Spring Undergraduate Research Forum
Hundreds of students, faculty showcase their scholarship during daylong event.
A year ago, Kayla Pieri found the focal point for her research while perusing the poster presentations at the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum at Elon. And in April, the junior majoring in biochemistry with her sights set on medical school was manning her own poster showcasing her research into an innovative method being developed to use magnetic forces to deliver cancer-fighting drugs in a targeted way.
Working with mentor Ben Evans, associate professor of physics, Pieri is exploring how to encapsulate pharmaceuticals into nanoparticles that can be maneuvered into cancerous tumors before releasing the drugs they carry. It’s a method that is more precise and potentially less taxing on patients who are facing deadly diseases. “This is how I want to see the future of medicine,” said Pieri, who is originally from Boxborough, Massachusetts. “This is something that will really help people in the long run.”
Pieri was one of nearly 250 students who filled the Great Hall in Global Commons or took to podiums in gathering spaces around Elon’s campus on April 24, 2017 during SURF, the annual showcase of student and faculty research that is now in its 24th year. The daylong celebration highlights the work students are doing in the lab, out in the field and in libraries while they work in close collaboration with faculty mentors.
“There’s great value in being part of an intellectual community,” said Paul Miller, assistant provost for communications and operations who is closing out his tenure as director of undergraduate research at Elon. “It gives us an opportunity to display the expanse of things that are happening on campus. I think it cements the value of the mentor experience.”
A broad and inclusive range of academic majors was represented during activities throughout the day, with faculty members in the Great Hall making presentations of their own research as they stood side-by-side with Elon students explaining their scholarship. Throughout Moseley Center and the Center for the Arts, students offered oral overviews of their research in 20-minute blocks that included fielding questions from students, faculty and members of the community.
“I think that research is something that is typically such an individual endeavor, that it’s less visible,” said Ben Bridges ’17. Bridges presented his individual research, “Navigating Globalization through Myth in Quechua Communities of Southern Peru,” before joining research partners Sarah Kraemer ’17 and Oly Zayac ’17 to present “Call of the Wild: Behind the Scenes of an Ethnographic Film.”
“SURF offers a chance to really showcase what you’ve been working on and to be part of this larger community,” Bridges said.
About 150 faculty members review abstracts submitted for SURF each year. Abstracts are read by at least three reviewers, who provide feedback to help the advisory committee, SURF chair and director of undergraduate research in making decisions as to which abstracts will be accepted for presentation.
Théo Hardy ’17 was eager to share the findings from his comparison of the U.S. craft brewing industry with that in his native France. Originally from outside Paris, Hardy has spent the past two years at Elon and will graduate next month and then return to France to pursue a master’s degree.
Hardy, an international business major, said his research grew out of his surprise upon arriving in the United States to find such a wide variety of beers being produced by the growing craft beer segment and his curiosity about whether his native country might see the same kind of craft beer growth.
“I wanted to research something I was passionate about,” Hardy said about how he found his research topic, noting that his family has roots in Belgium, which is renowned for its beers.
While France has seen craft beer spread, its growth hasn’t been as robust as in the United States. Hardy pointed to a stronger spirit of entrepreneurship in the U.S. and more available capital to help launch breweries in this country as primary reasons why the sector has surged here.
Jeff Carpenter, associate professor of education and director of the Teaching Fellows Program, said SURF offers a chance for early exposure to what undergraduate research looks like and can produce. Teaching Fellows are required to complete inquiry projects as part of the program, and SURF offers them a chance to understand what lies ahead for them. They can also see their peers presenting and the interest that undergraduate research can generate, he said.
“It’s affirming for a student to see that when they are in these shoes, there’s going to be interest in what they’ve done,” Carpenter said.
Across the Great Hall, Sarah Alger ’17 shared her research about the challenges facing parents who adopt a child from another country who has HIV as that child enters adolescence. International adoptions of children with HIV have risen in recent years, and Alger wants to determine whether there are adequate resources and support available to those adoptive parents as their children age.
What Alger found is that three segments — medical, social work and adoption agencies — often had their own resources, but are disconnected from one another. Her interest in the topic sprung from an internship with the National Council for Adoption, and she anticipates continuing her research beyond her graduation from Elon next month when she begins pursuing a graduate degree in public health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“I could never have had this opportunity unless we had SURF,” Alger said.