March/April • Volume 43 • Issue 3

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Undergraduate Research Opportunity: Posters on the Hill

Jaime Hecht, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs

Every year, the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) holds a forum on Capitol Hill to display excellence in undergraduate research. This event, Posters on the Hill (POH), is a unique opportunity for sociology majors to showcase the potential of social science research to impact public policy. Two former sociology students whose work was selected for the prestigious event spoke to ASA about their experience and offered some words of encouragement to interested undergraduates.

Camila Alvarez, currently a sociology PhD student at the University of Oregon, submitted a research project in 2012 while an undergraduate at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) . While working on a senior thesis on differing attitudes and neighborhood design in Las Vegas, she became aware of the POH event held at the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Motivated both by the desire to see DC and the value of presenting her research to an important audience, Alvarez applied for funding and submitted her project with the help of her advisor, Robert Futrell. Futrell spoke highly about the program and his role as well as the impact on Alvarez.

“I think the POH experience is an exceptional opportunity for sociology students, like my advisee Camila Alvarez. I know she felt it to be one of the pinnacles of her undergraduate experience. Camila earned several honors here at UNLV. But the POH experience was an important step for her beyond our university accolades. Her acceptance to travel to Washington, DC, and talk about her work really validated her efforts in ways beyond what the university alone can provide. I think POH also really helps to solidify the idea that social science research can and should be much more than scholarly publications. I think that the experience demonstrated to Camila that social research can carry real-world impact all the way to the Capitol.”

When Alvarez was asked why she felt sociology was a good fit for public policy, she replied, “social research is definitely key to public policy; sociology has important methods and theories to help understand the world.” The trip to Washington, DC, gave her an opportunity to meet scholars in a variety of fields, engage with other researchers in a community-oriented atmosphere, and ultimately shine a “spotlight” on sociology.

Joseph Moloney, a residential counselor at a treatment facility for adolescent females, had research accepted to Posters on the Hill in 2011. His presentation, Locations of Drug and Robbery Offenses: Spatial Analyses Based on Social Disorganization Theory was a project he completed as part of a summer grant program leading into his senior year at Bridgewater State University. Through the assistance of Bridgewater State’s Office of Undergraduate Research, Moloney was able to complete what he referred to as a “lengthy application process, but a great experience for any undergraduate.” His advisor, Christa Polczynski-Olson, offered him technical support for his presentation, which consisted of maps and data (not a typical poster).

When asked why he thought sociological research was an important component for Posters on the Hill he replied “I believe any research that has the ability to create positive changes fits well for POH. It is a great opportunity for social science researchers to show lawmakers that scientific research can be done without a microscope.” In regards to how his undergraduate research has helped him with a career after graduation, Moloney states, “my research experience has opened many doors for me and certainly helps when applying for jobs. The research skill set shows employers that you can write well and draw conclusions from large amounts of information. It is a great way to differentiate yourself from other applicants.”

Faculty advisors and students interested in learning more about Posters on the Hill should visit Although the Council for Undergraduate Research does not provide funding, many academic institutions have resources for undergraduates available. Check with the chair or dean’s office at your institution regarding undergraduate research funding opportunities.

The POH Application window for 2016: September - November 2015. Contact ASA’s Academic and Professional Affairs Department, for further inquiries.

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