Spring Showcase wraps up Undergraduate Research Week

By Maia Rodriguez
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Student researcher Hadley Giebeler presents her research on the vortex rings created by squids at different stages of life. Photo by Maia Rodriguez.

On Friday April 13, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) hosted the Research, Scholarship & Creative Activity Spring Showcase in the library as part of the weeklong observance of undergraduate student research. The event provided an opportunity for the students of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) to present their findings to the community. The showcase included oral presentations and a poster exhibit.

Students presented research on a wide range of topics including the performance of velocity-based training equipment, the concept of moral injury among soldiers, and the purpose of vortex rings created by squids.

Friday’s showcase was CSUMB’s finale to Undergraduate Research Week, a national celebration of student researchers and an opportunity for them to share their work with the public. Throughout the week, CSUMB hosted open labs, activities, workshops, and presentations where people could visit research sites around the campus and hear from student researchers.

“Our campus is participating in this national event whereby we try to raise the profile of the research that our undergraduates are conducting on campus. I think by all accounts it’s been fantastic,” said John Banks, UROC director.

Along with providing a platform to share their new knowledge and work, the Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Spring Showcase allowed students to practice presenting their research findings.

“It gives the students a sense of self-efficacy and confidence. Now that they can present here, they can present at national and international conferences. Many UROC students do that, and we have funding to send them out, so they can present their work on a larger stage. For many of them, this is just the beginning,” Banks continued.

Some research students, like Nick Prew, used the showcase as a practice run for the coming California State University Research Competition, where he will be giving an oral presentation in front of a jury of professional experts.

“With the CSU Research Competition, it’s a really great way to apply all the knowledge that I’ve gained and basically experience the full spectrum of being a researcher,” said Prew.

UROC allows undergraduates to engage in financially funded research projects at CSUMB while under the support and guidance of faculty mentors. UROC director Dr. John Banks states that the program helps students gain experience in research, which can be essential in developing skills for both the job market and graduate school. The UROC team prides itself on providing a unique opportunity rarely offered to undergraduate students.

“I don’t think that there are all that many programs that do what UROC does. When I was an undergraduate, there was nothing like this. I don’t think that there were many places where they supported undergraduates. At most universities, all of the research support goes to graduate students,” said UROC mentor and Associate Professor George Beckham. “The fact is there is support, there’s infrastructure, and there’s mentorship. They do a really good job to help students along the process, whether their end goal is to become a researcher or if their end goal is to use this experience to get to a better career down the line.”

While research programs tend to focus primarily on science, technology, engineering, and math, UROC provides research opportunities for a variety of disciplines, including the humanities and creative endeavors. “We consider ourselves an all-discipline center, so we really welcome all students,” said UROC’s Writing and Professional Communication Associate Natasha Oehlman.

The program creates a system of support for student researchers, including faculty mentors, with whom the students work hand-in-hand.

“Our center supports students in terms of printing posters and funding them for conferences and workshops. Then they have their faculty mentor who they work with and who are really tied to the research that they’re doing and can help guide them in the field of their discipline,” said Oehlman.

Students and mentors alike testified to the positive impact UROC has had on student researchers.

“I had one student that ended up at a facility where he’s helping physicians do data analysis. I had another student that got a job at a physical therapy clinic, and they specifically mentioned in his interview that one of the reasons they were so impressed by his application package was that he had done research and he had done presentations and he knew what that process was like. People are noticing that on a resume,” said Associate Professor George Beckham.

“I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities,” said senior UROC student Alex Jensen. After researching the emotional and moral struggles soldiers experience after war, Jensen was encouraged by UROC mentors to apply for an internship at Harvard Divinity School. An aspiring minister, Jensen was skeptical of the outcome, but he applied anyway. His application was accepted, and UROC funded his two-month internship. “It’s been my dream since high school to go to Harvard Divinity School.”

Later, Jensen was accepted into Harvard Divinity School as a graduate student, receiving the Dean’s Fellowship, which includes full-tuition coverage and a yearly stipend.

“I’m getting paid to go to Harvard, which I never thought I’d be able to say, and UROC made that entirely possible,” said Jensen.

Friday’s showcase was an informative day for the CSUMB community and an important experience for the student researchers, but it also provided some insight for students interested in working with UROC.

“The first step would be to come in and talk with one of us here,” said  Dr. John Banks. “Or get online to our UROC website. There’s a place to schedule a consultation appointment and they can come in and talk with one of us about the possibility of engaging in undergraduate research through UROC.”

The UROC office is located on the second floor of the library in suite 2150. Consultations can be scheduled at csumb.edu/uroc.

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