Students and professors showcase scholarship at SURF

The 21st annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum included poster sessions and classroom presentations from more than 200 Elon University students who teamed with faculty mentors to explore questions related to their fields of study.

The Elon University community celebrated undergraduate research Tuesday during a special day set aside for students to share the fruits of their scholarly pursuits over the past year.

With poster sessions and presentations scheduled across campus, more than 200 students took part in the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, an annual event that showcases research projects students pursue with guidance from faculty mentors.

The April 29 forum, more commonly known by its “SURF” acronym, featured a record number of student participants. Organizers attribute a growing interest in the program to an increasing number of incoming students each year citing undergraduate research as a personal and intellectual goal. They also point to interest among faculty members who take pride in students doing work outside of class.

Professor Paul Miller, director of undergraduate research at Elon University, said undergraduate research helps students improve writing skills, public speaking techniques, their identification of meaningful questions, and their levels of self-confidence.

“We can interact with our students and help them strengthen their abilities to problem solve and to think about situations from a variety of perspectives,” Miller said. “Undergraduate research knows no disciplinary lines and contributes directly in a meaningful way to the intellectual climate on campus.”

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.

A Tuesday morning poster session in McKinnon Hall brought students and faculty together for research presentations as part of College Coffee. Professors said they enjoyed the opportunity.

“I love the combination of teachers and students in this room,” said Associate Professor Prudence Layne, director of the African & African-American Studies program who had a poster on her own research into representations of rebellious black women. “Students learn to see themselves as emerging scholars capable of doing similar work as their professors. They also learn to engage audiences of various kinds and to develop their research in a variety of ways.”

Elon University sophomores Thomas F. Riley & Christopher Battaglia created a poster explaining their research into molecules with metal centers that chemically react to other molecules in particular fashion. Both students expressed interest in medical careers and said their work in a McMichael Science Center laboratory with Professor Gene Grimley gives them an edge compared to peers at other schools.

“We’re using instruments that are extremely nice,” said Riley, a math and chemistry double major from Baltimore, “and it’s hands-on in a lab, doing what graduate students elsewhere do.”

Elon senior Caitlin J. Tarantiles and junior Kelsey E. Liddle researched the way native Spanish speakers who are fluent in English exhibited different ideas in their writing depending on what language they use. Under guidance from Associate Professor L. Kim Epting in the Department of Psychology, the duo found the research experience to be useful in exploring various academic and career possibilities in psychology.

There were other benefits as well.

“It’s great to build faculty connections. I also presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which gives you great professional networking opportunities,” Tarantiles said. “Elon is a really great school for letting students do undergraduate research.”