Students present during UAF Research Day

wee edited

Josh Hartman / Sun Star

“Would you like to dance?” WEE, a small humanoid NAO robot said to students and professors during Elizabeth Smith’s presentation at UAF Research Day. WEE is designed to teach children with autism about social interaction. WEE was used in Smith’s project, “Sharing with Robots: using WEE, a NAO robot, to Measure Joint Attention.”

Research Day was April 26 in the Wood Center Multilevel Lounge.  Nearly 150 undergraduate students participated in a wide variety of disciplines “from climate science to life science, engineering to anthropology, and music to theater,” according to the Research Day website.

“It’s exciting just to see all the different research that the students are doing and the variety,” Paul Layer, dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics said. “The excellence that you see, these are professional meeting quality presentation. It’s world-class results and the results are significant.”

When people think of “research” they usually think of science, but science is only a small part of research projects, according to Taylor.

“URSA regards research is happening across the curriculum, say ‘physics to fine arts,'” Taylor said. “I love it when we have presenters from non-science disciplines because it underscores that philosophy.”

The dean’s from each of the schools or colleges chose a student to win the Dean’s Choice Award and $250.  The out of the students who won the Dean’s Choice three were chosen to win overall by a panel of judges.

This year, Zachary Goeden of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Science won first place overall with his study of Sea Star Wasting Disease in Kasitsna Bay and Jackalof Bay near Homer. For winning first place, he received $2,000.

Kirsten Williams of the School of Natural Resources and Extension won second place overall with her project “Hydroelectricity in Alaska: Current and Potential Developments.” For second place, she received $1,500.

Elizabeth Smith of the School of Education, who studied how children with autism are taught using WEE, received $500 for winning third place overall.

Other students that won the Dean’s Choice award are Patrick Terhune of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, Aven Bross and Max Hesser-Knoll of the College of Engineering and Mines, Jessica Obermiller of the College of Liberal Arts and Shaelene Holstrom of the College of Rural and Community Development.

The College of Natural Science and Mathematics (CNSM) had the second largest number of presenters with 46 students. This college and the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), which had 54 students, are consistently the two best-represented colleges, according to Taylor.

“It really speaks to the commitment of our faculty to involving undergraduates in their research and also that our undergraduates are very excited about doing research and they’re good at it,” Layer said about the large number of CNSM students.

Taylor has helped organize Research Day since 2011 when she was the inaugural director of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA), a resource for undergraduate students.

“It started with the Flint Hills Refinery,” Taylor said.

Flint Hills made a $15,000 donation to the Vice Chancellor for Research’s (VCR) office specifically for undergraduate research. The donation was made about eight years ago under VCR Buck Sharpton, according to Taylor.

Then the students would present their posters they made to Flint Hills VIPs at the Chancellor’s house.

The first time that URSA was organizing Research Day, in 2011, it included graduate students. That year there were 92 presenters with less 50 of them being undergraduates, according to Taylor.

That year the students doing Research Day used up all of the poster board in Fairbanks. For that reason and because of lack of space in venues at UAF, URSA made the decision to just focus on undergraduate students.

43 percent of undergraduate students at UAF completed a research, thesis or honors project in the 2014-2015 school year.

“It’s a way for the university to recognize [students] efforts and show they value it,” Taylor said about the significance of Research Day. “It puts a big flashing light over a gateway to undergraduate research.”

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