Undergraduates present at symposium

The Undergraduate Research Symposium gave undergraduate students at The University of Southern Mississippi the opportunity to present their research projects Saturday, April 12 in an event that spanned the entire day and the entire campus.

“This is a conference for all of USM and I wanted everyone to participate to represent the whole university,” said Amy Chasteen Miller, chair of the planning committee. “Every college and every dean was on board. Thanks to the generosity of Donald Drapeau, our donor, we are able to award more than $12,000 in prizes to our students.”

“We tend to think about research as a graduate thing, (but at this event) you get a real sense of the magnitude of what’s being done by our undergraduates,” Miller said.

The event has always featured presentations of research papers from a wide variety of disciplines, from polymer science to religion. In 2014, performances from the Department of Dance and the Department of Theatre took center stage, and a jazz performance by the newly formed Eagle Jazz Quintet entertained attendees during lunch.

Molly Howel, a junior dance education major, presented her choreographic project “Joy az Élet: Joy of Life” Friday night. The first part of the title is in Hungarian.

“My grandmother actually emigrated from Austria-Hungary to the United States in 1926,” Howel said. “She died this past spring at 99 years old. So, because I was very influenced by her life and things that she experienced, I wanted to incorporate Hungarian folk dance into modern dance.”

The choreography was Howel’s junior project and her only opportunity to present a major choreographic work.

This year marks the first time that a poster presentation event was added, and 25 students presented their research to attendees. Joshua Bergeron, a senior marine science major, presented his research about ocean acidification in the poster event.

“If anything, posters are more terrifying than presenting a paper,” Bergeron said. “You get really good questions from out of your comfort zone, because people from other fields look at (your work) a different way.”
As Kathleen Burns, an alumna of Honors College at USM, put it in her plenary lecture, “all research of all stripes in all fields is fundamentally a creative process. You’re generating new knowledge, and you need an intelligent, creative brain to do that.”

The students who participated in the Undergraduate Research Symposium Saturday certainly gained experience in what research entails, and they will use that knowledge to continue their studies.