Sixty undergraduates display research work in virtual Celebration of Excellence in Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity

The search for answers goes through the classroom, but branches in many directions, as Norwich’s knowledge-hungry students know. And this week, the fruits of many labors coalesce in an online festival of undergraduate research.

The virtual Celebration of Excellence in Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity follows the spring semester’s coronavirus-sparked move online, presenting student projects in slides, photos and video clips at norwich.edu/research About 60 students are showing work developed through coursework, apprenticeships and fellowships during the weeklong celebration, which started Monday and finishes Friday.

In a video introducing the body of work, Dr. Amy Woodbury Tease, an English professor and Norwich’s undergraduate research program director, said the celebration marks an 18-year tradition; the university’s scholars typically convene for oral presentations, an interactive poster session and an awards ceremony.

But the pandemic dashed those plans.

“Our student scholars are ambitious, creative and innovative people with fresh perspectives and a contagious curiosity that drives them to ask questions and take risks to discover something new.”Amy Woodbury Tease, Undergraduate Research Program director

“Unfortunately, we cannot be together in person to engage the big ideas scholars have been exploring over the course of this year,” Woodbury Tease said in the intro video. “But that doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate together. It only means we have to be creative about how we celebrate.

“Our student scholars are ambitious, creative and innovative people with fresh perspectives and a contagious curiosity that drives them to ask questions and take risks to discover something new,” she continued. “I guarantee that you will be inspired by the work they have produced.”

A panel from senior Shayla Moya’s project “Evolution of Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation Rights in Cuba: 1959-2019,” displayed as part of Norwich University’s virtual Celebration of Excellence in Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Amy Woodbury Tease.)

Dr. Kaitlin E. Thomas, a Spanish professor, who helped curate the visuals, videos and elements for the celebration’s website, said the online presentation presented a creative new channel for the students’ work.

“There’s something about being able to do so from one’s computer or even phone that particularly lends itself to perusing the creative and ambitious content created by NU students in a more in-depth way,” Thomas wrote in an email. “Hyperlinks connect the dots, and having Google right at your fingertips as you virtually visit the gallery will hopefully spark viewers to delve into topics, and maybe come on board with the undergraduate research community next year.

“Plus,” she added, “unlike a physical space, the virtual space we’re curating can be visited over and over again.”

Some of the site’s student videos blended presentation and testimonial. Raymond Kavombwe, a junior mathematics major from Tanzania, said he learned, through his research on therapeutic strategies for major depressive disorder, that students needn’t be pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate to make vital scholarly contributions.

“Even as an undergraduate, I am empowered to share my knowledge and experience in an impact to the world,” he said.

Junior engineering student Nirmal Tamang, for example, described his project “Electric Public Transportation, a Pathway to Clean Air and Better Air in Kathmandu, Nepal,” which examined particulate matter’s effects on air pollution in his home nation. He also declared his gratitude; the mentorship pushed him hard toward achievement and clarified his future, he said.

“It has been really crucial to help me identify what I wanted to do in my future,” Tamang said, “and what path should I take.”

Research for every interest

Emma Bunker, a senior mechanical engineering major, presented research on the relationship among beta-amyloid, a protein, phospholipase C, a cell physiology enzyme, and Alzheimer’s disease. Broadly speaking, beta-amyloid is part of amyloid precursor protein, which accumulates in microscopic plaques common in Alzheimer’s-affected brains.

In a video, junior engineering student Nirmal Tamang describes his project “Electric Public Transportation, a Pathway to Clean Air and Better Air in Kathmandu, Nepal.”

In her clip, Bunker, a Weintz Research Scholar, said she has participated in undergraduate research for the past two years and considers the experience engaging and rewarding.

Norwich University trustee Fred Weintz Jr. ’47 & H’01 and his wife, Betsy, established the Weintz Research Scholars Program to support undergraduate student-scholars’ independent research. Weintz Scholars are selected based on their academic achievements and their research proposals’ quality.

The Weintz Research Scholars Program and the Chase Endowment for Academic Excellence support six- or 10-week summer projects. Students compete for these fellowships to support original research and creative or scholarly projects; faculty mentors advise the students during their research.

“Whatever your niche is, whatever your interest is, if you have the opportunity to participate, or the want to participate in student undergraduate research, I highly recommend it,” Bunker said. “It’s an amazing group of people, it’s an amazing group of mentors and it was the best decision I ever made at Norwich University.

“I hope to see you in a group sometime,” she said.

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