Students present at annual research conference
Olivia Volkman-Johnson / Winonan
For the third time, Winona State University hosted the sixth annual Minnesota Conference of Undergraduate Scholarly and Creative Activity. The event, which featured 62 poster and oral presentations by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities students, took place on Monday, April 3 in Kryzsko Commons.
Conference coordinator Mingrui Zhang is a professor of computer science at Winona State and member of the Minnesota Undergraduate Research Council, which includes faculty representatives from 10 Minnesota State colleges and universities.
The council created the conference, along with the annual poster presentation at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., in order to showcase student work.
“The conference is more oriented towards the students to provide an environment to allow undergraduate students to interact with students from other conferences to see what’s going on at other campuses,” Zhang said.
Zhang said he received close to 30 abstracts from Winona State students this year and usually selects about 10 to 15 each fall.
“Faculty advisors will work closely with their students to get the abstract done and to get the project and research done by the time of the conference,” Zhang said.
Katie Scruggs and Ethan Pottebaum, cell and molecular biology seniors, worked with Winona State professor Osvaldo Martinez on a research project to develop a more effective vaccine for the Ebola virus.
“One of the cool things is that we’re using something that’s already in our cells to make the vaccine better, instead of adding something to it,” Scruggs said. “I think that’s kind of cool that we’re taking advantage of our own body to make a better vaccine.”
Scruggs said she enjoyed the opportunity to work outside of a traditional classroom setting for the project.
“I liked being in the lab and working on different things that I have never done before [and] learning new lab techniques that you wouldn’t normally use in a general biology lab or general chemistry lab,” Scruggs said.
Alyssa Klenotich, a senior psychology student, worked with Winona State professor Amanda Brouwer on a project exploring the efficacy of self-as-doer interventions on healthy eating behaviors for college-aged women.
“This is taking a behavior [and] linking it with an –er ending, so instead of saying ‘I go to the gym,’ you say ‘I’m a gym-goer,’” Klenotich said. “[Professor Brouwer] has done it with a couple different things, and it showed a lot of positive behavioral change.”
Klenotich and Scruggs, who have attended the conference before, said they have benefitted from interacting with students outside their majors.
“This is my fourth presentation, so it’s just kind of fun to see everybody and to see the different perspectives, and also talk to people who aren’t [psychology] majors because they’re kind of weirded [sic] out about it,” Klenotich said.
Scruggs agreed, saying, “We had a few people come through [whose] field of study wasn’t in biology, so I think that’s kind of cool to explain it to people who haven’t heard a lot of the terminology that we use. So you kind of have to think about it in a different way to explain it in a better way to them.”
Klenotich and Scruggs encouraged hesitant students to learn more about the conference and about research projects in their fields.
“My professor walked me through everything, and it was very easy-going. And it was just worth it,” Klenotich said. “If you don’t know your future too, it gives you a lot of perspective over what you want to do with your life, which is obviously important since we’re in college.”
Zhang said students should not be afraid to reach out to their professors about research projects.
“Find out if the professors or faculty members of Winona [State] have some interesting projects and they would like to involve students,” Zhang said. “The goal of the conference… is to promote and motivate or encourage students in undergraduate research. What we want to say is ‘undergraduate research matters and we value it.’”
By Olivia Volkman-Johnson