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Marshall students' research showcased at legislature

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- Before he ever walks across a graduation stage, Marshall University student Robert Denzie will know that the skills he has acquired at the school as a civil engineering major are applicable to the real world.

Denzie's skills already have been put to use through his research project, "Geo-Spatial Analysis of Police Reported Collision Location Information Accuracy to Facilitate Identification of Hot Spots," that was on display in the rotunda of the West Virginia Capitol on Thursday morning as a part of the 11th annual Undergraduate Research Day.

Approximately 80 projects from 13 of the state's public higher education institutions were showcased during the event, and 17 of the projects came from Marshall University students, said John Meher, vice president of research at Marshall.The commitment to research provides a more in-depth method by which students are able to master their respective crafts, Meher said.

"When you read a textbook, it's all laid out in front of you and all you have to do is memorize and learn it," he said.

"What they find out here is how hard it is to get that knowledge that goes into the textbook. It's a real-world experience. I think those real-world experiences are good for you because it teaches you really how hard you have to work to get something."

Denzie, a native of St. Albans, already has seen the impact of his research effort. He compiled data regarding the locations of vehicle and deer collisions that were reported to police between 2008 and 2012.

He used that data to compare the GPS-tracked locations of the police cruisers to the locations that the officers described in their reports, which included the route number of the road an the mile marker nearest to the location of the collision.

That data was used to get a better idea of where those collisions are most common, and, in one area along U.S. 33 between I-79 and Elkins, signage and fencing have been put up along the road after it was found that route was a high-collision area.

"Now, they are looking at before and after data to see if that's effective," Denzie said. "If that is the case, then there will be additional fencing and signing on the roads that have the highest intensity of collisions."

Denzie said he enjoyed talking about his research with everyone who inquired.

"When you think of college research, a lot of people think of someone in a lab somewhere sort of playing with test tubes," he said. "All of this, the projects here today, is going to be applicable to people in their everyday lives almost immediately."

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said success stories like Denzie's are exactly why it is imperative to encourage such research in the state.

"Research like this is the basis for which we base our policies on," Plymale said. "The students doing this research and these studies are the people who are going to lead is into our future."

The purpose of the event is to showcase the importance of student research by giving legislators the opportunity to talk directly with the students who conducted the research on topics ranging from Denzie's collision-tracking to cancer research and a study that focused on the correlation between antisocial behavior and criminal behavior, and that was just from Marshall's students.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he talked to a student from West Virginia University Institute of Technology about his project that dealt with physics, and he was impressed by what he heard.

"I would say it shows that West Virginia ... we have a lot of capabilities here," Hall said.

"The kids that came here are just young minds who have the capacity to dream more than some of the rest of us do. If you would walk around and talk to these kids, and you're from West Virginia, you would be proud of the talent we have emerging here, and we are not to be viewed as being behind anybody. We have as much capability, strength and passion as you expect to see in kids that are 18, 19 and 20 years old."

Marshall President Stephen Kopp was eager to talk to the undergraduate students, many of whom were following paths similar to Kopp's.

Kopp earned a bachelor of science in biology from Notre Dame, and he also has a Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Illinois Chicago, and he was a research fellow and National Institutes of Health Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at UIC. Kopp said he always has found Undergraduate Research Day to be an especially rewarding experience.

"Every year, I am amazed at the quality of the research our students do," Kopp said.

"It's a testament to our faculty and the guidance they provide for our students. Each one of them, when they talk about the projects that they have worked on, speak extremely well about it. They are very well informed, and they have developed a knowledge and an understanding that is at a very sophisticated level, far beyond what you're going to get sitting in a classroom."

The day was as much of a showcase of students' work as it was at showing legislators that their investment in higher education can, and has, paid off, Kopp said.

"This is a showcase for us as well as the other intuitions," Kopp said. "I think it's important for legislators to see how state dollars that support higher education benefit our students, and this sets a good example of that."

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