Making students’ dreams come true
Valerie Imbruce now leads Undergraduate Research Center
Valerie Imbruce has a passion for helping students succeed in their academic endeavors by prioritizing self-exploration, personal growth and academic development.
“My job is to make students’ dreams come true,” said Imbruce, who – in early July — was named the new director of the Undergraduate Research Center (URC) and Office of External Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards.
Assuming the responsibilities of retiree Janice McDonald, Imbruce promotes research, scholarship and fellowship opportunities to students and helps them navigate their way through the process of applying for highly sought-after awards.
“(I) mentor students and help them understand what their greatest capacities are,” Imbruce said. “Our office is about promoting and participating in research and applying for and winning awards. Both processes engage students in critical reflection of one’s goals — personal, academic or research-oriented — and are valuable, not just to success in college, but also to identify future plans and aspirations.”
Imbruce believes that the application process takes precedence over winning or the prestige of a particular award. “There is something to be said for students who don’t win,” said Imbruce. “I believe that they can gain self-confidence and clarity on their goals, how to achieve them and what they want out of life. Simply reflecting on the process of what they’ve done and what they can do or what they need to do to reach x, y and z is important in a kind of holistic academic sense.”
Imbruce began her career at Binghamton University in 2015 in the Division of Research, where she worked in research development and assisted with the University’s Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence.
As a 1999 Binghamton alumna who majored in environmental science, Imbruce never imagined that she would direct an undergraduate research center, but said her experiences have aligned in a way that it makes sense.
“Grant-writing and fund-raising was always part of what I did,” she said. “As a former faculty member at Bennington College, I put a team of people together, earning $200,000 from the National Science Foundation to create a new set of courses.”
At Binghamton, she is part of a team that was just awarded $4 million to create pathways for community college students to come to Binghamton to study in smart energy-related fields and achieve academic success.
In her new role, Imbruce’s first order of business is to conduct a self-study. “I’m going to be looking back on the past five years that this office has been functioning and see what’s been working and what the outcomes have been,” she said. “I want to see how the office has been meeting its goals.”
Imbruce’s short-term goals are to work on a humanities research course, and expand Research Days to include new constituencies. “I’m working with faculty here on a new art history and materials science course and will be assessing students’ learning outcomes in an interdisciplinary, inquiry-focused course.”
As for long-term goals, Imbruce wants to continue to escalate the research participation rate. “When the URC was established in 2012, the research participation rate by senior year was 25 percent. In 2014, it was 32 percent. This is above the national average for our peer institutions and those with our research activity. We want to keep this up,” she said.
“I want to stress that research and scholarship opportunities are not exclusively reserved for the science-related fields,” said Imbruce. “There are 613 opportunities for external awards across subject areas that our students can be eligible for.” Students can access these opportunities through SOAR.
Imbruce’s office also runs the Summer Scholars and Artists Program, which is supported by the provost and has grown from two students in 2012 to 24 students as of last year.
“The scholars are across various educational disciplines and receive a $3,000 stipend to support their work,” said Imbruce. Students must find a faculty member to mentor their project and are required to write reflections about their experience as a scholar.
Imbruce’s office also coordinates nominations for University-specific awards, including the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the President’s Award for Undergraduate Student Excellence and the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.
There are limitless opportunities for students of all academic disciplines to pursue, said Imbruce.
“I want this office to be seen as a great partner to build new research experiences, support and mentor students in writing about and presenting their work and put them in independent learning experiences, to be drivers of their learning,” she said.
“In short, I want to put Binghamton on the national map.”