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  February 20, 2001

Undergrads Embark on Research
Odyssey through New Mini-Course

It's 4 p.m. and the afternoon sunlight streams through the windows of Honors House. In the lounge, five students are nestled comfortably on tufted sofas with pens in hand. They're not quite sure what to expect. It's time for 2001: A Research Odyssey.

Today students will get a taste of what research is all about. It's the first day of a new minicourse sponsored by the Honors Program, that focuses on undergraduate research. Students meet for six 90-minute sessions and participate in an open discussion forum on opportunities for and issues associated with undergraduate research. The course is open to both honors and non-honors students.

"This is not a course just for science majors," says instructor Robert Vieth, who is a scholar-in-residence at South Campus. "We'll be discussing issues concerning research across all disciplines.

Nicole Nejako is taking the course to "broaden my horizons. It will help when it's time to write my thesis," says the sophomore majoring in actuarial science. The minicourse also fulfills the requirement for sophomore honors certification.

Matt Slajda, a sophomore majoring in sociology, says the course will give him "a jump start on how to do research, so it's not so overwhelming."

Vieth says discussions will include how to choose a research topic and an advisor, how to get started, how to finish, information resources, financial resources, how and where to present findings, and how to deal with difficult advisors and peers. It will also deal with "the phases of the moon and how barometric pressure may affect your results," he adds. "While this is a serious topic, I also intend to have fun." The course is offered in two concurrent sessions and is limited to 12 students per session.

Vieth has spent 22 years at UConn doing research. He currently has a joint appointment in biotechnology and chemical engineering - "a weird hybrid," he says - where he runs the fermentation and bioprocessing facility in the Biotechnology Center. He also spent 10 years on the research staff of the microbiology department at the UConn Health Center.

Vieth told his students that although he has had opportunities to advance in other fields, including catering, carpentry and sales, doing research is what he loves and does best: "I see the application to the real world and I have a strong commitment to it."

Vieth says conducting research opens the door for learning in many areas. "Research can be a valuable tool," he says. "It teaches people how to think, be creative, work in teams and talk in front of groups. I used to be incredibly shy but because I have been forced to get up in front of people, I've gotten over it."

He stresses the importance of oral and written communication in research. "You need to learn how to write, how to communicate clearly," Vieth says. "Try keeping a journal. It's amazing how putting thoughts on paper can clarify things."

The course will include speakers on different topics: Nick Bellantoni, state archeologist, David Moss, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction; Thomas Bruhn, curator of the William Benton Museum of Art; Marcelle Dufresne, an associate professor of journalism; Pat McGlamery, university librarian, on how research is conducted in different disciplines; Carolyn Mills, university librarian, on how to use library resources to conduct research; and Kim Chambers, manager of the Instructional Resource Center, on using PowerPoint to communicate research.

Sherry Fisher