“There’s a committee for that,” could serve as the motto for the second annual undergraduate research festival scheduled for early April. Eight committees for the preparation and execution of the festival were announced this week.
Dr. Chris Willerton, dean of the Honors College and professor of English, said lessons learned at last year’s festival inspired an increased delegation of responsibilities.
“We’re starting a little late on this; there’s been some complicated rethinking,” Willerton said. “Even after last year’s experience, we went down to nuts and bolts and rethought everything, and that has made us run a little bit late. But this is only our second year. After this, we’ll know even more.”
Willerton said he hopes the committees will be staffed by a total of at least 30 people for all eight committees, with some individuals potentially serving on multiple committees.
The committees consist of presentation or paper, steering, program, contest poster, judges, speakers and publication categories.
The difficulty of comparing projects from varying disciplines is one challenge. In the past, students have presented on topics ranging from chemistry and physics to linguistics and history.
“It’s really tricky to be fair, when you’ve got them coming from different fields, so one option is to create different divisions, but that’s not the only model,” Willerton said.
In the meantime, Willerton said, contest deadlines and the visiting speaker should be announced before Christmas. For now, poster presentations are “tentatively” set for April 7-9, while paper presentations and the awards banquet will take place April 12.
Marc Mace, senior mathematics major from Keller, participated in last year’s festival and won a $150 third place prize for his paper presentation, entitled Factorials and Squares. Mace said he expects to present summer research at this year’s festival.
Although he has participated in other conferences, Mace said the ACU Undergraduate Research Festival offers its own benefits.
“For some people, for who this is the only chance they get to present, it’s a good experience, getting to stand in front of people talking about work they’ve done,” Mace said. “But for those who have done this before … it helps you understand how to break down your research into laymen’s terms.”
Additionally, Mace said undergraduate research serves a vital function in graduate school applications, something Willerton also emphasized.
“We’re in the business of creating incentives,” Willerton said. “We want to appeal to peoples’ practical side.”
Some departments, such as physics and psychology, already have strong research programs, Willerton said. Eventually, he said he hopes undergraduate research will become a prominent aspect in most departments as part of a quality enhancement program required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits ACU.
While ACU may not have the research capabilities of larger, established research institutions like Texas A&M or Rice University, it may soon rival other liberal arts colleges, like Trinity University, which Willerton describes as a “liberal arts powerhouse” with “really impressive research.” Eventually, Willerton said he hopes undergraduate research will become a natural part of the ACU experience.
“As the culture changes, the students will make it an expectation,” Willerton said. “As they’re freshmen, they’ll be thinking ahead, ‘What can I do when I’m a senior?’ But we’re not there yet, not in most departments.”