MU undergrads present work
CHARLESTON -- Seventeen Marshall University undergraduate students were among 88 from 15 of West Virginia's colleges and universities to display their research projects at in the State Capitol on Tuesday in Charleston.
The eighth annual Undergraduate Research Day included projects from many disciplines. Those by Marshall students were mostly focused in the areas of science, from cancer detection to biofuel to water oxidation.
The research the students engaged in required as many, if not more, hours than that of a part-time job. But the projects themselves were more meaningful that a 20-page essay.
"These students aren't just doing projects to get a grade," said Charles Somerville, dean of the College of Science. "Some of the projects now are the equivalent to the Ph.D. projects I was doing in grad school."
Emily Beckelhimer, a junior microbiology major, focused her research project on the use of infrared microscopes to detect the presence of colon cancer much earlier than ever before. She said her project was a lot of work and required 20 to 30 hours each week. Despite all the long hours and hard work, she said it was an extremely gratifying experience.
The next stage, Beckelhimer said, is to do the same studies using human lung tissue. She said she'd like to come back to Undergraduate Research Day with those results if she can.
"These projects are important for students because they are some of the best preparation for entering the workforce or post-graduate education," said Michael Castellani, professor and chairman of Marshall's chemistry department.
Castellani added that the main goal is to turn the students into critical thinkers. And challenging students with intense, results-driven research projects is important when thinking in terms of keeping pace with such countries as India and China.
Displaying outside the House and Senate chambers in the Capitol building also gives lawmakers a chance to see the in-depth research that undergraduate students are taking on.
"We don't worry if they don't take away the specifics of a project," Somerville said. "We just want them to be impressed with the level of talent of students and faculty.
"It's the reason governments invest," he added. "It's not because they like the students or the colleges. It's about an economic investment."
Christopher Fine, a senior biomedical sciences major who plans to attend the Marshall School of Medicine, said putting student work on display also shows that undergraduate students are capable of in-depth research. He said it also gives credibility to the education system that West Virginia has in place.
"I want (an outsider) to take away that you don't have to be from an Ivy League school to make a difference," Fine said.
Rebecca Mead, a graduate student in the forensic science program, served as an assistant for senior Courtney Nichols' project on biofuel. The one observation that Mead had about Marshall's undergraduate research is that she did not have access to the same research capabilities at her undergraduate institution.
"From my own experience, this research opportunity augments the undergraduate experience," added John Maher, vice president of Research for Marshall University and executive director of the Marshall University Research Corporation. "It takes bookwork into a real research setting. When they are looked at by graduate schools or medical schools or potential employers, they are really looking for undergraduate research on their resumes."
Marshall President Stephen Kopp, speaking at a luncheon in the Culture Center, described the research done by all the students as incredible.
"Students often find (undergraduate research) as a springboard to a fullfilling career in research," Kopp said.
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