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Undergrads prove they're ready for research
April 27, 1998

If there were any lingering doubts as to whether undergraduates are ready to conduct research, they were quickly dispelled at the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research poster session April 17 and 18. .

More than 40 students presented the results of their research projects and spent hours answering questions from a drop-in audience of mostly faculty and graduate students on April 17, and from parents and prospective students attending the spring admissions open house the next day..

For the presenters, the poster session was an opportunity to communicate, in some cases, the results of years of research. Brad Langhorst, a senior majoring in molecular cell biology, has spent 20 hours a week during the past two years on his project "Nonamer DNA association." He said it took him a year just to learn how to use equipment at the University's National Ultracentrifugation Center and the software needed for his project. Langhorst, who will graduate next month, said he plans to spend the summer analyzing his results and comparing them with data collected in 1974 by his adviser, Professor Emory Braswell..

Michelle Harris, a senior majoring in biophysics and German, said she too had labored many hours on her project, a study of "Traction forces produced by Dictyostelium discoideum on silicone substrates," but felt the experience was certainly worth the time. "Research is such a slow process it can be very frustrating, but even in being frustrated it can be a learning experience," she said..

Rebecca Crowell, a senior majoring in nutritional sciences, said her research with nutritional sciences professor Ann Ferris on lead toxicity and poverty helped her develop critical thinking skills. "I learned that you need to question the literature, not just accept it," she said.

Michal Levi, a psychology major who graduated from the Stamford campus last December, turned an internship working with elementary school children in a reading program into a three-month project. "I decided to make it scientific," she said. Together with a student from the general studies program at Stamford, Noel Wilford, Levi conducted a series of tests with two dozen children to see if their reading ability improved after receiving extra help with phonemes. A phoneme is one of the set of smallest units of speech, such as the m of mat or the b of bat in English, that distinguish one word from another in a given language.

Visitors to the display included Anne Lanteri, mother of Charlotte Lanteri, a graduating senior in ecology and evolutionary biology who presented the results of a research project on tapeworms. Mrs. Lanteri was enthusiastic about the opportunity her daughter has had to pursue research. She was also surprised to learn that day that one of the two new species of tapeworms Charlotte discovered is named after her, Acanthobothrium annae, and the other is named after Charlotte's father. "I think it's great," said Anne Lanteri. "I'm very proud of her," added Frances Molnar, Charlotte Lanteri's grandmother, to which Lanteri quickly responded, "I'm going to name the next new species after her.".

Many of the participants hope to go on to graduate school and said their research will help on their applications. "I now know what I'm in for when I go to graduate school," said Harris, who plans to turn her research into an honors thesis before she graduates in December. Langhorst has been accepted for graduate studies at the University of New Hampshire, conditional not only on his final grades but also on continuing work on his research project. Crowell plans to earn a master's degree in nutrition at UConn. "This work inspired me to pursue graduate school," she said. "Before, I wasn't sure but now I get really excited about it..

The students also said that participating in the poster session was valuable experience in learning how to present the data. Many had worked late into the night putting together attractive and informative displays. "It's a learning experience in professionalism," said Susan Dinnocenti, a graduate student in gifted and talented education, who coordinated the program.

As a follow up to the research poster session, Gerald Gianutsos, an associate professor of pharmacy, will head a committee on undergraduate research opportunities campuswide, to centralize information for incoming undergraduates. The committee also hopes to identify funding sources to offer summer stipends for undergraduates conducting research.

The poster session was planned by a committee of faculty and staff, headed by Cameron Faustman, an associate professor of animal science and member of the Honors Program board of associate directors.

Funding for the research poster session was provided by the UConn Foundation, the Chancellor's Office, the Office of Undergraduate Education and Instruction, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu