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College of Arts & Sciences honors undergraduate research

Some 150 students present their research findings at UND’s UNDergraduate Showcase

Undergraduate research was the focus at UND’s most recent UNDergraduate Showcase, which was held May 4. Photo by Joonghwa Lee for UND Today.

By Chelsea Timmerman

On Thursday, May 4, 150 students gathered in the Memorial Union Ballroom to present the research projects they have been working on for much of the spring semester.

The College of Arts & Sciences is one of the most diverse colleges on UND’s campus. With more than 30 undergraduate majors ranging from criminal justice to theater arts and astrophysics to communication, a vast amount of research is completed at the College throughout the semester.

Moreover, much of that research is carried out by undergraduates, as encouraging undergraduates to do research is a UND-wide priority. And at this event, nearly 100 undergraduate projects were presented both in-person and online via Zoom.

Having a hybrid format allowed for students who may be remote to present their research findings at the Showcase. So, mixed in with the in-person presenters were students logged in to a Zoom meeting. A laptop was placed next to their poster, and the student(s) would present their findings to those who stood in front of the laptops.

Being a student enrolled in the College of Arts and Science, this author attended the Showcase as both a student researcher and a viewer. I was able to listen to several student researchers and learn about what they have been working on, as well as why they think presenting their findings is an important thing for undergraduates to do.

At the UNDergraduate Showcase, Kathreen Carroll, an Environmental Studies and Political Science major, explains her research to Ryan Zerr, associate dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences. Photo by Joonghwa Lee for UND Today.

Paige Johnson, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice, addressed the important relationship between forensic evidence and sexual assault cases. She found that more than 63% of sexual assault cases go unreported due to a lack of trained nurses to gather sufficient evidence as well as the fear of what might happen to the victim if that person reports their victimizer.

“This research definitely needs to be brought to people’s attention” Johnson began, “given how many crimes happen versus how many [perpetrators] actually get punished. … You never know what’s going to happen after DNA gets collected.”

Jaiden Underdahl, an Environmental Studies major, researched the relationship between nutrients and water quality while focusing on algal blooms. These blooms can be harmful for wildlife to ingest and even swim in, she found. She also mentioned that children and pets are especially at risk if they come in contact with the harmful algal blooms.

“There are a lot of topics here that most people don’t think about,” Underdahl said. “This kind of education, all of it here, is very important to help raise awareness.”

Rafael-Maximillian Stan, a Visual Arts and Honors student in the Department of Art and Design, was able to research Cubist Calligraphy through an Undergraduate Creative Research Grant. The most important thing he learned was “the ability to react to sudden things that happen,” he said.. “Materials were backordered, they came late; I had to adapt to the change. The research grant makes you think about what to do now, not later.”

My final stop was with Kaitlin Hazel, a Psychology major, who studied mindfulness in the classroom. Hazel found that since the start of COVID-19, college students have struggled to concentrate in the classroom. She believes that research needs to be understood in order for it to be purposeful. In order to truly understand what the research is trying to display, “people should take bits and pieces and incorporate them into the real world,”  she said.

Chelsea Timmerman, a senior majoring in Communication and Environmental Studies, shares a laugh while presenting her research findings at the UNDergraduate Showcase on May 4 at UND. Photo by Joonghwa Lee for UND Today.

After talking with several student researchers, it was time to step in front of my own research and present, just as everyone else had done. I proceeded to present my Communication Capstone project, in which my partner and I studied the effects that TikTok has on the beauty industry. This wasn’t my first time presenting here at the Showcase, however. At the Spring 2022 Showcase last year, I displayed my findings on tree diseases throughout the Midwest for my Environmental Studies Capstone.

From my two experiences at the UNDergraduate Showcase, I have found that it is much more than just a reason for students to complete their capstone projects on time. It’s also a chance to develop skills that will be valuable throughout our professional careers.

Because most of the guests who attended the Showcase were not scientists, students had to practice explaining their research in a ways non-scientists could understand. In addition, the Showcase gives students the chance to talk and network with peers in similar fields. For example, Paige Johnson, the student majoring in Criminal Justice, told me she was able to talk with someone who wanted to help continue and deepen her research about forensic science in sexual assault cases.

The UNDergraduate Showcase, which was held in a ballroom in the UND Memorial Union, reflects the emphasis UND puts on encouraging undergraduates to do research. Photo by Joonghwa Lee for UND Today.

Those are exactly the kinds of outcomes UND is hoping for, said Ryan Zerr, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“In a situation like this, students are going to be naturally encountering people who aren’t in the discipline,” Zerr said. “So, they’re having to explain what they did to an audience of people who may not have any background in that area.

“And that is the sort of skill students will likely find very useful when they are out in the professional world, after graduation.”

About the author: 

Chelsea Timmerman is a double major in Communication and Environmental Studies at UND. She is originally from Rogers, Minn.