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ORCA Grant Secures a Deeper, Mentored Research Experience

CPMS undergraduate students have an opportunity to secure funding for doing the research they’ve dreamt of, thanks to the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA) Grant.

The ORCA Grant is a $1,500 stipend offered by the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities to help students gain mentored experience conducting research in their own fields of study.

“That’s what this program is about: giving you a deeper, mentored experience working alongside someone who is an expert,” said Gene Larson, associate director of ORCA.

BYU undergraduates must discuss their research plans with a professor before submitting an application to confirm the professor’s availability and willingness to advise the student in his or her research. Many professors are eager to get involved.

“This is a dance; you’re trying to find a fit between what you’re passionate about and what they’re passionate about,” Larson said. “They want you to come and talk with them.”

Statistics major Kate Gibson used her ORCA Grant two summers ago to build on spatial statistics research she conducted with Professor Matthew Heaton.

“We were doing a project for the Federal Highway Administration. They wanted us to look at car crashes and figure out what types of road factors like median width, type of road, and number of lanes impacted crash severity and [the number of] crashes that we saw,” Gibson said. “So when we saw this ORCA opportunity we said ‘Great, this gives us the opportunity to look at the same data, but from a new perspective.’”

With help from the ORCA Grant to fund new kinds of statistical research methods, Heaton and Gibson identified several new factors contributing to crashes along interstates in Washington state.

“I was able to present this research at a statistical research conference this summer that led me to get this interview with Apple,” Gibson said. “It’s just been a really great experience, and I would encourage [everyone] to apply for an ORCA Grant.”

Overall, 200-300 ORCA grants are given each year across the university. The money received can be used for anything from time compensation to snack provisions.

“It’s income to you,” Larson said. “You can take this money and . . . you can buy Top Ramen.”

But the primary purpose of the grant isn’t just to provide students with money.

“The main benefit to [students] is being able to pursue something you’re passionate about in depth,” said computer science professor Mark Clement. “Getting into a mentored environment can actually help you sharpen your skills in almost any area.”

Students have until October 27 at 11:55 p.m. to submit their applications to receive an ORCA Grant for the 2016-2017 academic year. Grants will be awarded during the first week of February.

“It’s once a year: Don’t miss it,” Larson said.

To submit an application or find out more information about the ORCA Grant, visit

By James Collard Posted on