Two SURP Interns Discuss How They Found a Community at Curry

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 from underrepresented populations with valuable research and professional development experiences under the guidance of U.Va. Faculty. Interns are mentored by faculty and graduate student researchers while conducting research, attending workshops, taking GRE preparation courses, and presenting at a professional conference.

The Curry School of Education is continuing a Question and Answer series with this cohort’s 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 primarily with Michael Kennedy, Ph.D, an assistant professor in Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the Curry School of Education. The research project entitled “Improving Science Vocabulary Knowledge for Students with Learning Differences and Language Challenges” examines the achievement gaps of students who struggle in science compared to their peers who are typically developing.

Manju Connolly attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a major in Psychology and Mathematics and a minor in Spanish Studies. Her long-term research interests include understanding student motivation and barriers to student success, particularly how teachers can overcome discrepancies in student opportunities and access to resources through intentional classroom practices.

Manju ConnollyQuestion: How has SURP helped you think about graduate school?

Connolly: I have been trying to get to know as many people as I can, because everyone is so supportive of us, which is really nice. Once a faculty knows we are in the SURP program they ask us what we are interested in and then talk about how to get into grad school and things like that. So I think the community is something that I like to make sure that I find in a potential grad school setting. I want to make sure that my graduate studies experience has this kind of community because I think that this is unique to Curry, but I hope it can also be found in other programs as well!

Question: What are you most looking forward to with SURP?

Connolly: I am excited about the Leadership Alliance Network Symposium (LANS) at the end of the program. I have never been to a conference where a lot of people from different places come together, so I think it will be neat to see how people present themselves and hopefully to meet other faculty from different programs, etc. I’ve had a very positive experience with SURP so far and I’m excited to present my research at LANS and meet other undergraduates doing research from across the country!

Nazia Denese attends the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College (CUNY) and is majoring in Psychology. Her main passion lies in helping children succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.

Nazia DeneseQuestion: How has SURP impacted your future goals?

Denese: In the future I want to pursue research and a career in education and psychology. I think that the SURP program and the Curry community have really helped me to improve my skills in presenting, writing, and analyzing data. And, these skills are very crucial in order to succeed in educational science. I am also getting more familiar with the literature in the field, which will help me develop my own research questions in the future when in graduate school.

Question: Why did you choose to participate in SURP?

Denese: I was very interested in the various projects that the SURP faculty was working on, especially research integrating technology with teaching instruction in order to help students with disabilities succeed and perform better in STEM. I have worked with students with disabilities in the past and know how difficult it is. This research has been very interesting because it has the potential to help these kids succeed and I wanted to be a part of the process of creating these technology instructions as well as analyzing its effectiveness.


Connolly and Denese are the third group of SURP interns interviewed in the 2015 series; also see Alexander-Brookings and Metelus, and Brown and Lopez-Cancel.
For more information about SURP, please visit our website or email