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Undergraduate Research Conference Coming Up on 10th Anniversary

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
December 3, 2008

Research at UNH isn’t just about the big guys—those doing work at the Crimes Against Children Research Center, for example, or at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. Graduate students. PhD candidates. Professors.

Undergraduate students have been conducting and presenting their own research projects for years, first through departmental and college events and, since 2000, to the larger university community through the Undergraduate Research Conference. In April, the URC will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Today, the URC is one of the largest integrated, multi-disciplined conferences in the country, based on the number of student presenters, the number and diversity of events and disciplines represented, and the number of days the conference spans.

Just look at the numbers: student participation swelled to 816 in 2008, up from 159 students nine years ago; student presentations rose from 131 to 582 while the number of faculty mentors went from 83 to 226.

What began in 2000 as a two-day event now is spread over nine days. Topics range from the dynamics of the daycare system during the war years to genetic discrimination in health insurance to experimental determination of soil gas diffusion coefficient in a temperate forest soil.

“It has become a university wide celebration of academic success,” says URC planning committee chairman Cameron Wake.

During the spring 2008 conference, 73 majors were represented. In May 2000, there were 29. Since that first year, the number of events has gone from nine to 23.The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Symposium has been added as has the Naked Arts—Creativity Exposed, a component that gives student artists working in various disciplines the chance to describe the creative aspects of their process.

“Most people have no idea of the amount of research, analysis and process that goes into the creation of art,” says faculty mentor David Kaye, associate professor of theater and dance. “The URC Naked Arts festival has not only provided a forum for our students to share the work behind their work but it also offers an opportunity for these emerging  artists to see how their colleagues in other fields approach the creative process.”

The Parents Association Undergraduate Research Symposium is the largest in the conference and features oral and poster presentations by students from all disciplines, including those from the College of Liberal Arts, Health and Human Services, Life Sciences and Agriculture, Engineering and Physical Sciences as well as from the Whittemore School of Business.

Peter Masucci, a faculty member who teaches marketing at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, once enrolled his entire class in URC because he felt the amount of research they had done on a project for Yahoo warranted more exposure. He’s been encouraging students to sign up ever since.

“I tell students it’s a good way to take advantage of the research they’ve done,” Masucci says. “Some students go on to use it to get into graduate school; others use it to get a job. An employer will look at the work they’ve done and say, ‘You actually did that?’ That’s powerful stuff.”

Last year, the Whittemore School had so many students presenting their research (more than 100) that the Whittemore School will have its own daylong symposium within the URC in 2009.

UNH Manchester has also joined the conference, increasing participation from one event to four. And a keynote speaker has been added.

“The reason URC can be so successful is because of all the great research being done on campus,” Wake says. “The quality of work the undergraduate students do and present is amazing.”

Faculty mentoring allows students to develop one-on-one relationships with a professor. Surveys of students who have participated in URC repeatedly mention faculty support as the most memorable part of their experience.

“The culture of undergraduate research is a result of faculty involvement. I tip my hat to the faculty for getting involved,” Wake says. “It makes a difference in students’ academic experience and in their lives.”

Wake also offers praise for the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, which provides the resources and financial support for many of the research, scholarly and creative projects of UNH students.

 “URC encourages students to explore their interests and present their research, whether that’s in a lab coat or explaining how to paint a scene,” Wake says. “It’s a great educational experience.”

To view the URC 2009 calendar of events go to http://www.unh.edu/urc/events-descriptions.html.

Watch the URC Video!



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