From now until Jan. 29 at 5 p.m., any undergraduate student who has conducted research in the past year may submit an abstract to be reviewed for the annual Undergraduate Research Festival.
The festival is put on by the Office of Undergraduate Research. Two committees are in charge of organizing the event. One, the Undergraduate Research Festival planning committee, and one student, the Student Panel on Undergraduate Research, or SPUR for short.
As director of the Undergraduate Research Festival, Dr. Autumn Sutherlin plays a key role in organizing the event. Started in 2009, “the festival began as a way for students to present their research, scholarly work they’ve been doing, to the ACU population at large,” Sutherlin said. “Some of our students get to off campus to do conferences and present their work, but not everyone’s that opportunity, so, one, it just gives them an opportunity to present their research, and two, it’s really neat to get to see what other people on campus are doing.”
And it’s not only science majors who get involved with the festival. Nearly every department is represented at the festival. People from all over campus, including both upper and lower classmen, are conducting research.
Tina Johnson, senior biology major from Fairfax, Virginia, is a member of SPUR and was the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Undergraduate Researcher of the Year for 2014. As a member of SPUR, Johnson has been involved with helping Dr. Sutherlin plan research events and the festival.
To Johnson, SPUR means giving back to the research community. “It’s one thing to be doing your own research, but then it feels almost like you’re helping other people in a broader sense by helping them become more aware about research,” Johnson said.
Having been involved with research since the spring of 2013, and participating in the festival every year since, Johnson is an example of how open research is to all undergraduate students. Students from McMurry University, Hardin-Simmons University and Lubbock Christian University are also invited to participate in the Undergraduate Research Festival. This is an opportunity for ACU to be exposed to perspectives outside its own community.
Dr. Suzie Macaluso, assistant professor of sociology and program director for sociology, is serving her fourth year as chair of the Undergraduate Research Festival program committee. The program committee is in charge of organizing session times and placing students in specific sessions. It also ensures sessions of interest do not overlap and accommodates any time conflicts students may have.
Once a student is accepted to present at the research festival, their abstract is sent to the program committee so they can group similar papers into thematic sessions. They are divided into groups by Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and STEM.
“Within those groups we try to find like-papers that we can put together,” Macaluso said.
The program committee meets as soon as the festival concludes in the spring to begin planning for the next year and again in the fall, but the real work does not begin until abstracts are received.
During the festival, faculty and staff serve as judges and award prizes based on scored within the three categories. A full rubric, as well as more information about submitting abstracts, can be found at blogs.acu.edu/researchfest/.
Students can present either an oral or poster presentation, but may present multiple presentations if they worked on more than one project. The majority of students who are presenting have done research with ACU faculty. However, some present work that has been done with other universities or groups, such as internships or summer programs.
“The festival itself makes for a great opportunity for students to get a chance to experience presenting research in a really fun way, where it’s not as stressful as a national, or even regional conference, but it’s also well attended so there’s great questions and it’s great preparation for anyone that wants to go to graduate school,” Macaluso said.
Simply put, it’s good for students to practice “at home” then present at other conferences, Sutherlin said. It is also a time for gaining experience to place on a resumÃ©.
Johnson said the process of undergraduate research has taught her a lot about herself and what she does and does not enjoy. But it also taught her to accept failure, which can be hard to do in a professional environment.
“Being involved with research has helped me to think more critically and get in depth into a subject, which I think is necessary to prepare for graduate school,” Johnson said.
Students of all years and disciplines are encouraged to get involved with the Undergraduate Research Festival.
“If you’ve written a paper for a class or done something on your own, submit it. Don’t be afraid to try. It’s a really welcoming environment,” Macaluso said. “Even if you don’t submit a paper, come be a part of it, experience it. You can get an excused absence for the day for participating, but also coming over for chapel and lunch time and seeing the work that your fellow students are doing, I think, is really helpful.”
The festival is also helpful for showing freshman and sophomores what they can get involved with.
“Be open to a lot of research opportunities,” Johnson said. “A lot of times [students] are not going to get immediately involved with something really dramatic and life changing, but the real benefit of research is that it helps develop confidence and get over the fear of failure. With research you fail a lot, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.”
The festival will be April 5 in the Hunter Welcome Center from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. With last year’s number of participants at around 125 students, there should be a variety of presentations for any student’s interests. For further information, view the research festival’s blog at blogs.acu.edu/researchfest.