Campus Life

USU's Brainiacs at National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Hearing the words “March Madness” often conjures up visions of spring basketball, but for a group of Utah State University undergraduate researchers, it was an opportunity to showcase USU’s research strengths.

A group of 16 USU undergraduate students presented at “March Madness for Brainiacs,” the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, to an audience of 2,800 students and faculty. The conference was held at Salisbury University in Maryland in April.
More than 350 colleges and universities were represented from every state in the nation as well as the University of the Virgin Islands. The student presentations encompassed more than 50 disciplines. Oral presentations and posters were augmented by art displays, theatrical productions and dance.
“NCUR was a fabulous experience, where I got to see so much interdisciplinary work,” said USU undergraduate engineering student Kaitlin Neville. “When I go to an engineering meeting, it is very focused, but at NCUR, I see what other USU students are working on. I also get to hear from those in the liberal arts. It is really broadening and educational.” 
For Neville’s faculty mentor Keri Ryan, an assistant professor in civil engineering, the conference led her to her current career.
“I presented a research project at the 1998 NCUR conference, and now, a decade later, I watched my undergraduate student, Kaitlin Neville, have the same experience,” Ryan said. “Undergraduate research and NCUR set me on a path to get my doctorate and become a professor. I could not envision at that time that I would be the faculty mentor.” 
Neville has worked with Ryan for the past four years and has focused her research on base isolators, the same system of structures that prop up the newly-renovated State Capitol in Salt Lake City, giving it the stability to withstand earthquakes.
“NCUR has always been inclusive in its focus, welcoming all disciplines,” said Ron Dotterer, NCUR conference host and dean emeritus of liberal arts at Salisbury University.
The Utah State students were no exception.
USU student Sherry Baker presented her work with biology professor Daryll Dewald in the area of cancer research. Baker said her work in the lab has put her on track for a medical/doctorate graduate program. Other biology-focused posters included Katherine Grover, Uyen Lam, Christopher “Luke” Peterson and Mitchell Bassett.
Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher for the College of Engineering Elisabeth Linton presented her research on how plastic water bottles might be re-engineered to be biodegradable. Making use of computational science, Randy “Chris” Bowen told interested audience members about his comparison of identifying gene regulatory signals.
Students in the humanities and social sciences also got into the swing of things by presenting on topics ranging from procrastination behaviors among college students to consumer awareness of food certifications. Tasha Falslev, who works with professor Tom Lee, discussed “Daddy Time” and how it is important for children to spend time with their fathers, while Ryan Jackman took an anthropological view of modern health care for children. Also focusing on children’s needs were Brittani Atwood, Ashley Griffiths and Rikelle Deaton, who work with communicative disorders faculty Sandi Gillam and Beth Foley to assess language and literacy.
Joshua Pineault’s research arose from USU’s new Religious Studies major. Funded by an URCO Grant, Pineault looked at modern-day Maronites who settled in the United States after civil strife in Lebanon. 
The USU Research Office supports the students’ travel to NCUR annually.
“NCUR is always a wonderful experience for our Aggies,” said Joyce Kinkead, vice president for research, who accompanied the students. “It lets them see research in a diverse range of disciplines, how research is done across a university campus. Research really isn’t done until it’s disseminated, and NCUR provides a terrific outlet for that.”
For more information about NCUR, visit its Web site. Information about Utah State’s undergraduate research program is available at its Web site

Contact: Joyce Kinkead, 435-797-1706;

USU undergrad researcher Kaitlin Neville

Undergraduate engineering student Kaitlin Neville with her poster at the conference.

USU undergrad researchers at national conference

USU's group gathered at the national conference in Maryland.


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