Grants Support Student Research on Life Issues

Author: Chris Milazzo

sarah genette

Undergraduates in the College of Arts and Letters can now get up to $1,500 per month this summer to fund original research into life-related issues. Suggested topics range from the history of contraception to art about the dignity of life and the economics of the death penalty.

The grants are part of a new Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) track offered by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts. The funding was among the recommendations made by a life issues task force Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., convened last year.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to integrate their pro-life interests with their academic pursuits here at Notre Dame,” says Mary Daly, program coordinator for University Life Initiatives. “It’s also a chance to work with faculty who share these interests.”

Senior art history and pre-med double major Sarah Gennette received the program’s first grant last summer to explore assisted reproduction services on the Internet. The idea grew out of an assignment in her Relationships and Sexuality in the Christian Tradition class, taught by Rev. Mark Poorman, C.S.C.

“When I sat down to write a five- to six-page paper, I realized that I had way too much information, and I had to cut a lot of it out,” Gennette says. “It was a really interesting topic, and I wished I could do more research on it, so I went to meet with Father Poorman afterward.”

Poorman suggested Gennette pursue a UROP grant to expand her research and offered to serve as her adviser on the project. “Both Sarah and I are interested in the intersection of ethics and the global market in human gametes, surrogate motherhood, and other reproductive services,” he says. “Sarah’s detailed investigation of these services through web research provided both of us with a better understanding of the breadth and depth of the issues involved.”

The research was “an eye-opener” for Gennette.

“You can buy sperm within 10 minutes online and have it sent to your door,” she says. “You can search for women to acquire their eggs. It’s quite amazing, and I think there’s a real danger there. There are some assisted reproduction technologies that are really beneficial for those who want to take advantage of them, but when you put them on the Internet to buy like shoes—is it really OK to treat human gametes with such nonchalance?”

Gennette says the most rewarding aspect of her UROP experience was the chance to delve deeper into a question that intrigued her—something she encourages other students to do as well.

“You don’t know exactly what’s out there until you really immerse yourself in something,” she says. “If you’re interested in a specific life issue, this grant is a perfect opportunity.”

The deadline to submit proposals for UROP funding is March 11, 2011. Proposals are especially welcome from juniors who wish to write senior theses in the 2011-2012 academic year based on research conducted this summer.

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