New discoveries celebrated at special research events

2011 psychology graduate Anna Reichard is heading to Australia for a year-long internship at an anxiety clinic at Macquarie University and then plans to apply for a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. She attributes these opportunities for success to the undergraduate research she participated in at Appalachian State University.

"I have gained an immense amount of knowledge from the research I have conducted as an undergraduate. I have been involved in a variety of projects that have taught me a great deal about ethics, data collection, statistics, literature reviews and critical thinking. I am a better student because of the opportunities I have had to complete research. The faculty members I have had the opportunity to work with have been an incredible resource for me, both academically and personally," said Reichard. Her research focused on the development of social competence in preschoolers.

She's not alone in believing undergraduate research positively shapes students' education.

"I've learned some very important research steps, such as how to prepare samples, keep the lab aseptic and keep a control," said Daniel Townsend, a junior biology/pre-professional major. "It's been nice to have a professor who is so knowledgeable and so willing to take time to make sure I understand how research is done."

Townsend has been studying lateral root development in ferns and flowering plants under the mentoring of Dr. Guichuan Hou in the Department of Biology. His next research step is to further examine specimens using Appalachian's state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope. "Having that piece of equipment in our microscopy lab is phenomenal," he said.

Freshman Jenna Calamai wants to be a science teacher. Her scholarly work with a NASA-funded after-school program called CAN-DOO (Climate Action Network through Direct Observations and Outreach) is helping prepare her for that. "I loved going to the schools. The children were excited, and it was empowering to share the knowledge with them through hands-on experiments that they typically don't get in science class," the chemistry major said.

Why does Appalachian value student research?

Appalachian encourages undergraduates to make new discoveries because it expands instruction and gives valuable experience for jobs and for graduate school. Throughout the academic year, students in most disciplines pursue some type of research or creative endeavor alongside a faculty mentor. Students frequently present their findings at local, regional and national professional meetings, as well as at special events.

"Research is the most intense form of learning, and for the faculty member it is the most intense form of teaching. There is nothing like it," says Dr. Edelma Huntley, dean of research and graduate studies at Appalachian.

As far as having "transforming experiences" while in college, "there's nothing better than an awesome faculty member and a student who is eager to learn and intellectually engaged," says Cindy Wallace, vice chancellor for student development. "It's the best that we are at Appalachian."

Opportunities at local and national level

This April, four major events highlighted the quality and quantity of research performed by both graduate and undergraduate students at Appalachian:

  • Two research teams presented at the 7th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., April 15-17, 2011, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They also competed in the EPA's P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet student design competition for sustainability.
  • 20 Appalachian students were selected to present their work at the 2011 National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), held at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., March 31 - April 2, 2011. The event featured 2,000 participants.
  • Five students were among 60 UNC system students who presented their research projects April 13 at the Research in the Capital in Raleigh. This biennial event at the N.C. General Assembly provides state legislators the opportunity to meet undergraduate researchers and to learn about their efforts to address social, economic and cultural issues impacting the state.
  • 140 student presentations that represented 85 faculty mentors and 20 academic departments were showcased at the 14th Annual Celebration of Research and Creative Endeavors on the Appalachian campus.

The students' research projects contribute to the knowledge regarding topics such as: the health benefits of exercise; the effect of drought on certain types of plants; the role of natural killer cells in fighting tumor cells; energy-use reduction; the impact of oil production on indigenous peoples in the Amazon; pollutants found in the air in the Southeast; flood plain mapping; bee colony tracking techniques; and more.