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Undergraduate students present their research during the spring 2016 COURI Symposium. Photos courtesy of COURI.

COURI Symposium Showcases Undergraduate Research at UTEP

One hundred fourteen undergraduate students had the unique opportunity to present their research projects at the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) 2016 Spring Symposium.

The two-day event brought together students from very diverse academic backgrounds including music, art, Chicano studies, philosophy, psychology, physical therapy, public health, speech-language pathology, teacher education, mechanical engineering, computer science, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, biological sciences, chemistry, geological sciences, mathematical sciences and physics.

“Because the symposia are open to the campus community as well as to the public, the students get a rare chance to discuss their work with a variety of visitors, ranging from faculty who are experts in their field, to external visitors who might not know anything about their area of study,” said COURI Associate Director Laura A. Diaz-Martinez, Ph.D. “These symposia are a celebration of the research and creative work performed by undergraduates, of the dedication of their faculty mentors, and of UTEP’s commitment to provide opportunities for our students to enhance their professional development and become leaders in their fields.”

COURI held its first symposium in the spring of 2011 with the participation of 46 undergraduate presenters from the College of Science. Since then, the symposium has expanded to include students from all colleges on campus and has tripled in size.

Diaz-Martinez said the research opportunities undergraduates have at UTEP are invaluable.

“Undergraduate research has been recognized as a high-impact practice because it immerses the students in their discipline and challenges them to think critically, be creative and work with leaders in their field,” Diaz-Martinez added. “Undergraduate researchers work on projects at the forefront of their discipline, doing something that has never been done before, and thus develop problem solving and leadership skills that cannot be learned in a traditional classroom setting.”

Many students are taking advantage of the unique opportunity. Enrollment in the zero-credit Undergraduate Research Course (RSRC 4033), the course that officially tracks undergraduate participation in research, has averaged 310 students each semester.

“We encourage all undergraduates interested in research to get involved as soon as they can, even as freshmen,” Diaz-Martinez said.

The first step is for students to identify faculty mentors with whom they would be interested in working and contacting them. Once the students have identified a mentor, they can choose to apply for one of the programs offered by COURI: the MERITUS program for students conducting research in the fall and spring, and the SURPASS program for students conducting research in the summer.

These competitive programs provide a monetary award and professional development opportunities to support highly motivated undergraduate students who are conducting research or creative activities under the mentoring of UTEP faculty.

MERITUS is currently open for applications. The deadline to apply is June 12.

COURI holds two symposia every year where undergraduate students present their research. The next one is scheduled for August 2016.

COURI 2016 Spring Symposium Recognitions:

The best poster and best oral presentations were selected by a panel of volunteer judges.

Biomedical and Health Sciences

Best Poster Presentation: Cameron C. Ellis (Mentor: Hugues Ouellet, Biological Sciences)

Honorable Mention: Victoria Castro (Mentor: Anita M. Quintana, Biological Sciences)

Chemistry and Biological Sciences

Best Poster Presentation: Robert N. Walsmith (Mentor: Elizabeth Walsh, Biological Sciences)

Honorable Mentions: German Betancourt (Mentor: Luis Echegoyen, Chemistry) and Osvaldo E. Dominguez (Mentor: Jorge Gardea-Torresday, Chemistry)

Engineering and Computer Science

Best Poster Presentation: Raudel O. Avila (Mentor: Pavana Prabhakar, Mechanical Engineering)

Honorable Mention: Paola Gallardo (Mentor: Olac Fuentes, Computer Science)

Physics, Geology and Environmental Science (3-way tie)

Best Poster Presentation: Luis Del Val (Mentor: Jennie McLaren, Biological Sciences); Carlos S. Reyes (Mentor: Lin Ma, Geological Sciences) and Fabian Uribarri (Mentor: Anthony Darrouzet-Nardi, Biological Sciences)

Education, Social Sciences and Humanities

Best Poster Presentation: Melissa Armendariz (Mentor: Michael Zarate, Psychology)

Oral Presentations Session A

Best Presentation: Christina A. Alvara (Mentor: Charlotte Vines, Biological Sciences)

Oral Presentations Session B

Best Presentation: Roy Arrieta (Mentor: Dino Villagran, Chemistry)

In addition to recognizing undergraduate students for their outstanding presentations, COURI also recognizes the dedication of faculty members who tirelessly mentor undergraduates in research. The 2016 Spring Mentoring Award was presented to Hugues Ouellet, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences.

Author:  Lauren Macias-Cervantes – UTEP Communications

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