Over 50 students from at least 12 departments conducted research across the country this summer.
Research was supported in part by grants and conducted from New York to California, covering subjects such as wildlife on the Dyess Air Force Base, the effect of having too much choice and the role of technology in higher education.
Undergraduate research projects are overseen by a faculty member and are thus often related to the interests of that professor.
“I worked with Dr. Joshua Brokaw,” said Tanner Hamilton, junior biology major from Fort Worth. “Prior to the project, I had him as a professor freshman year but didn’t know him on a personal level. Now I do and can talk to him comfortably one-on-one, first name basis.”
Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker, associate professor of psychology worked with Caitlyn Spain, junior marketing major from Denton, over the summer and is continuing research into this semester.
“We’re looking at children’s responses to gendered product packaging,” Shewmaker said. “We’re studying something called stereotype threat”¦ the idea that we all have parts of our identity that we’re aware that other people are going to make judgments about us because of.”
This kind of hands-on research is a special experience, said Shewmaker.
“From the very beginning, she’s a part of what I’m doing and that is so rare, to get to do that.”
Much of the undergraduate research is done during the summer, but it often continues into the school year.
“We’re still working on ours,” Shewmaker said.
Students often benefit from having a faculty mentor. The wisdom and knowledge that is shared between professor and student is one rarely seen during the regular school year.
“He has been very helpful and willing to teach and instruct me,” Hamilton said.
Research reinforces classroom knowledge and ultimately leads to a better understanding of the topic.
“This is super hands-on for her,” Shewmaker said, “so she’s gaining so many valuable experiences.”
These hands-on experiences differ quite a bit from a typical lecture-based class.
“My project is a biology major specific one, specifically genetic variance in a specific genera of South American rodent,” said Hamilton. “There is no classroom involved. It’s strictly a laboratory setting with a few hours a week of active work in the lab performing experiments and interpreting data”¦ it really helps in the application of concepts and classroom knowledge.”
From beginning to end, students are involved in these research projects. They help choose what to research, gather data, conduct tests and see every aspect of the project through to the end.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity because, for example, Caitlyn, she’s involved in every aspect, every phase of my research,” said Shewmaker.
Hamilton said undergraduate research made him commit to learning about the subject he was researching.
“It is also preparing me for next level after college because you have to hold yourself accountable. I would suggest it to anyone with any interest just to see what it’s like and to help with the comprehension of material.”
Experiences like that of Hamilton and Spain are not often found at other universities.
“It sets our graduates apart because a lot of students who go to larger universities aren’t going to get hands-on, one-on-one mentoring with a faculty member,” Shewmaker said. “It’s something at ACU that’s really special.”
Such extensive research cannot remain a secret, however. Every year, students who participated in research get to show off their hard work at the Undergraduate Research Festival.
The festival is held to celebrate and recognize the students who participated in research that year. Applicants must be current undergraduates or recent graduates from a local college. Presentations can be in the form of a paper or a poster presentation and students must fill out an application and meet certain standards to be accepted.
“I’ve been a part of the Undergraduate Research Festival since we started it,” said Shewmaker, “and it has just grown and it’s really, really fun.”
The next Undergraduate Research Festival is scheduled for April 1, 2014 and will feature students who conducted research April 2013 – April 2014.
Students interested in ACU Undergraduate Research can visit blogs.acu.edu/undergradresearch/ and click on Get Involved!
The festival brings people together from all disciples across the university from the sciences to literature.
“That’s what being a university is all about,” Shewmaker said. “It’s about learning and growing together.”