2013 Undergraduate Symposium Report

In April 2013, NAU held its sixth annual undergraduate symposium where more than 950 students in all colleges shared their research, engineering designs, creative ideas, and scholarly work with peers, professors, and the rest of the NAU and Flagstaff communities. The projects covered a wide array of research activities—from designing a 40-quart cooler and developing a strategic plan to eliminate plastic bag use in Flagstaff to artistic endeavors, such as photography exhibits and a student-researched, written, and performed play about the history of Flagstaff.

"The symposium is a great way for students to learn how to present results in a supportive environment," notes Mathew Gage, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who had four mentees at the symposium.

Presentations from the College of Arts and Letters included several posters from the Department of Interior Design. Jessica Walsh, a 2013 NAU graduate with a degree in interior design and a minor in merchandising, presented her final capstone project entitled "Creative Healing at Any Age." The project became an opportunity to research how best to design an art therapy center to meet the needs of the elderly. Her design utilized color theory, texture, and natural lighting, taking into account visual changes as people age. Walsh's faculty mentors were both from the School of Art: Melissa Santana, Associate Professor of Practice of Interior Design, and Carl Clark, Assistant Professor of Practice of Interior Design.

Faculty mentors offer guidance and feedback

Behind the scenes of each oral or poster presentation was at least one supportive NAU faculty member. These mentors varied in their approaches with their students. Some students came up with their own research idea, and their mentors provided guidance and feedback. Others participated in their mentors' research.

Did the students make any valuable contributions to the research and/or field of study? Sometimes they did. For Jennifer Duis, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and her NAU colleagues Brandon Cruickshank (Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry) and Jennifer M. Claesgens (Assistant Professor, Center for Science Teaching and Learning), the answer was emphatically positive: "Definitely," said Duis. "They [her mentees] were an active and important part of instrument development and refinement, and without them, we would not have been able to collect the amount of data we did nor would we have been able to analyze it in a timely fashion."

Rewarding aspects of the experience for mentors included seeing students becoming enthusiastic about research, deepening in their understanding of the science behind their experiments, and developing research skills and confidence in their abilities,

For Scot Raab, Assistant Professor, Department of Athletic Training, one of the most rewarding parts of the experience was watching his student Emily White (who researched alternative treatments for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)) "hold her own and answer ad-lib questions from professionals in the field with years of experience."

Getting ready for 2014

Language is a large part of one's identity, says Merle Begay, who presented his poster "Strengthening Indigenous Relationship through Language" at the Undergraduate Symposium. Begay, who is pursuing his degree in Applied Indigenous Studies (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences), is dedicated to keeping his own and other tribal languages alive through song. "Once our language is gone, the Navajo people cease to exist," he says. Begay's faculty advisor was Mike Lerma, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics & International Affairs.

Visitors who attended the symposium were also impressed with the presentations. Many shared the opinion of NAU President John Haeger: "Not only do these collaborations demonstrate NAU's reputation for first-rate undergraduate research and creative work, but they also highlight the innovative capacity of [the NAU] student body."

For information about the 2014 Undergraduate Symposium, contact George "Wolf" Gumerman, NAU Professor of Anthropology, Director of the University Honors Program, and Chair of the Undergraduate Symposium Committee at George.Gumerman@nau.edu. Gumerman says it is not too soon to begin thinking about the 2014 symposium, which will be held Friday, April 25.

He urges faculty to consider building the symposium into the syllabus so there are no competing events, tests, or presentations. "I'd love to see more participation from departments that may not be thinking of presenting. The symposium features research and creative activities of all kinds." And students need not be seniors to participate, notes Gumerman. "We love to see students get involved early—even as freshmen—so they will be experienced when they get to their capstone projects," he says.

--Sylvia Somerville

© 2013 Arizona Board of Regents.
Northern Arizona University, South San Francisco Street, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011