 years. This second project will represent a collaboration with Penn State university, and a series of miniature experimental tree plantings across the us (

Students will have the opportunity to develop their own research project in the context of these projects. Measurements will involve tedious work and caretaking of experiments and experimentally planted trees. Hours will be variable and depend on the nature of each measurement, but students should be prepared for regular weekly schedules, and occasional irregular hours (such as predawn-measurement of tree stress). Students should talk directly with the faculty member prior to applying to get a better sense of the work and commitment required.

South Sound Housing Policies, Social Reproduction and Solidarity Economics

Savvina Chowdhury, faculty member

This project builds on my ongoing research interest in United States housing policy. Feminist theorists have argued that the household is a site of social reproduction,“ a broad term that refers to a society’s capacity to maintain families, care for elders, raise children, tend to the needs of people over their lifetimes, and cultivate socially desirable values and practices that maintain neighborly relations and bind communities together. Faculty and SURF fellow will draw on insights from feminist social reproduction theory and the emerging framework of solidarity economics to examine local housing policy campaigns and initiatives.

Entry-level home prices have been climbing in a period of job market instability, decades-long downward pressure on real wages, and now, rising interest rates. Housing is a key strategy for building towards economic security in old age and for the transfer of inter-generational wealth. For many households, however, not only is the proverbial house + automobile part of the "American dream", increasingly out of reach, even renting a home and working towards building wealth has become challenging in the current economic context.

This project will examine current conditions in the South Sound housing market, contemporary housing policies, as well as local discourse on housing rights and initiatives to address housing justice. How are housing advocates, policymakers and local communities thinking about re-designing built environments to address social needs and social reproduction? How are housing authorities in cities in the South Sound addressing affordable housing and rising rents? How are housing justice advocates and renters rights groups, engaging with housing authorities, local initiatives and campaigns for housing justice?

Creating a hint tool for students I cybersecurity exercises

Richard Weiss, faculty membert

The goal of this project is to apply machine learning to analyze data from students engaged in a cybersecurity lab assignment and notify the instructor if a student is having trouble. This allows the instructor to intervene promptly. This work will be done in the EDURange framework.

The EDURange project was designed as a collection of hands-on cybersecurity exercises and a framework for creating them. Now it includes tools for an instructor to see how students are doing as they complete an exercise (Mirkovic 2020, Svabensky 2022, Weiss 2017). One of the challenges for both online and in-person instruction is to be able to give students meaningful feedback on their lab work while they are doing a lab assignment. Instructors may not know right away which students need help. In addition, instructors may have hidden biases and may be less likely to offer help to students with whom they are less comfortable. We plan to address this problem by using machine learning to identify students who need help, based on their interaction with the lab exercise.

The first step in our planned research is to collect data. Some of this is already happening. The EDURange system collects the commands that students type, and there are often questions associated with the lab that students answer while they are performing the tasks. In addition, we have implemented a chat feature for students to talk with the instructor or TA. This summer, a SURF student would integrate the commands with the answers and the chat into a single data structure that could be used in a machine learning algorithm to identify students who are struggling. Preliminary results have shown that using only the commands, it is possible to predict with 80% accuracy whether or not a student will complete the exercise. We want to do better, and we should be able to do so by integrating the new information.

The components of the project are

  • Integrate multiple sources of data in EDURange
  • Run multiple machine learning algorithms on the data
  • Analyze the results to identify the most promising approaches
  • Write a paper with the findings and present them

Movement Roots

Jehrin Alexandria, faculty member

For this research project, student fellows will be researching movement that is abstract/authentic and self-generated and comparing it to classical ballet. We will be researching ways to take non-structured movement and integrate it into classical ballet technique. Some of the questions we will explore are what happens to the structured movement, what happens to the non-structured movement when these systems are combined, why do people move, how has movement progressed from tribal cultural forms to structured classical ballet, does movement tell a subconscious story, a cultural/historical story, and how do we interpret movement?

The larger question of this research is whether the art form of classical ballet can be evolved into a system that includes Authentic Movement and is it possible that this could evolve the direction of classical ballet. We will be experimenting using different dance techniques during group movement sessions. There will also be research into the historical, cultural, and societal evolution of movement styles via text and video. This research work can help in areas of child development, psychology, and working with the learning disabled by using movement to express non-verbal communication. The work will also benefit those in the dance, arts, and theater.