Elon hosts Integrating Research in Science conference for STEM undergraduates

The regional STEM conference for undergraduate students, called Integrating Research in Science (IRIS), was held at Elon campus for the first time on April 22, Saturday with more than 60 attendees from 15 different nearby colleges/universities.

More than 60 undergraduate students and faculty from 15 nearby colleges and universities attended the regional STEM undergraduate conference, Integrating Research in Science, hosted by Elon University and held April 22 in McMichael Science Building and Innovation Hall.

Integrating Research in Science (IRIS), an innovative student-led conference, aims to celebrate interdisciplinary interactions by bringing together the realms of STEM and STEM-related fields. This one-day conference for undergraduates is designed to allow students to promote their research, network among professors and peers, and prepare for their academic and professional careers by attending expert panels. By participating in IRIS, students engage in a collaborative environment that harbors values in creating a strong sense of community. Moreover, by bringing many departments and students with different interests together, students will explore new ideas within a diverse range of fields and be able to delve into the rich progress cross-disciplinary interactions have to offer.

Alexa Madalene Falls from Fayetteville State University gives an oral presentation.

The IRIS was initially developed in 2017 and has been run at Wake Forest University. Elon hosted the event for the first time this year and planning for the conference began in fall 2022. The Elon Student Organizing Committee consisting of Thomas Wilson ’23 (co-leader; biochemistry), Mary Hermes ’24 (co-leader; engineering), Lauren Hill ’24 (engineering), Griffin Pace ’25 (applied mathematics), and Victory Moore ’25 (biology) under the supervision of Elon faculty members Hwayeon Ryu, Nancy Scherich and Mark Weaver. Almost 30 oral or poster presentations were given at this year’s IRIS.

“It is a relatively small but very unique conference in that it is organized by our student committee with diverse representation in terms of the years, discipline and background,” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Hwayeon Ryu, who is the lead faculty member for the IRIS conference. “Our students did such an impressive job that they have collaboratively and effectively worked using each individual’s expertise and interest. Though it was the very first time for everyone to organize a conference, all of them truly took ownership and have been leading all the organizing work. As a result, the enthusiasm and participation at the conference was excellent. All of the presentations were very well attended with great audience engagement.”

Carly Ann York ’08, assistant professor of biology at Lenoir-Rhyne University, gives a keynote talk.

IRIS is attended by students and faculty from regional colleges and universities. This year the title of keynote talk was “The Science of Storytelling” given by Carly Ann York, assistant professor of  biology at the Lenoir-Rhyne University, who is a 2008 Elon University alumna. The keynote talk is followed by oral and poster presentations, and concludes with the panel session for both academia and industry.

“I found it very inspiring to witness the synergy between the student organizers. They were very organized, respectful and thorough throughout the entire planning process.” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Nancy Scherich. “The quality of research that was presented, both in the oral presentation and in the poster sessions, was very impressive. Every presenter was highly knowledgeable, passionate, and well prepared.”

Marc Brown and Mariah Holder from Shaw University co-present a poster with their colleague.

“I feel that the conference proved to be very rewarding seeing not only students from the Elon community but also neighboring schools be able to come together to share research.” said Mary Hermes, the co-leader of organizing committee. “Nothing can describe the sense of unity this conference created among the local science community. I didn’t think that I could be a part of something so great – Elon has a great future set ahead for the world of research.” said Victory Moore.

“I was extremely impressed with how the student organizers pulled everything together; they had a lot to accomplish leading into the final week before the conference, and everything came together quite nicely and they put together a very professional conference,” said Assistant Professor of Statistics Mark Weaver.

Panel session was moderated by Lauren Hill (Elon) with panelists (from left to right): Jenora Waterman (North Carolina A&T State University), Nancy Scherich (Elon), Ioannis Batsios (Forefront Technologies), Terri Mitchell (Triangle Women in STEM), and Terrance Turner (Regeneron Biotechnology)

In spring 2024, IRIS will be held at Wake Forest University and the goal is to alternate hosting the conference between Elon and Wake Forest University to establish the partnership between the two institutions and develop a STEM community in nearby regions.

To acknowledge the funding, the IRIS 2023 conference at Elon University is supported by NSF DMS-2151990.