The Undergraduate Research Conference planned for April 13 is an SFA-sponsored event by the vice president of academic affairs and features student research from 2020. Six winners are given the chance to present their work at the conference, along with winning $500.
Every year, students from each college get a chance to work on projects from previous classes they want to expand on. The URC picks a winner from each college and invites them to present their findings to the public. Projects can range from a theoretical question that requires much data to a music demonstration performed in front of a small audience.
“Whatever is considered research in your field, you as the student can submit a paper project, whatever you think is really good quality,” Professor of Anthropology and Undergraduate Research Conference Executive Committee member Dr. Leslie Cecil said. “Each college decides which of all of those papers or projects … was the absolute best and that person or group is awarded top scholar.”
A committee of professors is given all of the submissions and finds the most promising projects to showcase the student work. According to Cecil, each college committee reviews its submissions differently,. For example, the Department of Anthropology, Geography and Sociology submits three projects to the larger competition.
“So within my department, I’m the one who gathers those and if we have an abundance of them, I organize a reading committee to select those,” Cecil said.
Students participating in the competition have until the first Friday of February to submit all of their work, and any student from any classification can participate. For example, seniors can work on projects they turned in as freshmen.
The competition is also open to students from Tyler Junior College. Ryan Button, Tyler Junior College professor of sociology and assistant director of the TJC Presidential Honors Program, has been part of the URC and competition since 2014 and has helped mentor students and look over all submissions to be picked for the conference.
“It was under the agreement with Dr. Michael Casey that they were going to explore the idea of bringing in regional colleges,” Button said.
After being invited by the previous director to help work with two students to start a Capstone program at TJC, Button was able to take over the program and has since helped bring in many students from TJC to get a chance to participate in the competition.
“A lot of times what we are doing here at TJC, is we want them to explore something that they’re passionate and interested about,” Button said. “But what we’re actually trying to teach them is that you have the greatest questions in the world… And a lot of it is about teaching them that each question that they ask requires a specific type of method to answer… we wanted to make sure that we created some excitement in our students.”
The different winners for each college are separated between top scholars and finalists. Rachel Rucker, a senior from Houston majoring in data analytics, won the top scholar for the College of Business with her project, “County Level Changes Alone Predicted Biden Win in Both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” She heard about the URC during freshman tours on campus and was offered to attend the conference as a guest. Since then, she has been interested in participating.
“I knew it was a possibility because of that opportunity and the experience I had on tours, but I did not actually know how you went about starting it, how you talk to someone, things like that,” Rucker said.
Luckily, she said her professor reached out to her and asked if she wanted to participate in the competition with the project she had done for the class.
“We predicted the number of COVID-19 cases by demographic factors, then in states and countries around the world. But then, we were looking toward moving into this conference and writing something that could go here, we were wanting something a little different, a little new,” Rucker said.
Both Rucker and her professor then looked into the 2020 elections results and analyzed for fraud, and soon settled on trying to predict both the 2016 and 2020 elections to see what kind of accuracy they could have.
Emily Latta, a junior kinesiology major from Frisco, won the top scholar for the College of Education with her project, “The Effects of Pre-Workout Caffeine Supplementation on Post-Exercise Hypotension.” Latta, however, did not start her project in a previous class but picked it up from another student who was not able to finish the research due to the start of the pandemic last year.
“I really liked the idea for this project and thought it would provide really good information once the project was complete. This project is about how taking caffeine prior to a workout can affect blood pressure after exercise,” Latta said.
After getting to work on it in the fall, Latta was able to participate in the competition and said it was a very simple admission process.
“Dr. Joubert [faculty advisor] took care of the actual submission. All I had to do was rewrite the abstract so that I had different terminology so it was not in complicated scientific terms,” Latta said.
Rucker said the most important thing that students should get out of participating in the competition and getting the opportunity to present at the conference is gaining the confidence to present an idea that they wanted to expand on, along with getting a taste of what they should expect after graduating and working in the field of their major.
“It’s just so interesting because you get kind of ingrained in your own little bubble of your project that you forget that people are working on projects and so many different fields,” Rucker said.
Latta also said this opportunity will help her get into physical therapy school once she graduates.
Although the students have to compete against others to get the top scholar award, Cecil said it’s more about the journey than the end result.
“I am so proud and honored to be on the committee that does this, which is one of the reasons that I’ve stayed on it for so long… And our students that aren’t in the conference are also fantastic because you all are doing stuff at the ground level that just blows my mind all the time,” Cecil said.
Button saidhe has seen the URC organizers try their best to help students get the opportunity to participate and give them a platform to conduct all of the research.
“Each year I’ve seen the conference grow, but the way I’ve seen it grow is … they allow for different types and styles of Capstone research. So it’s really kind of helped broaden my understanding of all the different ways that information can be preserved, and I’ve been fascinated to watch that grow.” Button said.