Elena Sorrentino Editor-in-Chief
Eastern Connecticut State University brought over 40 students to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), which was hosted at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. From Wednesday, April 10 to Saturday April 13, students presented on a wide variety of topics over multiple disciplines, sharing research projects that they have been working on throughout the academic year.
The conference offered multiple opportunities and activities to students. On Wednesday there was a career fair that hosted over 160 employers. Thursday and Friday there were representatives from graduate schools for students to meet with— these professionals were located in the gymnasium with many of the poster sessions, so they were easily accessible. There were also times set aside for leadership development sessions in small groups with professionals in any students’ chosen field. NCUR also brought in multiple plenary speakers who were some of the lead academics in their field. These included: Dr. Alistair Dove, the VP for Research and Conservation at the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world; Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine; and Kenneth Martin, the Principal Program Manager of Mobility Plans & Roadmaps for Advanced Development Programs at Lockheed Martin.
While NCUR offered time to pursue their academic and professional interests, it also included leisure activities for any downtime in between sessions. There were yard games, a silent disco, and even inflatables. What other event offers the opportunity to slide down a bouncy slide in business professional attire? Additionally, the conference helped supply tickets to a Braves vs. Mets game at the nearby Battery Park and attendees were encouraged to wear their NCUR shirts.
The variety of activities truly allowed students to choose their own experience, but the main event was consistently the research. In fact, when Eastern students were not presenting their own research, they were often supporting the scholars around them. Senior biology student, Shayne Sampognaro stated that his favorite thing about the conference was: “the ability to see different research projects across all possible disciplines.” Sampognaro himself gave an oral presentation on his ongoing research with Dr. Koza that focuses on the identification of a Phosphodiesterase-5 Inhibitor; or, as he explained for non-science majors, he is working to isolate a compound that has implications for erectile dysfunction treatment.
As a university with minimal graduate programs, students at Eastern have the ability to work closely with faculty to complete amazing research. One of the art-focused projects included an Illustrated Map of Willimantic, which was presented and created by Erika Groleau. There were also education projects, such as “Serving the Average Secondary Student: Examining What Motivates Students to Learn and How Classroom Factors Affect Their Motivation,” in which senior Anthony Coss surveyed over 200 middle school students to further understand how adolescents learn math. Senior Allison Gagliano presented her study that used multivariate statistical models to study factors associated with adolescent alcohol use; using her methods she was often able to accurately predict whether a subject had utilized alcohol within the previous 12 months. Psychology student Malvina Pietrzykowski shared her research study: “Physiological Measures of Pain and Empathy Implicating Mirror Neuron Activity and Gender Differences in Self-Reported Empathy.” These are just a few presentations over five disciplines—Eastern’s students also represented research across business, communication, English, environmental earth science, music, and political science.
The 40+ students who flew to Georgia truly had the ability to make the trip what they wanted it to be. They returned to Connecticut with new insights and experiences, ready to continue the tradition of undergraduate research at Eastern. Whether these insights were ideas for future projects in their own field or new knowledge of subjects they had never encountered, the ability to create them is undoubtedly a privilege and advantage that an Eastern education affords. Additionally, this trip seems as though it would have been impossible to organize and implement without the faculty who assisted students throughout the trip: Dr. Escoto, Dr. Dillard, and Dr. Szczys. Eastern consistently supports the research endeavors of its students, through its small class sizes that allow students to connect with faculty, the funding it supports throughout various departments, and the backing it supplies for events such as NCUR. These undergraduate opportunities offer Eastern students an advantage that they might miss at a larger university — and from my own experience, I would strongly encourage any student that has the ability to pursue a research project, whether creatively or academically driven, to take it.