Scholarship takes center stage at SURF

Elon University students and professors shared research findings and creative work Tuesday at the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, a day set aside each spring for the campus community to celebrate scholarship and faculty mentoring relationships.

They’ve researched concussions in student athletes and the impact of verbal motivation on employee performance. Programmed death of heart cells and climate change policies across the United States. The vocal mimicry of mockingbirds and Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

For the students who take part in undergraduate research at Elon University, there’s been no shortage of ideas to study or creative projects to complete with the help of faculty mentors.

The fruits of those scholarly endeavors were on full display Tuesday during Elon University’s 22nd annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, an annual program that showcases the best work of students who work closely with faculty mentors on academic projects independent from their classroom studies.

More than 200 students took part in the program, which included poster presentations and a special College Coffee, as well as oral presentations and symposia in buildings across campus. The event takes place each year during CELEBRATE! Week, a celebration of achievements in academics and creative endeavors.

New this year were symposia involving students of diverse academic majors sharing insights on common themes of genomics, religion, development, ethnography and neuroscience. Miller said the symposia highlight the liberal arts foundation of an Elon education while providing students an opportunity to collaborate across disciplines.

SURF also featured for the first time student moderators during oral presentations. SURF organizers wanted students to experience another avenue for engaging in professional activities, and allowing them to moderate sessions involving their classmates made perfect sense.

Nor were the research projects simple academic exercise, said Professor Paul Miller, director of the Undergraduate Research Program at Elon University. Public speaking. Writing. Communicating complex ideas. Collaborating. Problem solving. Students who take part in research projects leave Elon stronger because of the experience.

“All the things we help them develop are transferable,” he said. “These are skills you take with you and utilize regardless of what you end up doing in life.”

Elon senior Emily Tomich cited many of the same skills when talking about her own research under the mentorship of Associate Professor Matthew Clark in the Department of Biology. Tomich presented her project, “Evaluation Of Moringa Oleifera As A Recovery Method For Malnutrition,” during the College Coffee poster presentation.

The former high jumper for the Elon Phoenix track & field team had served as a teaching assistant for Clark’s anatomy course, and when her study abroad experiences inspired her to research the nutritional properties of a tree native to the Himalayas, she immediately turned to Clark for guidance.

“He really helped me through the process since there was a lot I didn’t know about microbiology,” said Tomich, an exercise science and public health studies double major from Irvine, California. “This work has encouraged me to go in a medical direction, but it’s also shown me the importance of incorporating public health perspectives and education when providing care.”

For faculty, the research forum is a way to show students that professors do more than teach. The morning poster session in McKinnon Hall provided Elon’s faculty scholars a venue to share their own research with colleagues from other academic departments. Faculty posters were interspersed with student posters, giving the room a dynamic vibe.

“There’s lots of great energy in here,” said Professor Cynthia “Cindy” Fair, a faculty member in the Department of Human Service Studies. “I like this event for students because their friends get to see what they’ve been doing. It’s a way for friends to show support. For a lot of students, these projects are multi-year experiences.”

Inspiring the next generation of researchers is part of what SURF is meant to do, organizers said. By watching classmates and professors discuss scholarly projects and the new knowledge they help create, today’s students are often motivated to seek careers as tomorrow’s thought leaders.

“We talk about our research in the classroom, but it’s abstract for students,” said Associate Professor Meredith Allison, associate director of the Undergraduate Research Program. “This is a tangible product they can see.”