Curry Interns Gain Confidence in Their Career Paths During SURP Program

By Leslie M. Booren & SURP Staff

Two interns, Astha Agarwal and Andrykah Smith, discuss the confidence they’ve gained in SURP and how they have changed their career trajectories.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is a rigorous 10-week internship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences as part of the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program.

SURP provides undergraduates with valuable research and professional development experiences under the guidance of UVA faculty. Interns are mentored by faculty and graduate student researchers while conducting research, attending workshops, taking a GRE preparation course, and presenting at a professional conference.

The Curry School of Education is continuing a Question and Answer series with the 2018 cohort of SURP interns that will be released throughout the summer. This series will highlight the SURP program, and the interns’ experiences, interests, and the research.

The interns highlighted here are working with Dr.s Khara Turnbull, Jason Downer and Amanda Williford along with their graduate student mentors Katie Smith, Sarah Wymer, and Renee Gallo at CASTL. The research project entitled “Understanding the Power of Preschool for Kindergarten Success (P2K)” has the goal of providing a better idea of what high-quality preschool education means in order to determine specific classroom experiences that increase kindergarten success for children.

412x412_Astha 3.JPGAstha Agarwal attends McGill University with a dual major in Psychology and Economics. Her long-term research interests include interventions to build resiliency in children who have suffered maltreatment or neglect. 

Question: How has SURP helped you in thinking about your career?

Agarwal: I have really appreciated the career trajectory workshops. It’s made me step out of my comfort zone and put what I have going through my head 24/7 onto paper. The process of developing and revising this trajectory has made me think more clearly about my career path and also recognize that there isn’t just one right way to do everything. I always felt this pressure to go, go, go, but this program helped me realize that what’s right for someone else isn’t necessarily right for me. The connections in SURP and hearing about people’s experiences has been invaluable in this process for me!

Question: What has been the most valuable to you with SURP?

Agarwal: Before I came to SURP and the Curry School, I was the only person who wanted me to go to graduate school but since I’ve been here I feel like all these people want me to go. I no longer feel alone in reaching this goal! I have a lot of support now from people who can advise me on the whole graduate school process and going into a research career. And I’m more confident about my career. I know I can make decisions at the right times for myself and I think that at the end of the day that’s what’s going to count.

412x412_Andrykah 1.JPGAndrykah Smith attends North Carolina State University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Africana Studies. Her long-term research interests include educational equity and the achievement gap between white students and students of color. 

Question: How have you changed since starting SURP?

Smith: I would say that I feel more sure of myself, or more confident. I feel more confident in being independent as well. By being in Charlottesville by myself I’m gaining life skills in general, in addition to research skills. I’ve also seen changes in how I handle stress based on this program and what I’m learning in the research. I’m reading research about teacher stress and also thinking about ways to handle my own stress, like I would need to do in graduate school.

Question: How has SURP helped you think about your career path and where you’d like to end up?

Smith: SURP has helped me realize that research is something that I find interesting, but it may not be something I want to do right out of my undergrad. The program has helped me realize that I don’t want to get my Ph.D right away, but still keep it as an option for the future. I’m more interested in the application and practical side of psychology. So I may work to get my masters in school psychology and then work in a school. I’d like to use all these experiences to determine the best option for me in a long-term career.

Agarwal and Smith are the third group SURP interns interviewed in the 2018 series, and you can read more about the other interns on our alumni website.

For more information about SURP, please visit our website or email

  • Related Faculty
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    Khara Turnbull Assistant Professor of Education, Research Faculty
    Headshot of Jason T. Downer
    Jason T. Downer Professor of Education, Program Area Director, Clinical and School Psychology, Director, CASTL
    Headshot of Amanda P. Williford
    Amanda P. Williford Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, Associate Director for Early Childhood Education, CASTL