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NMSU celebrates 20 years highlighting undergraduate research, creative arts projects

Undergraduate students at New Mexico State University will be recognized this week for their research and creativity activities during a symposium designed to reinforce the message that discovery can happen even in the earliest stages of their academic careers.

Student explaining research poster.
Biology student Chiann-Ling Cindy Yeh presents her research project poster during the 2014 Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Symposium event at Corbett Center. This year?s event takes place Thursday, April 23. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Symposium, in its 20th year, will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23, at the Corbett Center Student Union. Since the symposium?s start, more than 1,500 students have presented their work at the symposium. Many of the students who will present on Thursday are completing honors thesis projects, while others have worked with mentors in laboratories and other research and arts settings.

Honors College Dean Miriam Chaiken said the projects come from many different disciplines, including science and engineering, the humanities, history, government and many others. She said it?s a great opportunity for undergraduates to realize that they can be part of the process of discovery.

?Participating in this sort of conference helps prepare them for later steps in their career, and it distinguishes them from the crowd of other students graduating with a bachelor?s degree,? Chaiken said. ?Their profile is enhanced; they have better chances in graduate programs because they have original research and a professional presentation to their name.?

Upile Chisala, a senior majoring in sociology, will present her honors thesis research on maternal health care and birthing experiences on the isolated and rural Likoma Island in Malawi.

I was born in 1994 in Malawi, and my mother experienced a lot of difficulties in her pregnancy with me, as well as her delivery of me,? Chisala said. ?These problems that she faced in 1994 were being detected earlier and treated earlier in the Western world.?

She said her mother?s experience was not unusual in the Global South, and addressing those health issues should be a priority.

?This feminist theory research that looked at the different perspectives of health care workers, traditional birthing attendants and mothers, to try to gauge what are the different challenges that they face,? she said. ?I was really interested in going out into the field and getting stories from people. I think those voices are important.?

Chisala said the experience of conducting the research and then presenting it has made her more informed and enlightened ? and confirmed for her that she?s on the right career path.

?When I was in Likoma,? Chisala said, ?a lady called Gloria told me, ?Go and tell people my story and the stories of all the people on the island.? Presenting at URCAS is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go and talk to my peers at NMSU, where I?ve spent four years.?

Senior Tiffany Cox will present her honors thesis on autism policy in New Mexico ? especially as it pertains to adults.

?My project was inspired by my own brother, who has autism, and the fact that there aren?t very many policies in New Mexico for autism ? especially for adults,? the government major explained. ?I looked at other states ? especially Pennsylvania and North Carolina ? to try to implement a regional model that would focus on surveying autism in adults, not only in Albuquerque, but also in the more rural parts of the state.

?I?m hoping that the models I found in those states could be implemented as a potential public policy tool for the New Mexico Legislature,? she said.

Cox said the research experience has given her confidence that she can apply the things she?s learned in the classroom to effect real change in the world.

?Doing your own independent research takes you beyond the textbook and allows you to study exactly what you?re passionate about,? she said. ?I couldn?t take a class on autism policy specifically, but I used what I learned in my policy classes to create an autism project I was really passionate about, and I think that helped me learn a lot more than reading from the book.?

Chaiken said those experiences show students that research and discovery are not limited to those who have finished their degrees and gone on into the workforce or academia. In addition to their role as presenters, students are part of every aspect of putting on the symposium.

?URCAS has been going strong for 20 years,? Chaiken said, ?and it is something that involves students at every stage, from being the participants to those who are planning the program to actually designing the program, all of the artwork, the poster, the T-shirt ? all of this is a celebration of the creativity and the ideas that our undergraduates are able to put forward.?

She said she hopes members of the community will visit campus and see what these undergraduate students have accomplished.

The symposium will start with refreshments and opening remarks in the third floor Senate Chambers at 8:30 a.m., followed by poster sessions in the first floor Aggie Lounge and paper sessions in various rooms through lunchtime. A luncheon for students in the Senate Chambers and Gallery will feature a talk by Bill Eamon, emeritus dean of the Honors College, who launched the symposium 20 years ago.

URCAS is sponsored by the NMSU Honors College, the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation, the Minority Access to Research Careers program, the Building Research Achievement in Neuroscience program, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program, the College Assistance Migrant Program, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the colleges of business, education and engineering.

For more information on the symposium, visit http://honors.nmsu.edu/news/events/urcas, or contact Chaiken at mchaiken@nmsu.edu.