Appalachian hosts statewide research symposium

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BOONE—Steven Brown did a little dance beside his poster presentation about the computation of geomagnetic cutoff rigidities and the impact on aircraft because he was so excited to share what he'd learned. "I can finally share with other people who are also excited to talk about research. Back home, my friends don't get past the title of my project," the UNC-Chapel Hill junior said with a laugh.

Brown, a physics major who wants to be an astronaut, was among the next generation of North Carolina's brightest scientific and creative leaders who gathered at Appalachian State University Nov. 22, 2008, for the 4th Annual State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS).

The day-long event featured more than 250 poster and oral presentations by students on topics from ethanol production to the sociology of bottlenose dolphins, as well as music and dance performances.

Appalachian was among the 30 schools participating in the symposium and featured the largest number of student presenters, 65. N.C. State University followed with 31 presenters. Faculty mentors attended the event with their students. Participants enjoyed meeting each other and sharing their methods and findings—and most importantly, their passions.

In her poster presentation, Shantakiya Cohen, a senior chemistry major from Appalachian, shared details of her nutritional study of a Chinese dried tomato called shen nu guo, which she learned contains high levels of iron and healthy levels of other metals, including zinc, that make it a healthy snack. Cohen wants to work in an analytical laboratory after she graduates. She gained practical lab experience using Appalachian's microwave digestion system, a high-end piece of research equipment Appalachian purchased with a grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Brandon Johnson of Mars Hill College, who wants to be an English professor someday, discussed his research of Jim Wayne Miller, the 21st-century poet, novelist and anthologist from North Carolina who developed Appalachian literature as its own genre.

Drew O'Keefe, a composition major in Appalachian's Hayes School of Music, introduced a performance by Appalachian's Liberace String Quartet of a piece he wrote at Easter two years ago called "Resurrection After Death." He explained the process of transferring music he heard in his head to paper and then hearing musicians' interpretation of his notes, which he said could differ from what he originally envisioned.

"In working with the ensemble, we ended up revising parts of my piece. This has been real-world experience for me as a composer because I know now what I need to prepare for," O'Keefe said.

The symposium underscored the increasing value North Carolina colleges and universities place on undergraduate research for preparing students for life after graduation, whether they choose to pursue jobs or graduate school. Appalachian's provost, Stan Aeschleman, calls student research and the accompanying collaboration with faculty members as "life transformative."

"I would not have pursued my Ph.D. in experimental psychology without my faculty mentor encouraging me, and in my own career I have mentored many students in the past 30 years," Aeschleman said in welcoming students and their professors to SNCURCS. "It's next to impossible to appreciate how knowledge and creative work is established without doing it. You have to go out there, role up your sleeves and do it."

Appalachian biology major Nick Buchanan and chemistry major Sarah Keasey, who presented research on the carotenoids in bird feathers and egg yolks, agree. "I wanted to do research to get experience for graduate school, and I'm glad I've gotten to see how difficult research can be and how frustrating it can be at times," Keasey said.

"I like research better than I do class work," said Buchanan. "It's more hands on and you can see what you're doing as opposed to just learning theory."

The 4th Annual State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium was sponsored by Duke University, the North Carolina Space GrantNorth Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, Kenan Institute, and the University of North Carolina General Administration. Other sponsors included the University of North Carolina at AshevilleUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroEast Carolina UniversityNorth Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at PembrokeFayetteville State University and Appalachian State University's Office of Student Research.

The 2009 event will be held Nov. 21, at UNC-Wilmington.