Matt Downen

Matt Downen
  • Assistant Director for Faculty Initiatives
  • Matt supports faculty and staff in their roles as research mentors and instructors, directs communications efforts, and manages the Undergraduate Research Awards.

Contact Info

Strong Hall, room 156


1. What is your professional background?

I worked as a recycling coordinator for Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College before coming to KU for graduate school. I received a Bachelor of Science in geology from Western Kentucky University in 2011, and a Master’s and Ph.D. in geology from KU in 2014 and 2020. During my time as a graduate student, I was a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Geology. 


2. What is your background in research?

In undergrad my research focused on geochemistry, and I studied volcanoes and meteorites. When I came to KU for graduate school, I switched to paleontology and studied fossil spiders preserved in ancient lake deposits. Although my research pursuits have changed, I’ve always used various types of microscopy, 3D imaging, and other advanced analytical techniques. I have also worked on quantifying the experiences of LGBTQ+ scientists in the geosciences to better understand the barriers they face and how geology can become a more welcoming field.


3. What do you do at the Center for Undergraduate Research?

My job in the Center is to support faculty and staff in their roles as research mentors and instructors. I handle most of our communications with research mentors related to our Center’s programs, as well as our efforts to recognize the work of mentoring, such as our mentor awards and mentor spotlights. I work with instructors interested in incorporating research into their undergraduate courses. To this end, I meet with faculty to share models for undergraduate research in the classroom, consult with departments about developing an overall plan for research in the undergraduate curriculum, and administer the Research-Intensive Course Grants.   

I also am in charge of all communications efforts through our Center, including the website, social media, and newsletters, and coordinate the Undergraduate Research Awards.