Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff of MTSU’s Undergraduate Research Center, part of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, continues to provide students with safe opportunities to present their projects with others.
A reduced number of undergraduates presented their research to a limited number of attendees at the URC’s Fall Open House event. Students signed up in advance to present and attend in order to maintain the Science Building mezzanine’s capacity limits, said Jamie Burriss, ORSP program manager and principal staff for the URC.
“Since there was a max capacity of 50 on the event, we limited the presenters to 20,” Burriss said. “Then, we allowed for 20 attendees. Finally, the other 10 spots were reserved for staff and student helpers. Four of the students serve as ‘social distancing’ regulators to make sure all attendees understood our expectations for the event.”
The staff also organized the presenters into rotations to further minimize the number of students presenting at one time, Burriss explained.
“I think this method worked out really well and allowed us to open a couple more presenting slots than we would have been able to offer without the rotation method in place,” she said.
In light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, discussions are ongoing about the format of future URC events, Burriss shared. The next big event for the department is Scholars Week in April.
“Scholars Week is a weeklong tradition during which MTSU’s academic colleges celebrate scholarship, research and creative activity through a variety of events and activities,” Burriss said. “The 2021 Scholars Week celebration will take place April 12-16.
“We are awaiting event guidelines for spring to make determinations as to whether Scholars Week activities will be in-person, virtual or hybrid offerings due to COVID-19 restrictions. Decisions regarding the event will be confirmed as soon as possible.”
In the wake of last spring’s Scholars Week being canceled along with other in-person activities due to the pandemic, many students at the fall open house shared that they had missed presenting in person because it allows for networking and real-world dynamics that cannot be fully re-created online.
“You get to meet all sorts of other undergraduate students and graduate students,” said Lily Medley, a presenter and geology major, about the in-person event. “I’ve had the fortune to meet a lot of people who are interested in this kind of (research) and who I can talk to about it. They get excited about it. It’s nice being able to explain to people what it (my research) is.”
“It’s (presenting) really given me confidence in my abilities within the field and what I can contribute to the field,” said Amber Grace Hayden, a presenter and speech and language pathology major.
“Research has allowed me to look at what we can do for the people that we serve, but it’s also given me a lot of professional relationships with people that I wouldn’t have had like Dr. Burriss,” Hayden continued. “It’s given me the confidence to reach out to them in a professional manner that I probably wouldn’t have had without the research (experience).”
Hayden’s project — conducted in addition to her normal class responsibilities — investigated the relationship between language sample length and a child’s age on variables such as word variety and complexity. Results showed a correlation between higher levels of maternal education and a higher prevalence of complex utterances from the child.
David Butler, vice provost for research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies, highlighted the benefits of the in-person setting.
“The connection between research, knowledge and dissemination is something that can occur in print, online and in a lot of different mediums, but the ability to ask questions and answers, to watch body language and to see the expression and enthusiasm of student researchers is a critical and priceless part of the experience,” Butler said.
“We want people to come and see the work,” Butler continued. “A lot of ingenuity, a lot of interest, a lot of innovation is actually happening at the university that often gets hidden and not showcased, and this is one way to get the word out on the great work. This (event) gives me the ability to walk around and see research that’s (been) happening on campus over the last 12 months.”
In addition to a capacity limit and rotating presenters, event organizers adhered to all COVID-19 safety guidelines. Guests and presenters remained socially distanced, wore masks and made use of the ample hand sanitizer, Butler said.
Attendees also appreciated the opportunity to — albeit while socially distanced — interact with their peers face-to-face.
“I have had so much fun talking with people and letting them show their research. They’re so proud of it, and I love getting to meet new people,” said Gracie Madison, a freshman biochemistry major.
“I’ve learned a lot based off of all of the time and effort they’ve put into it. It’s been really interesting to see their hearts connected to it,” said Lydia Suggs, a freshman nutrition and wellness student.
Interested in getting involved in or learning more about undergraduate research? Visit the website or reach out to Jamie Burriss via email at Jamie.Burris@mtsu.edu.
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)