Students prep for virtual Undergrad Research Symposium

Going remote for spring term means the 10th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 21 won’t be anything like the previous nine events.

But that doesn’t mean the student participants are any less eager to share their work with an audience. With this year’s audience being virtual, it is likely to be the broadest one yet.

“I am so excited to be sending my family and friends a link to show them what kind of work I’ve been doing,” said Maya Auld, a senior majoring in family and human services who will present her thesis research at the symposium.

This year’s event will showcase 380 undergraduate presenters, more than 20 percent of whom are first-year students. They span 69 majors, from the natural and social sciences to the humanities and design.

In lieu of the traditional rows of posters, this year’s symposium will feature select live oral and poster presentations on a dedicated YouTube channel with scheduled livestreams beginning at 10 a.m. Other live presentations will happen in Zoom rooms accessible on an invite or RSVP basis and will be recorded for later universal viewing on YouTube.

A complete schedule is available on the symposium website. The YouTube channel makes presentations open to attendees from anywhere around the world.

“We hope that the virtual symposium will provide a unique venue for those beyond the UO community to connect and learn more about the research opportunities available at the UO,” said Kevin Hatfield, assistant vice provost for undergraduate research within the UO’s Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Success.

There’s even a new format for presentations that debuted last year: the data story. It’s a short oral presentation focused on students’ experience with their subjects. For example, Auld’s thesis looks at the responses of 495 Latinx high school students in Oregon to the question “What does your identity mean to you?”

Auld and a team of coders spent more than a term analyzing themes in their responses and correlating them with measures of success like attendance and academic achievement. She hopes the findings will highlight the importance of positive regard for ethnic identity among this group and groups like it.

The data narrative she produced is geared toward a general audience. It will also show both the results and the mishaps of her thesis work.

“It’s really important to show others that things don’t always go right, but you can still have a great research project in the end,” Auld said.

She hopes to continue working with the data and its findings after graduation. Participating in the symposium for the first time this year, Auld wishes she’d gotten involved sooner and encourages other students to give it a try.

“It can be small, but just putting your name out there, trying it out and networking with professors or researchers is an opportunity that you won’t be able to have outside of the university, and you never know what will come of it,” she said.

For many students, the research symposium is an opportunity to follow their individual passions. For senior Sawyer Alcazar-Hagen, those are design and rock climbing. So, for his thesis he chose to design climbing equipment that’s adaptive for use by alter-abled individuals, such as the amputee he worked with, who may not be best served by a traditional harness or cleat.

In pursuit of his hobby, he’d noticed some climbers like Kevin Cardoza, who has one arm amputated above the elbow, using unsafe modifications to equipment in order to participate in the climbing community. Alcazar-Hagen knew there had to be a better way.

The design he’s presenting is a way to combine his passions into a meaningful and powerful project, he said. He’ll continue to test and improve on the rope-cleat and lowering system he developed to make climbing safer for people like Cardoza.

“The symposium is a fantastic way to gain feedback and take your ideas and research to the next level,” Alcazar-Hagen said.

For others, it’s presented a venue for of-the-moment topics such as the global COVID-19 pandemic. Junior Hannah Heskin, a human physiology major with a minor in global health, saw the opportunity to examine Oregon’s response to the pandemic at the state level.

“I chose to focus on Oregon because it is my home state and I strive to be an informed participant in the health of my community,” she said.

Though all presenters acknowledge the differences to the symposium this year, they say it’s a great way to share their work, make connections and engage with their fields of study. Much of the research presented in any year at the symposium isn’t finished, as the nature of research is always finding another question to ask.

But maybe no topic is evolving quite so pointedly as Heskin’s.

“The pandemic has created such a rapidly changing public health and economic emergency in the state of Oregon,” she said. “I think it is safe to say there will be new information to add right up to the time of my presentation.”

—By Anna Glavash, University Communications