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UC Davis conference showcases undergraduate research

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From page A5 | April 30, 2013 |

From designing a robot for searching buildings in a disaster to telling the story of a cross-cultural experience through a quilt, more than 500 UC Davis students shared their discoveries and artistic creations Friday and Saturday at three campus venues.

The 24th annual Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference showcased a record 529 presentations through oral and poster sessions and an arts exhibit.

More than 350 faculty members sponsored or recommended students for participation in the conference, and about 70 campus leaders — including deans, department chairs and faculty — moderated the oral and poster sessions.

“The conference showcases students who have developed their own research questions and done the hard work to find innovative answers,” said Carolyn de la Peña, interim vice provost for undergraduate education. “It challenges them to consider what about their data is most interesting to an audience — what have they learned that is most likely to change how people think?”

At UCD, ranked eighth among public research universities nationwide, about 5,000 undergraduates conduct research in any given year, typically working directly with faculty, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. UCD offers opportunities for undergraduates to compete for grants and awards and publish their work.

Conference participation has soared by 90 percent since 2009. In recent years, the event has added an arts exhibit and expanded to two days.

“Being able to present your research is a hugely important skill,” said Gail Patricelli, an associate professor of evolution and ecology. “You need to be able to explain what you did, why you did it and why your audience should be interested in it.”

Patricelli, who received the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, this year sponsored Tawny Scanlan of Pasadena and Marty Martinez of Vista to present research about the behavior of the greater sage-grouse.

Scanlan, a senior majoring in animal biology, worked with Patricelli and members of her lab, including postdoctoral researcher Alan Krakauer and graduate students.

“They taught me the entire process of conducting research from discovering background information to contributing to a paper for publication,” said Scanlan, who is considering a career in academia.

Tammy Hoyer, who chairs the conference and is assistant director of the Undergraduate Research Center, said the research experience helps undergraduates develop critical thinking and analytical skills and prepare for graduate or professional studies or a career.

Presentations for this year’s conference represented the work of students across the campus. Topics ranged widely, from the portrayal of spinsters in Jane Austen novels to food security in Africa. Examples included:

* Rosa Klein-Baer, an anthropology major from Palo Alto, created a quilt that reflects her encounter with Egyptian culture and explores how ideas translate from one culture to another.

* Hasan Ghadialy, a senior from Lodi majoring in electrical engineering, introduced a robot that self-navigates with sensors to conduct room checks or investigate hazards in disasters. He designed and built the 10-by-10-inch tank-shaped vehicle with four other engineering majors. Ghadialy presented his work in a poster session.

* Sarah Laudenslayer, a senior from Garden Grove majoring in design and sociology, gave an oral presentation on the smartphone application she is developing to help students access mental health resources at UCD. Now testing a paper prototype, she said the project has helped her develop a practical understanding of the ways in which research can inform design.

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