Undergraduate Research

Professor with students and flowers

What is Undergraduate Research?

An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original, intellectual, or creative contribution to the discipline...(Council on Undergraduate Research)

Faculty and students in our program pursue research on environmental problems to to expand our knowledge base through experimentation or exploration focused on the discovery of new observations or facets of fundamental environmentally related theories.

These research experiences can be highly varied and may be initiated by students who seek out an experience related to their chosen Learning Pathway or through faculty solicitation for help with a specific research project.  Most research in our program is presented to your peers and Environmental Studies faculty during our spring colloquium but research could also result in publication or presentation at a conference.

Why should I get involved in research?

There are many reasons why undergraduate students get involved in research and they range from educational to personal to professional.  From an educational viewpoint this is your opportunity to work closely with a faculty member, learn about how research is conducted in your pathway of study,  and to develop the ability to critically think in the situations you will be faced with in your profession. By participating in research, you will prepare for your future career through on the job skills development, learning how to work in a team, growing your experience in professional communication and finally learning how to take on a project from start to finish.

How do I get started?

The first place to start is to ask yourself a question.  What environmental issues or problems are you interested in?  Was a there an Environmental Studies class that really fascinated you? A professor whose research spoke to you? 

After you have thought about these questions do some reading in the area of research, online, through the library etc., then reach out to pathway coordinators or another faculty member and have a conversation with them about your research ideas.

Environmental Studies offers two courses specifically designed with undergraduate research in mind, EVRN 624 and EVRN 625:

EVRN 624 Independent Study
EVRN 625 Honors Research in Environmental Studies

Departmental Honors

Getting started on a research project? You are on your way to qualifying for honors! Learn more about Environmental Studies Departmental Honors


Center for Undergraduate Research - The Center for Undergraduate Research seeks to transform undergraduate education through research. We do this by working with instructors and mentors to develop and promote curricula and models for mentoring; engaging and advising students in their development as researchers; and by providing campus-wide programs that celebrate undergraduate research at KU.

Research Experience Program - KU's Research Experience Program (REP) acknowledges a student's participation in the full undergraduate research process, from that initial interest in subject material gained through coursework to the design and implementation of an independent project to the presentation of a research or creative product to others.

Research Experience for Undergraduates - The National Science Foundation provides funding to host institutions each year for research programs. Students development their own project within the parameters of host REUs. Most, if not all, REUs require applicants to be currently enrolled in a college or university during the experience.


Paul V. Stock, KU Department of Sociology; Tim Miller, KU Department of Religious Studies; Kelly Kindscher, Kansas Biological Survey and KU Department of Environmental Studies; Kate Meyer, Spencer Museum of Art; The KU Center for the Study of Science Fiction; Christopher Rosin, Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago, New Zealand; Michael Carolan, Department of Sociology, Colorado State University; and Zsusa Gille and Grant Shoffstall, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois

Their research will examine the growing global challenge to feed humans and responses to it. This team of researchers seeks to develop a model for what a food utopia would look like, using critiques and successes of the many sustainable food systems that are currently in place. Its preliminary goal is to develop this discussion into a plan for an imagined ideal food system that takes advantage of the technology and alternative practices available to food growers and distributors. From there, the researchers will apply for more funds to continue their research on a larger scale.

People: Jay Johnson

My research focuses primarily on comparative studies into the struggles over Indigenous peoples’ self-determination.  This research has focused on resource management, political activism on the national and international levels and on the political struggles over particular places and landscapes.  Much of my research work has been conducted in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and North America. 

Biculturalism, Resource Management and Indigenous Self-determination:

This research project began with my dissertation work at the University of Hawai'i.  The dissertation focused on the struggle by Māori to gain greater control over resource management and their use of the Resource Management Act to aid in this struggle.  I also compared Māori struggles with Inuit struggles to control wildlife and resource management in the newly formed Nunavut Territory of northern Canada.  I have recently updated this research and hope to publish these findings in the Canadian Geographer.

Waitangi: a contested landscape:

I and geography PhD student Will Price are currently conducting archival research and preparing for field research on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, site of the negotiation and initial signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Māori chiefs and the British Crown on 6 February, 1840.  This treaty established British sovereignty over New Zealand while promising to protect Māori self-determination over their lands and treasured resources.  The site of the signing, the house occupied by the British Lieutenant-Governor and the Māori carved meeting house added for the 100th anniversary have become a major tourist destination.  These buildings and surrounding lands were purchased by Lord Bledisloe, then Governor-General of New Zealand, as a gift to the nation intended to aid in nation-building.  It is for this reason that the Treaty Grounds have become the focus of much of the Waitangi Day national holiday celebrations.

Māori, the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand, have, in more recent years used the Treaty Grounds as a site of protest over the failures of the New Zealand government to protect their self-determination since the signing of the treaty.  They have used the ‘birth-place of the nation’ and the Waitangi Day national celebrations as an opportunity to air these grievances before the nation.  This research project will explore the contested interpretations and employments of the landscape of the Treaty Ground to support frequently conflicting political and cultural agendas. 

I and Will will travel to New Zealand in mid-January of 2010 to conduct research at the National Archives, the Auckland War Museum, and the University of Auckland libraries.  We will also be conducting interviews prior to and during the Waitangi Day national celebrations at the Treaty Grounds with a variety of individuals involved in creating the spectacle and celebration.  We intend to produce two journal publications related to this research and I hope to continue the research and eventually produce a book.  This research is partially supported through funds from the Kansas University Center for Research. 

The politics and philosophies of place:

I am engaged in on-going research collaboration with Soren Larsen of the University of Missouri examining and comparing how various Indigenous and Western philosophies of place effect how different groups engage in political action around particular places.  Currently we are preparing an edited volume for publication through which academics who have worked collaboratively with Indigenous communities and in so doing have had their own (Western, academic, personal) geographical understandings questioned, challenged, and finally expanded and reformulated into “deeper” senses of place will describe these collaborations.

The Environmental Studies Program recently founded the KU-Land Institute Initiative, a partnership with the Land Institute of Salina, Kansas. The initiative is designed to increase interdisciplinary research and training across the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities at KU regarding the development of agriculture involving perennial polycultures.

The Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies hosted the initiative’s first international visitors, Professors Valentin Picasso and Pablo Speranza, from Uruguay’s Universidade de la República, in March 2013 to discuss joint research and exchange opportunities. A lunch with Marsha Haufler, Associate Dean of International and Interdisciplinary Studies, Susan Groenbeck-Tedesco, Vice Provost of International Programs, Tim Crews, Director of Research at the Land Institute, Chris Brown, Jorge Soberón, and Jill Kuhnheim was followed by a meeting at The Commons with researchers from a wide range of fields to discuss specific areas of research related to perennial polycultures and sustainable agriculture. Participating researchers from KU included: 

Kelly Kindscher, Kansas Biological Survey and Environmental Studies

Sara Gregg, History

Joy Ward, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Dave Mechem, Geography and Atmospheric Sciences

Nate Brunsell, Geography and Atmospheric Sciences

Dan Hirmas, Geography

Benjamin Gray, Anthropology

John Head, School of Law

Dave Fowle, Geology and Associate Director of Environmental Studies

Paul Stock, Sociology and Environmental Studies

J. Christopher Brown, Geography, and Director, Environmental Studies

Tim Crews, Director of Research, The Land Institute

Jorge Soberón, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Biodiversity Institute

Town Peterson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Biodiversity Institute


The Native Medicinal Plant Research Program is a collaborative project of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and the Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas.

The program began in 2009 as a broad-based search for medicinal compounds in plants native to the U.S. Great Plains. Plants were collected in the field; choices were based on previous research in ethnobotany (cultural use of plants) and input from our program’s medicinal chemists. Plant material was dried and ground, then tested for its chemical makeup.

We continue to collect selected plant species as those already harvested go through testing; more than 300 collections have been tested so far. In addition, we study the conservation of medicinal plants, particularly those species at risk of being overharvested.

Among our program’s recent successes are:

  • the discovery of new chemical compounds in Physalis longifolia, a plant native to Kansas;
  • the granting of a U.S. patent for this discovery;
  • showcasing of this finding at a prestigious research symposium on the East Coast in spring 2012;
  • a significant number of publications;
  • having our program chosen as one of 20 across KU that was highlighted at the universitywide campaign kickoff in April 2012.

Our Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden—which has become our program’s public face—is just north of the city of Lawrence, Kansas. It includes a research area with about 25 species grown each year, as well as a demonstration show garden with six themed medicinal plant beds holding about 70 species. The garden is open to the public year-round, dawn to dusk. Semi-annual public tours and private tours there have been attended by hundreds of people, ranging in age from infants to adults in their 90s. In addition to serving as an educational site, the research garden serves several potential research functions:

  • production of plants for testing (more than a dozen collections have been taken from the garden so far);
  • comparison of chemical makeup in the same species grown at the garden site and in a native setting;
  • as a site for growing particular species of interest under a variety of conditions and testing for differences in the potency of their medicinal compounds (in 2011, Physalis longifolia was grown using four treatments for such testing);
  • and as a site for generating additional seed and plant material, as needed, for plants of particular interest.

We also developed and maintain the KU School of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden at specifically for the education of pharmacy students and the public. The garden includes about 60 species. Comprehensive, informative signage makes this garden ideal for self-guided tours.

In addition, we are building an extensive Prairie Ethnobotany Database by researching, compiling, and synthesizing data from existing ethnobotanical information on Native Medicinal Plants of Kansas, the Great Plains and adjacent areas. The database now contains nearly 1,500 species, about two-thirds of which occur in Kansas. These have served as our preliminary target list for collections.

The Native Medicinal Plant Research Program is led by Barbara Timmermann and Kelly Kindscher at the University of Kansas. Timmermann is a University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry . Kindscher is one of the region’s leading ethnobotanists, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey and a KU professor in the Environmental Studies Program.

Current support for program activities comes from the Kingsbury Family Foundation of Virginia, United Plant Savers, the American Herbal Products Association, the Rio Grande National Forest, and Heartland Plant Innovations Inc., a Kansas company that received startup support from the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Heartland provided the initial and primary funding that made possible the development of our program.

Website: Native Medicinal Plants Research Program