EIU’s commitment to undergraduate research is unquestionable, and the 33 students it will send to next month’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research personifies that fact in rather impressive fashion.
A yearly event presented by the Council on Undergraduate Research with a mission “to promote undergraduate research scholarship and creative activity done in partnership with faculty or other mentors as a vital component of higher education,” NCUR is scheduled for April 11-13 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Representing a number of disciplines across campus, Eastern’s contingent of chosen presenters is larger than that of any other Illinois school.
“NCUR is significant since it is an interdisciplinary conference geared solely at undergraduate research, two important distinctions,” explained John Stimac, dean of the Honors College. “As an interdisciplinary conference students from a wide range of majors present -- it could be an original score in music, a three-person play, significant work on near Earth asteroids, the impact of terrorism on derivative markets, or the latest research into effective pedagogy for first-grade reading.
“It is all being presented in a massive 2 ½-day conference. The conference has presenters from all levels of institution -- think the Harvards, Yales, and Caltechs, to the junior colleges -- from freshmen to seniors. NCUR does not allow graduate students to present, but graduate schools are there offering recruitment information and many of the grad coordinators attend the sessions to preview prospective students.”
Dr. Stimac feels student participation in NCUR is important for several reasons. Obviously, they’re showcasing themselves to potential grad school destinations, but they’re also getting the chance to interact with and learn from their peers in an atmosphere that encourages constructive criticism and positive feedback.
“It also gets (students) to realize that their research, scholarship and creative activities done at Eastern can compare favorably to that done at top-tier research schools,” added Stimac.
Eastern students who make the cut for NCUR go through a multi-tiered vetting process; a call for abstracts goes out in the early stages of the academic year and interested students submit abstracts for review by the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (URSCA) committee.
“Most, but not necessary all, of those abstracts are approved then the students may submit to NCUR,” said Stimac. “NCUR closes their abstract submissions in November, and then those are vetted at the national level and students are notified in January.”
Clinton Brown, a communication studies student who’ll present at NCUR, says he expects nothing but positive returns from the experience.
“I think research is fun, and I think it’ll be a fun experience,” said Brown, whose research is titled Exploring The Construction And Interpretation Of Identity: The Verbal And Non-Verbal Communication (Or Not) Of Sexual Orientation. “It’s also something I can learn from, regardless of whether I end up working in academia or the private sector.
“Either way, I’ll still need to learn to research and report. I’m sure it’ll be part of my job, and these skills will be invaluable. The feedback I’ll receive will be constructive, not destructive.”
Stimac also weighed in on the benefits of participation for EIU students.
“It allows them to be more comfortable presenting their work. They gain confidence in their presentation skills, confidence that their work is important, and confidence when talking to peers and colleagues outside of Eastern. I believe that this is part of our mission at Eastern -- preparing students to succeed outside of Eastern and the university setting.
“It also helps students become better citizens in that many of them may not have traveled outside of Illinois before. Understanding different cultures is important for them as well. As to how it benefits Eastern -- Eastern's exposure is increased and its reputation for top-quality research and education is enhanced. This increases the likelihood of our students getting into top-tier graduate programs.”
Brown adds that he’ll relish the opportunity to showcase research into which he has put so much time and effort, and he feels confident this is the case amongst the rest of EIU’s presenters. He also sees the entire experience as a point of pride for the university.
“We have a lot of students going, and I think that’s really a great representation of Eastern’s commitments to undergraduate research opportunities,” said Brown. “I think it’s a validation of the quality of our faculty and staff and how well they’ve educated us.”