Approximately 170 undergraduate and graduate students will display posters and explain their research during MSU's Student Research Celebration on Thursday, April 8, said Colin Shaw, director of MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program. The celebration will run from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5 p.m. in the ballrooms of MSU's Strand Union Building. The celebration is free and open to the public.
Forty-six undergraduate students -- a record number for MSU -- were also selected to present their projects the following week at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, Shaw said. This year's conference will be held April 15-17 at The University of Montana, drawing students from more than 300 institutions across the United States.
Students from every MSU college will participate in both conferences, Shaw said. Some of the student researchers helped develop detectors for auroras or E. coli. Others analyzed microbial communities in Yellowstone National Park. Some investigated the speed at which soft tissue decays, almond trees in California, stress faced by firefighter spouses, and potential vaccines against prion disease.
MSU students also tried to figure out why more men don't become nurses. Others looked at the way the media depicts organized crime in Japan. Some recorded wolves and coyotes in YNP and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Others studied communication within the Church Universal and Triumphant when Elizabeth Clare Prophet told her followers to build bomb shelters in 1989 and 1990.
"I think research is really a way to bring student education out of the classroom," Shaw said.
Classroom learning provides students with a base of knowledge, Shaw continued. Students who conduct research build on that foundation by designing studies, conducting experiments and answering new questions. Shaw called it "getting their hands dirty, applying the tools of their disciplines that they have spent a lot of time and effort to master."
He believes that students who participate in undergraduate research go on to graduate school at higher rates than those who don't, Shaw said. They're also more likely to perform better in graduate school and obtain better jobs.
"I think it's the kind of thing that really opens doors for students," Shaw said.
Greg Young, vice provost for undergraduate education at MSU, said, "The hands-on learning, combined with inquiry, is very powerful."
Undergraduate researchers learn what professors do to discover knowledge, Young said. "It's very applicable for those going into graduate schools. Most students find it more interesting than sitting in class."
Students with undergraduate research experience are looked upon favorably by employers, Young added. One reason is because they have learned teamwork, an important attribute in the working world.
Jeff Adams, assistant vice provost at MSU, noted that, "Companies don't usually say they want employees with undergraduate research experience, but they want rich, authentic hands-on experience, and that's exactly what undergraduate research provides."
Shaw said that the latest accreditation report by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) praised MSU for its leadership in undergraduate research.
MSU officially incorporated undergraduate research into its curriculum with the implementation of CORE 2.0 in the fall of 2004. CORE 2.0 requires every student to take a research or creative course sometime before they graduate. Young said students fulfill that requirement in different ways. Some work in a laboratory for credit, with a faculty mentor. Some take research seminars or capstone courses that now involve research.
Support for undergraduate research comes from a variety of places, including the Undergraduate Scholars Program. Shaw said the USP provides qualifying students up to $1,500 per academic year, $1,500 per summer, or $750/semester to support their research projects. The USP also pays up to $500 for students to travel for research or present their research at a professional conference.
Altogether, the USP pays upwards of $150,000 to more than 150 students every year. Each of those students is expected to spend at least 200 hours on his or her project, Shaw said. USP funds come from the provost's office; the vice president for research, all eight MSU colleges, Montana EPSCoR, the Montana Space Grant Consortium, the INBRE biomedical program and several other research organizations on campus.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org