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LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 19, 2024) — Undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky have several chances to invest in themselves and their futures. One way they can build success, gain skills and be prepared for life after graduation is through undergraduate research.

Shria Holla, a Lewis Honors College member and senior mathematical economics major with minors in political science and statistics in the College of Arts and Sciences, has collected a variety of experiences thanks to mentors and opportunities through the UK Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR).

In the summer of 2023, Holla was an economic research intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago — one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the country. Working with the microeconomics team, she used her data skills on projects studying the association between parents’ and children’s health within the United Kingdom, to a study on female employment during World War II.

“The internship was wonderful and I learned a lot about long-term research projects,” said Holla. “I wouldn’t have known about it without guidance from my professors and multiple mentors in the Economics Department. Darshak Patel, Gatton’s director of undergraduate studies, and Professor James Ziliak, especially, asked me to keep this on my radar.”

James Ziliak, Ph.D., is the Carol Martin Gatton Endowed chair in microeconomics, a university research professor in the Department of Economics in the Gatton College of Business and Economics and the founding director of the UK Center for Poverty Research.

Ziliak believes research equips students with an abundance of valuable skills, like creative thinking and writing, understanding the life of an academic and how to collaborate with others while working on projects.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn and explore and discover about themselves and the things that motivate them, inspire them and opportunities going forward,” Ziliak said. “It’s equally important for students and faculty to have a good, collaborative working relationship. It is incredibly gratifying as a faculty member to watch a student grow and develop their research skills.”

Holla, a Gaines Fellow and Undergraduate Research Ambassador, credits her mentors’ accessibility and honesty to help her take advantage of opportunities.

“Their doors are literally and figuratively always open for students. I can just walk in and ask questions, and no matter how busy they are, they always answer,” Holla said. “They also warned me that analyzing data from the ground up can be overwhelming in the beginning. But it’s both scary and exhilarating to walk into this world of research where there are so many possibilities of what to research.”

Ziliak emphasized how research offers students an avenue to ask questions to figure out which paths they can take. He gave an important piece of advice:

“Don’t be afraid to ask about research opportunities. Go up and talk to your professor after class. Go see them during office hours to talk about the research they’re doing or what their lab may offer,” Ziliak said. “It does take some individual initiative on the part of the student to seek these opportunities out. It starts with being open to expressing interest in doing research.”

Holla encouraged students to stay connected with OUR and look at the resources available to students.

“They send out so much information about research, and they also have ambassadors like me who are in less represented areas within UK,” Holla said.

Holla also took advantage of resources from Student Success, like The Study to help complete her early mathematics curriculum. She also visited the LEAP Lab in Gatton College for tutoring for an upper-level economics course.

“Considering the pleasant experiences I had at both labs and my love for teaching, I soon joined the LEAP Lab and tutored for about three semesters,” Holla said.

After Holla graduates in May, she will return to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for a full-time position as a research assistant. She hopes other students can capitalize on their journeys with undergraduate research.

“If you’re interested in research I would just say take the risk because there’s a whole world out there that we don’t know of. We take for granted what we learn in class, but there’s so much more past that.”