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Undergraduate Showcase celebrates student research

Some 65 UND students gathered in Memorial Union to show and discuss fall semester research

Pictured with President Armacost, James Guy Gierisch presented his topographical analysis on the effects of population growth on land in Brozos County, Texas. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today

On Thursday, Dec. 8, UND undergraduates assembled in the Memorial Union Ballroom to present and discuss their fall semester research.

The Undergraduate Showcase, an event devised to highlight research by students in the College of Arts & Sciences, has been held for seven years and encourages students to embrace the public side of research. Ryan Zerr, the College’s associate dean, created the event for the Essential Studies Program before migrating it to A&S when he assumed his role there.

“The idea is to create a public venue in which undergraduate students can come and present the results to a lay audience,” said Zerr. “Giving them an opportunity to show off what they’ve done by presenting their work to non-specialists, they are able to practice skills that will benefit them after graduation.”

This atmosphere makes for an informal event that encourages attendees to engage with presenters. Students filled the small ballroom, lining up in front of the videos and graphics illustrating their work. Attendees milled around from one presentation to another, asking questions and filling the air with the quiet hum of academic engagement and discourse.

This semester, 65 students from across the College presented their work during four sessions. The research topics spanned the spectrum, ranging from banned books to the California wildfires. These diverse interests reflect the mission of the College, with its 26 programs and countless degree options.

The students themselves engaged with topics that interested them and had significant implications for their fields and future professions.

Brooke Clark, a senior majoring in Social Studies Education, addressed an essential issue in the education system. Her research focused on the possible geographical connection between absenteeism and high school graduation rates, something she felt was crucial to understanding as a future educator.

“I’m going to be student teaching next semester,” Clark began, “and a teacher I was working with talked about how it was a big struggle to get those students caught up. I was interested in seeing if there’s a correlation between being chronically absent and not graduating in specific parts of the region.”

She found there were various reasons for chronic absenteeism in the region, and that designing location-specific solutions to address these problems could help students graduate. For example, one of the main reasons for chronic absenteeism in the region is a lack of transportation to school. “In the Grand Forks School District, students have to pay for busing; it’s not provided for them,” she said.

This could be a problem for students with financial instability, and programs designed to address this issue in Grand Forks have successfully mitigated its impact, Clark added.

In addition to students using coursework as a springboard to research existing issues, there were also students hoping to share self-directed research done in UND labs.

Senior Odele Rajpathy presented her research on SLFN12 expression in cattle mammary tissue at the Fall 2022 Undergraduate Showcase in Memorial Union. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today

Senior Odele Rajpathy, a Biology and Professional Health Sciences major, presented research she’s been working on in UND’s Biology labs. Using tissue samples of cattle eating a certain diet, she examined the expression of SLFN12, a protein that can be linked to conditions such as breast cancer.

Rajapthy noted that her experience with labwork at UND has been enriching. “I’ve been doing it for about two years now. So, I get to be involved in every step of the process, doing the entire thing,” she said.

“It was really interesting, because my other courses have aligned with this, too. I had taken nutrition, and it ties in with biochemistry; everything aligned perfectly.”

Another group of students spoke about their experience working on their group presentation for a Psychology class. Their focus was replicating a previous study on biases regarding immigrant stereotypes. For this, they surveyed the campus community to see if their results would be similar.

“This wasn’t a successful replication of the study,” said Claire Leach, a Psychology major, “but that doesn’t mean it was a failure overall, in the world of research. We learned that sample size was a big limitation. Younger people are typically more left-leaning politically, so they’ll have different perspectives. Different political views definitely had an impact on our findings.”

Furthermore, the students found the experience of conducting their research instructive, both in applying the practical skills they’d learned in the course and in working together to accomplish their goal.

“Working as a group was a big part of what we learned,” Leach said. “So was learning to let go of some of that control and trust your group members. We really learned to communicate and work with each other very well.”

The students’ holistic approach to their presentations, an approach that helps them develop skills and insights beyond the academic value of the research, make this event a necessary staple on the College’s calendar, Zerr said. “What you see here represents the culmination of the education that students are getting,” he said. “It’s a nice way to encapsulate all the hard work that goes into their research.”