By Evelyn Boswell
More than 250 Montana State University students will share their research during the annual Student Research Celebration to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 14, in ballrooms A and D of the Strand Union Building.
The public is invited to attend this free event where undergraduate and graduate students in several disciplines will explain the research they conducted this school year.
Earth sciences major Tyler Bridges (in photo), for one, delved into the controversy that arose after soft tissue was discovered in the bones of a 68-million-year-old dinosaur fossil from Eastern Montana. Architecture major Jacob Hunter designed a memorial garden for the Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter in Bozeman. Film and photography major David Runolfsson focused his camera on commercial whaling in Iceland.
Other students analyzed the impact of sales tax on recreational vehicle sales, growing snow for laboratory studies, the connection between diabetes and periodontal disease among Native Americans, sheepherding in the Beartooth Mountains, algae from Yellowstone National Park, and healthcare in refugee camps.
Among the undergraduate presenters this year will be 2011 Goldwater Scholars Casey Donoven of Kremlin and Daniel Barta of Helena, and Goldwater runners-up Nate Carroll of Ekalaka and David Stevens of Ronan. Among the graduate presenters will be Anita Moore-Nall of Bozeman who won a Dennis and Phyllis Washington Native American Graduate Fellowship.
Former MSU President Geoff Gamble was among the faculty mentors for this year’s research projects. He advised Diveena Marcus of Sonoma County, Calif., a graduate student who focused on learning the extinct language of her ancestors, as well as the importance of matriarchal societies. Her ancestors are the Coast Miwok of California, the original people of Marin and Sonoma County.
New at this year’s conference will be a “Student Research Opportunity Fair” where campus research programs will share information about the opportunities they offer students, said Colin Shaw, director of MSU’s Undergraduate Scholars Program (USP). Participating programs are Engineers without Borders, the McNair Scholars, Hughes Undergraduate Biology, INBRE, and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).
Also new this year will be oral presentations clustered around particular topics. Students in the humanities will give their presentations from 8:30 to 9:50 a.m. Students in the McNair Scholars Program will speak from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Students in the Hughes Undergraduate Biology Program will speak from 2 to 3:30 p.m. All oral presentations will take place in SUB 233.
Lynda Sexson and Michael Babcock will be honored during the conference for mentoring undergraduate students, Shaw said. Sexson is a professor in the Department of History and Philosophy. Babcock is a professor in the Department of Psychology.
This year’s conference falls during National Undergraduate Research Week designated by Congress, Shaw noted. Other related events at MSU that week will be chemical and biological engineering student presentations on energy and sustainability on April 12 and 14 and the Montana Space Grant Research Symposium on April 15. Events – held before or after National Undergraduate Research Week, but considered part of the celebration – were MSU’s Earth Sciences Colloquium on March 25 and MSU’s Engineering Fair on April 25, Shaw said. Four MSU students who presented their research in late March to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Ithaca College were English majors Angie Ford and Shoni Schipman, psychology major Jasmine Azure and chemistry/biochemistry major Alta Howells.
As many as 1,000 MSU undergraduate students are involved in faculty-mentored research projects at any given time, Shaw estimated. Of those, over 180 undergraduates received funding through the USP this year. Some are involved with other programs, such as the Montana Space Grant Consortium. Many students make their own arrangements to work with faculty researchers.
Student research is valuable for a number of reasons, Shaw said. For one, it gives students hands-on experience that allows them to apply classroom knowledge to real problems. Students also learn techniques and practices that are used by professionals in their fields. They may receive professional recognition that will give them a leg up in graduate school and employment.
“It demonstrates their ability to solve problems, lay out a plan and carry it through, which may not be evident from looking at grades and coursework,” Shaw said. The joy, excitement and passion he sees in student researchers “is exactly what education is all about.”
Undergraduate research and creative experiences are a formal part of MSU through its Core 2.0 curriculum, which emphasizes critical thinking and communications. Every undergraduate participates in a research or creative experience as part of the Core 2.0 curriculum.
MSU is classified as one of only 108 universities out of more than 4,300 with “very high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Its research expenditures amounted to more than $109 million last year, which provides $10.4 million in undergraduate and graduate student salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships.
MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.