Spider scientists on the rise

August 5, 2022

Student Experience

As a first-year student in 2019, Anna Liu was conducting scientific research before her classes even started.

She was part of the University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience (URISE), a program that helps students familiarize themselves with the University — and a research lab — before the hustle of first semester begins.

“URISE was my first mini experience as a college student,” Liu said. “We lived in the dorms for two weeks, attended lectures, did lab work, and built memorable relationships.”


Students start to build their networks early — and start developing their skills in the lab.
headshot of Shannon Jones
Shannon Jones

Director of Biological Instruction, Program Coordinator for URISE

The two-week experience takes place the summer before a student’s first year, and focuses on providing opportunities for skill and community building for students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in STEM, including minorities, first-generation college students, and students from low-income households.

Liu, now a rising senior, is majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry because of her experience with URISE. She hopes to go on to pharmaceutical school after graduation.

Shannon Jones, director of biological instruction, leads the URISE program, which is part of the broader Integrated and Inclusive Science Program. The program aims to introduce science, technology, engineering, and math to underrepresented students early on, and keep them engaged in these areas throughout their time in college, through mentored research opportunities, and by building a strong community of scientists.

“Our program allows students to start to build their networks early — and start developing their skills in the lab early,” Jones said. “This helps them start to build their confidence and see themselves as scientists. We provide safe, inclusive spaces that provide a sense of belonging for our students, so that they may also show up as their true, authentic selves.”

Devin Morgan is one of the 20 URISE participants for 2022, and just completed the program, which included a research excursion to Carter Mountain Orchard outside of Charlottesville, to study fruit flies.

“URISE allowed me to gain a first-hand perspective on our science department here at UR, as well as connect with students who share similar interests,” Morgan said. “I've learned the building blocks for a successful freshman year.”

Many URISE students go on to participate in the Science, Math, and Research Training (SMART) course in their first year. The course introduces concepts from biology, chemistry, and math, and establishes mentored relationships with faculty like Jones. Students from the URISE and SMART programs often go on to declare a major or minor in STEM fields.

Lesly Corado-Santiago, a 2021 graduate, participated in the URISE program in 2017. She is now completing a post-baccalaureate fellowship with the Integrated and Inclusive Science program at Richmond before attending medical school.

“My URISE experience set the stage for the remainder of my college experience,” Corado-Santiago said, “it has come full circle. I was in their shoes five years ago and now I can help make their experience as memorable and impactful as it was for me.”