Undergraduate research celebration returns with record-setting presentations
By Neil Harvey
Held every fall across most of the past decade, the Summer Research Celebration is not just a forum for some of Radford University’s brightest undergraduates; it’s also an autumn harvest of sorts for their ideas and ambitions, which are numerous, wide-ranging and complex.
The event features recipients of the Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), an academic program sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS).
Participants and their faculty mentors receive grants of roughly $3,000, stipends that help support 10 weeks of research and study across the summer months. At the end of that period, the students present their findings, either through extended oral addresses before an audience in the Hurlburt Student Center Auditorium or with a poster exhibit in Reed Hall. Both options entail question-and-answer sessions with attendees.
This year’s fellows tackled complicated subjects with topics that ranged from pituitary organogenesis to bee community assemblages and from drone examinations of an Alpine basin’s geomorphic features to an original arrangement of a composition by Frédéric Chopin, performed on video as an ensemble piece, except by a single musician.
It was great. I saw all the presenters engaged in conversations the whole time — there was a literal buzz through the room.”
The celebration was held Oct. 15, 2021, with presentations by 25 students, the largest total in the program’s nine-year history. It also marked a return to face-to-face interaction after last year’s symposium had to be conducted virtually.
“I think the in-person event is a great experience for the students,” said Joseph Wirgau, Ph.D., OURS director and professor of chemistry. “There are not many opportunities for undergraduates to present orally in a formal space. For many, it will be the only time at Radford University to have that experience.
“And there is absolutely no way to recreate, virtually, the environment we had for the poster presenters,” he added. Those who chose that option were tasked with condensing their projects and results into a display in the Artis Atrium, then fielding questions from guests for about an hour.
“It was great. I saw all the presenters engaged in conversations the whole time — there was a literal buzz through the room,” Wirgau said of the reception.
Dakota Taylor, a senior anthropology major from Cordele, Georgia, gave both an oral address and a poster presentation on her topic, “Sex and Gender Estimation in Forensic Anthropology and the Identification of Transgender Individuals.”
Taylor said she has previously spoken on her work in other forums, but only to students in her field.
“With this, I’m able to present to people who are professors or students from other aspects of the university,” Taylor explained.
She also felt that, by taking part in SURF, she got access to an expanded range of data and resources in her studies: “I think I wouldn’t be able to get this widespread information without this fellowship.”
At the Summer Research Celebration poster exhibit in Reed Hall, OURS director Joseph Wirgau chats with research fellow Zoe Hannabass (left). Chris Wozniak with an Alleghany wood rat (center). Sam Williams with his cybersecurity project (right).
With this, I’m able to present to people who are professors or students from other aspects of the university.”
Two junior biology majors, Sierra Felty of Draper, Virginia, and Chris Wozniak of Narrows, Virginia, are collaborating on their project — a survey of the endangered Alleghany wood rat and its ectoparasites — and said the SURF grant they received made their work not just easier, but possible.
“It takes hundreds of dollars to buy the chemicals that we need,” Wozniak said. “Otherwise, we would’ve just been stuck with samples, and there’s nothing we could have done with them.”
Sam Williams, a sophomore cybersecurity major from Rock Hill, South Carolina, also presented in both forums. He has received at least one earlier grant for his work on the vulnerabilities of internet-based technologies, and said SURF was beneficial to him in numerous ways.
Williams praised the mentor he was assigned for his project, Prem Uppuluri, Ph.D., professor of computer science: “They give you somebody who’s done this before, and they guide you, but it’s really mostly your project.”
He also valued the personal and professional development he gained through the fellowship.
“They teach you professional writing and grant writing and being able to ask someone for money in a professional and polite way and be successful,” Williams said. “It’s transferable skills, what they give, and obviously the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship is really on the mark with that kind of stuff.”
Applications for the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships are being accepted through Feb. 11, 2022.