UND Today

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Great day for grad students

Graduate Research Achievement Day showcases UND students on cutting edge of knowledge

More than 200 graduate students set up and discussed their posters at the UND Graduate Research Achievement Day on Feb. 29. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

UND is a busy and active place, so much so that there’s a tendency to take events such as the recent Graduate Research Achievement Day for granted.

After all, the sight of row after row of graduate students’ research posters and the clamor of hundreds of those students talking about their posters with visitors must be common at universities around the country.

Right?

Wrong, said Scott Snyder, UND’s vice president for research and economic development, during his remarks at the GRAD Event on Feb. 29.

“I am somebody who has been around research for, really, all of my adult life,” Snyder said, surveying the bustling UND Memorial Union ballroom, which was filled wall-to-wall with posters and people.

“And this is one of the most impressive events for really putting on stage student research and telling your story that I’ve seen in my entire career.”

Snyder started his job at UND only about seven weeks ago, so when he was invited to the GRAD Event, “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

“I was thinking, ‘Maybe there will be 30 or 40 posters set up,’” and it wouldn’t take much time to walk among them all and talk with the graduate students.

Instead, “look at this!” he said with a laugh, gesturing at the busy room. “This is crazy. I mean, I am super impressed.

“So, congratulations to all of the folks at the School of Graduate Studies, and especially to all of the students. As Dean Chris Nelson said, there will be winners of the research-poster competition today, but there are no losers. All of you poured your heart and soul into your projects.”

At the 2024 Graduate Research Achievement Day, Nesreen Jaber, a UND graduate student in counseling psychology, talks with Chonglin Zhang, a UND assistant professor and GRAD Event judge, about her research. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

A lifelong skill

More than 200 UND graduate students set up and stood by their posters for the in-person event on Thursday, and an additional 30 or more had presented their work online the previous day, said Nelson, dean of the School of Graduate Studies at UND.

“This is our showcase of all of the outstanding research that our students do,” Nelson said. “It’s a public-facing event, so our students are able to practice talking about their work in a language that anybody can understand. … That’s a lifelong skill,” he added, “and it’s a good one for anybody to have, no matter their career.”

Moreover, how often do graduate students – scholars all, and accustomed to spending long hours in solitary work in the library or lab – get to experience a collective thrill?

“The energy and enthusiasm here – I feel like I get a jolt, just walking in the room,” Nelson said with a smile. “I mean, if I could absorb some of that, I might live another 50 years.”

UND faculty judges roamed the in-person event, listening intently as graduate students pointed to the posters and explained the research results. At the end of the day, cash prizes were awarded to those students whose work and presentation were deemed best.

“As an academic, I’m a specialist, of course, but here I’m judging research that is out of my field,” said Ron Fevig, one of the judges and an associate professor of Space Studies at UND.

“But that’s the point, because this gives the students the chance to present their work to a more general audience and even better, refine their delivery.

“Plus, what we’re seeing here is original research – the cutting edge of knowledge. It really reminds me of why we’re a university, to have students who themselves are at the forefront like this.”

Echoing Snyder, Fevig said that opportunities such as Grad Day are surprisingly rare in academia. “For example, I was not so fortunate to have this kind of an event at my own institution, when I was getting my Ph.D.,” he said.

“It definitely would have been meaningful. I think this is wonderful.”

At the UND Grad Event on Feb. 29, Mohamed S. Gaber of the UND Department of Civil Engineering stands by the research poster that he prepared with his fellow scholars. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Helping distance learners feel connected

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, graduate students who are studying remotely for their degrees presented their own research projects online.

“This is my second year that I’ve done a poster,” said Allison Hinton, a graduate student in St. Charles, Ill., who is seeking a doctorate in Earth System Science & Policy. “I just think it’s a good experience, and it helps me become more comfortable talking about my research in a way that people who aren’t familiar with the topic can understand.”

Hinton’s research explores how human intervention might be needed to save Quercus alba, the white oak tree that’s native to central and eastern North America, from climate-change-induced extinction.

“This experience allows me to really hone in on how I can help others understand why this is so important,” she said.

And she’s grateful to UND for paying such close attention to distance students, as shown by the fact that the GRAD event had an online component. “After all, I’m not going to be able to drive to North Dakota with my three children in the middle of the school year to come do a poster, right?” she said with a laugh.

“So, I love that this allows us to feel that sense of community from afar. I’ve done other online programs where I didn’t feel any sense of connection to the school, but UND really does allow us to feel connected.”

Kaushiki (Kelly) Kapoor, a nurse practitioner in New Jersey who’s studying online for her UND Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, agreed. Kapoor’s research explores how adverse childhood experiences (such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect) are so seldom asked about by clinicians when patients present with physical symptoms. During the online GRAD event, she answered questions about her research and also talked about her experience as a distance learner at UND.

That experience has been “very good,” very much including the GRAD event, Kapoor said.

“The University of North Dakota surprised me with how well organized it is,” she said. “I have been a nursing professor for 10 years, so I could distinguish the ease of how everything is communicated to me as a student, compared to other places. It has been a good experience.”

UND would like to thank the sponsors of the GRAD event: Bio-Techne, a Minneapolis-based supplier of tools for life science research, therapeutic manufacturing and clinical diagnostics; General Atomics Aeronautical, a designer and manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles and radar systems for the U.S. military and commercial applications worldwide; Northrop Grumman, a multinational aerospace and defense technology company; the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.; the city of Grand Forks; the UND Center for Innovation; and the UND Office of Research & Economic Development.

The winners from UND’s 2024 Graduate Research Achievement Day event are:

Feb. 28 | Virtual Program Award Winners

Professional, Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities:
First place ($500) – Andria Kaplan, Nursing

Engineering & Natural Sciences:
First place ($500) – Allison Hinton, Earth System Science & Policy

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Feb. 29 | On-Campus Award Winners

Natural Sciences:
First place ($500) – Darius Quansah, Biomedical Sciences
Second place ($300) – Michael Allen, Biomedical Sciences
Third place ($200) – Thomas Iken, Physics

Professional, Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities:
First place ($500) – Chandler Tobeck, Counseling Psychology
Second place ($300) – Matt Torgerson, Teaching & Leadership
Third place ($200) – Muhammad Salahuddin, Educational Foundations & Research

Engineering:
First Place ($500) – Victor Ojo, Mechanical Engineering
Second Place ($300) – Raja Abubakar Khalid, Civil Engineering
Third Place ($200) – Lidya Guteta, Civil Engineering

Chris Nelson (right), dean of the School of Graduate Studies at UND, presents a check to Darius Quansah, GRAD Event First-Place Winner in the category of Natural Sciences. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.