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Student Luke Robinson and Eeyore at the 2005 undergraduate research symposium

At last year's symposium, student Luke Robinson got some help from Eeyore in describing research on what Robinson nick-named "Winnie the Pooh syndrome"--obesity in mammals.

Undergraduate research teaches and inspires

Twin Cities campus symposium expands to eight colleges

By Gayla Marty

Brief, April 19, 2006; updated April 21

Nearly twenty years ago, Professor Frank Barnwell got a happy shock. When undergraduate students in a College of Biological Sciences seminar presented research to their peers, he was astonished by how good it was.

"I thought it just had to be shared with the rest of the faculty," Barnwell says. So he organized the first poster symposium. And it grew year by year, first expanding to life sciences students in agriculture and forestry, then to more fields. "That cross-disciplinary mix was terrific."

This year for the first time, the Undergraduate Symposium is open to students campuswide and is sponsored by eight colleges and several other offices. Next Wednesday, April 26, students will fill the Great Hall of Coffman Union with more than 80 posters about their research on topics such as phantom pain in amputees, humor's effect on stress, the role of syphilis in 16th century Italian art, and memory and problem-solving in the octopus.

TWIN CITIES
Undergraduate Symposium
Wednesday, April 26
1-6 p.m.
Six oral presentations begin at 4:30 p.m.
Great Hall
Coffman Memorial Union

MORRIS
Undergraduate Research Symposium
until 7 p.m. today (Friday, April 21)
Science Building and Oyate Hall

"It lets the whole community, inside and outside the U, know what students are doing, and that research is not just for faculty and graduate students," says Peter Hudleston, associate dean in the Institute of Technology. "Research is one of the fundamental things we do here, and there's every reason why undergraduates should share in that enterprise."

Hudleston presented U of M data to the undergraduate deans this year that showed a correlation between undergraduates who get involved in research and graduation rates.

"Research doesn't slow you down," he says. "In fact, it seems to do quite the opposite."

From the student point of view, taking part in the symposium is both fun and useful.

At last year's symposium, student Luke Robinson presented a poster on metabolism--specifically, nutrient conversion in the body.

"I saw friends, faculty, and staff that I've met during my time at the U," he says. "I was able to share the outcome of my research with them--to celebrate, and especially to feel pride in my research"--something he thinks other students felt, too.

But the symposium also helped Robinson learn to communicate better about his research. He called his presentation "Winnie the Pooh Syndrome: Honey, Fat, and the Role of ChREBP," partly to make the topic of mammal obesity easier to understand.

"My research involves many technical aspects and complex experiments, which can be hard to explain," he says. "For the symposium, I had to be able to communicate my work to a student in social sciences and to a professor in biochemistry."

"Research doesn't slow you down...In fact, it seems to do quite the opposite."

Robinson urges faculty and staff to come to the symposium to show their support for students.

"It was especially great to see professors I had for a class and let them know how I'm applying the information they taught in my research," he says. "Just for professors and staff to be there means a lot to the students."

Frank Barnwell wants more faculty members to be astonished. The creativity and ingenuity is a real morale booster for students as well as the faculty.

"It's a way to really educate ourselves about the quality of undergraduate research that's going on here at the University," he says. "If you had any doubts about the abilities of our undergraduates, they're certainly dispelled after going to a symposium like this!"


The Undergraduate Symposium on the Twin Cities campus is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Office for Student Affairs, Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences, College of Human Ecology, College of Liberal Arts, Carlson School of Management, College of Natural Resources, Institute of Technology, University Libraries, and Learning Abroad Center.