Research symposium celebrates students and mentors

The UO’s Undergraduate Research Symposium is back this year with a virtual format that organizers say will make for an inspiring and accessible event.

The symposium itself is May 27, but related events are going on throughout the week as part of the Week of Research.

“The reach of the symposium continues to expand through the remote platform, creating new avenues for engagement with families, friends, alumni, donors, high school students and teachers, and community members who have traditionally been unable to participate in the on-campus event,” said Kevin Hatfield, assistant vice provost for undergraduate research and distinguished scholarships

For more than a decade, the Undergraduate Research Symposium has provided a forum to celebrate the work of hundreds of student investigators, discovers, creators and innovators and  recognize their mentors. Now in its 11th year, the symposium will feature the work of 287 presenters and their 240 faculty mentors through 329 presentations across all eight colleges, 63 majors, 20 minor programs, 37 minors, and 15 institutes and centers.

“As a top-tier research institution, discovery and inquiry underlie everything we do,” said Nadia Singh, associate professor of biology and associate vice president for research with the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. “Part of our mission is to help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly and act creatively. The Undergraduate Research Symposium is an embodiment of that mission.”

The symposium’s main event is Thursday, May 27, but sessions are scheduled throughout the week of May 24-28, which coincides with UO’s inaugural Week of Research. A complete event schedule with links to all sessions is available on the symposium website along with a program book containing presentation abstracts, list of presenters and faculty mentors, and acknowledgments of sponsors, planning committee members, moderators and volunteers.

Having a virtual event enabled organizers to invite its symposium alumni keynote speaker, Tamela Maciel from University College Cork, Ireland, to present live on Monday, May 24. After graduating from the UO as a physics and mathematics major and as the school’s third recipient of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, the Grants Pass native earned a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge. She has extensive experience in research project management, science writing and science public engagement with a particular focus on space.

Another advantage of the virtual format is the inclusion of high school students and community college students. The symposium has grown its partnership with the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning, known as  SAIL, which serves middle and high school students from underrepresented backgrounds, and developed a full precollege collaboration day.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, in collaboration with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. It invites students, teachers and classrooms to participate in virtual tours, live panels, transfer student panels, research and teaching demonstrations, lab and campus tours, and information sessions on financial aid.

“It’s a full day of activities facilitated by college student researchers and geared toward providing a peek into college academics, majors, minors and research opportunities spanning any interest imaginable,” said Lara Fernandez, executive director of SAIL. “Students can join us for the entire day or individual sessions and can make the most of the program by following along with an interactive booklet.”

The Pre-College Day Workbook answers questions like “What is Research?” and helps prospective students map out a plan for attending college.

In keeping with the student-centered nature of the symposium, four exceptional student leaders will be delivering prerecorded opening remarks. The Affiliated Students of Undergraduate Research and Engagement selected Yalin Li, events coordinator, and Jewlyssa Pedregon, peer mentor, and the UO Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program chose Lukas MacMillan and Ellis Mimms.

The virtual format also provides the opportunity to record student presentations and other sessions. Many of the livestreamed and recorded presentations will remain accessible as a permanent online exhibition on the Symposium YouTube Channel, which currently hosts nearly 180 videos comprising more than 400 presentations, an inventory that will grow with the addition of the 2021 presentations.

Ther symposium has an awards component as well, and sponsoring departments will recognize presenting students who have exceptional poster, oral, creative work and data stories presentations. All told, 23 departmental sponsors are supporting 64 presentation awards totaling $13,600. 

Awards also recognize the faculty mentors who play a key role in making undergraduate research and creative scholarship successful. The 2021 Center for Undergraduate Research and Engagement Faculty Research Mentor Award is a $2,500 one-time award that will recognize four faculty members for their exceptional mentoring of undergraduate research or creative work.

Beyond all the prizes and recognition, the Undergraduate Research Symposium is about celebrating the many benefits of undergraduate research and creative work to students, said Kimberly Johnson, interim vice provost for undergraduate education and student success.

“Students who participate in research and creative scholarship are empowered to explore and clarify their academic and professional goals while developing critical thinking and important workforce skills,” Johnson said. “Their participation enhances knowledge, encourages the development of new skills and a professional identity, and connects them with a community of scholars that is essential to the intellectual health of the university.”

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications