GRAD: An annual meeting of scholarly minds

UND’s fourth annual Graduate Research Appreciation Day brings in more partners and diverse schools of thought

Brittany Borgen (center) presented her research at the fourth annual Graduate Research Appreciation Day. The mentorship and resource programming she has developed for LGBTQ+ college students earned her a cash prize at this year’s event. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

At the frontier of knowledge on Thursday, UND graduate student Miranda Shanks described the air bubbles trapped in million-year-old Antarctic ice, while nearby, master’s degree in music candidate Loren Been played the flute.

Meanwhile, UND’s Director of Applications and Integration Support, Sherry Lawdermilt, a soon-to-be Ph.D., described the relationship between social media use and self-authorship skills, and Brittany Borgen laid out her plans for a group mentorship program and resource center for college students identifying as LGBTQ+. The scholarly project will earn Borgen her master’s degree from the College of Education & Human Development this spring.

At this year’s fourth annual Graduate Research Appreciation Day (GRAD), Borgen’s extensive research also netted her a $200 third place prize.

All of this and more took place in the gymnasium of the Hyslop Sports Center. More than 140 graduate students illustrated their thesis projects and scholarly research for the chance to win cash prizes.

Rows of posters on easels stood next to their creators most of Thursday afternoon before nine graduate students were selected as winners among three categories.

Been, studying music education, has written her own textbook on bringing advanced flute playing to younger students. Throughout GRAD, Been demonstrated said techniques and discussed her goals as an educator. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

UND’s knowledge frontier

Shanks and Been, then standing across from one another in the center row, were among the first exhibitors visitors would encounter in the gymnasium.

In the Harold Hamm School of Geology & Geological Engineering, Shanks is using satellite imagery to map out areas of Antarctica that can provide valuable samples unlocking Earth’s past for scientists.

Been, a flautist specializing in music education, has written her own textbook on bringing advanced flute playing — called extended techniques — to younger students.

Such diversity is the hallmark of GRAD, much to the appreciation of the unlikely neighbors.

“I love the variety and how everyone is so passionate about what they’re learning about,” said Shanks, looking across to her neighbor, Been. “I mean, I have someone right across from me playing the flute. I wouldn’t have imagined that here.”

Been, flute in-hand and ready to play at moment’s notice, said she was mostly inspired to participate because she loves talking about music. It’s something so many people can readily relate to, and her day-to-day work on campus rarely leaves the Hughes Fine Arts Center.

“It’s important to just get out and share what it is we do,” Been said. “Getting to come out and meet all these other graduate students and connect with them has been an awesome experience.”

Complex concepts, concise communication

“If you’re not careful you might learn something,” laughed James Casler, chair of UND’s Space Studies department.

As a third-time judge, Casler has learned to expect the unexpected when showing up to Graduate Research Appreciation Day (GRAD). Judges are assigned to six posters throughout the floor to evaluate over a two-hour period. Purposefully, the posters Casler examined had nothing to do with space.

Chris Nelson

By around 3 p.m. on Thursday, most of the poster stations had three or four stickers next to the station’s number placard, indicating the poster and its presentation had been judged. Casler was one of 70-plus judges walking up and down the rows of posters and displays.

“We mostly have faculty as judges, but also some staff and members of the public,” said Chris Nelson, associate dean of UND’s School of Graduate Studies and host of GRAD. Since 2017, Nelson and his staff have produced the event incentivizing students to construct posters and refine their communication skills.

“In every field, there are certain terms or jargon that the average person won’t know,” Nelson said. “But if you’re going to talk about the value and significance of your research in a public institution, where we want the public to support us, you have to be able to communicate what you’re doing to someone who isn’t a specialist.”

Developing the successful “elevator pitch” for their projects is key, continued Nelson. Whether they’re talking to a judge in competition, a potential employer or a business partner, clear communication is essential around complex topics.

Shanks (center) stood by one of the first posters seen upon entering the Hyslop’s gymnasium, and she enjoyed the opportunity to brush up on her impromptu presentation skills throughout the afternoon. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Building stronger ties

Nelson has worked with his team to connect with and develop external partnerships through GRAD. This year, for the first time, all of GRAD’s prizes were funded outside of the School of Graduate Studies. For example, the City of Grand Forks sponsored three prizes of the nine awarded on Thursday.

Mayor Michael Brown presented oversized checks to prize winners at the end of the afternoon, and City Administrator Todd Feland was among the pool of judges hearing the variety of research happening at the graduate level.

Feland said that the number of people he meets in Grand Forks who are doing extraordinary things never ceases to amaze him. On Thursday, the city official learned about research at UND concerning 5G communication technologies, the science behind CRISPR and DNA sequence editing and using CO2 to increase oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken Formation.

“They were topics above and beyond my capability in understanding the science, but I now know enough to know those topics are important to our economy,” Feland said. “It’s quite humbling to see that people from across the state, country and world are coming to UND to do research and do things that are helping Grand Forks and North Dakota in general.”

As the mayor remarked on-stage at GRAD, the relationship between UND and Grand Forks has never been stronger. Feland’s mind is on internships and other opportunities for UND-based research to be utilized at the local level, as well as continuing to support relevant research activities.

“Let’s do things that work for the greater community — public and private sectors,” Feland remarked.

A big check and a big smile can be seen with Derick Thompson, one of GRAD 2020’s first place winners. This year was the first in which all of the prizes were funded outside of the School of Graduate Studies. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

GRAD 2020 Award Winners


1st Place ($500, Sponsored by AE2S) – Nidhal Badrouchi, Petroleum Engineering

2nd Place ($300, Sponsored by Minnkota Power Cooperative) – Trevor Taylor, Chemical Engineering

3rd Place ($200, Sponsored by EERC) – Kaylee Smith, Chemical Engineering

Natural Sciences

1st Place ($500, Sponsored by the City of Grand Forks) – Derick Thompson, Biomedical Sciences

2nd Place ($300, Sponsored by the City of Grand Forks) – Danielle Germundson, Clinical & Translational Science

3rd Place ($200, Sponsored by Minnkota Power Cooperative) – Alec Sczepanski, Atmospheric Sciences

Professional, Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts

1st Place ($500, Sponsored by JLG Architects) – Zachary Hoggarth, Public Health

2nd Place ($300, Sponsored by the UND Office of the Provost) – Khalifa Alshaya, Teaching and Learning

3rd Place ($200, Sponsored by the City of Grand Forks) – Brittany Borgen, Higher Education