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Forum offers undergrads chance to show research

Undergraduates engaged in research will have an opportunity to display their work next spring at the the University's first forum, Frontiers in Undergraduate Research.

"Participation in original research efforts provides an educational experience in which independent initiative and creativity are allowed to develop," says Cameron Faustman, an associate professor of animal science and chair of the committee that is organizing the event, in a memo to faculty. "We would like to publicize these success stories and provide an opportunity for recognition by the greater University community."

The committee urges faculty to encourage their students to submit an abstract of their work. The deadline for submission of abstracts is January 15. The committee will select 40 projects for inclusion in a booklet that will be widely distributed in the state and for a poster display April 3 and 4 in the Student Union.

The first day of the event, Friday, is intended for the University community.

"There hasn't been a forum previously for undergraduates doing outstanding work to show off their work in a professional setting and get the recognition they deserve," says Robert Vieth, a facility scientist at the Biotechnology Center and a member of the committee.

For the second day of the event, which is timed to coincide with the spring admissions open house, trustees and legislators will be invited in addition to prospective students and their parents.

"The open house is the time to showcase the various advantages your institution offers," Faustman says. "There are a lot of opportunities for students to work independently here and hand-in-hand with graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty, but without some way to communicate that, it's not well known."

Faustman says research is an important part of a college education, even for students who don't intend to pursue an academic career.

"Research is the one opportunity students have to truly work independently and not be given information but have to go out and get it themselves," he says. "It's really what you do in life in any career. You're never asked to solve a problem for which the solution is already known."

Committee members emphasize that the opportunity to take part in the forum is open to all undergraduates who are engaged in research in any discipline, not only to honors students.

"Any undergraduate or team of undergraduates involved in original research whose work has progressed to the point that permits communication of significant findings should be encouraged to submit an abstract," says Faustman. "Communication is the final step in doing any type of research work."

"This is open to people in all fields, including fine arts and performing arts, as well as sciences and the humanities" says Cyrus Zirakzadeh, director of the honors program and a member of the committee.

Zirakzadeh says he hopes both the students and the faculty involved will meet across disciplines. "I see this as an opportunity to gain a recognition of how much is going on campus-wide, not only in my own field of political science but in puppetry, molecular and cell biology, English, and philosophy."

The committee is taking a broad view of what constitutes research. "What we mean by research is learning to trust your intellectual capacities," Zirakzadeh says. "In some fields, such as chemistry or biology, that may be linked to working with a professor in a lab and being able to discuss the findings. In other fields it could be working on the setting for a theater production or just normal class work where a student goes a step beyond in the analysis of a poem or the interpretation of a dialogue of Plato.

"It's about questioning conventional readings and looking at evidence with fresh eyes," he says.

Although at some universities holding this type of event a prize is given for the best project, Zirakzadeh says no awards will be made.

He says the occasion is intended as a celebration rather than a competition.

"Prizes lead students to look at each other as competitors," he says. "We want everyone to feel excited and proud of taking intellectual risks."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu