Students Lead the Way in Undergraduate Research

Published: November 25, 2014 | Author: Bailey Bowthorpe | Read Time: 2 minutes

Senior Riley Taylor conducts research in the Virgin River. Standing in the dark wood stained banquet hall, Bronson Weaver stands with his research behind him and readies himself for the hundreds of students that will be pouring in to learn about the many research projects coming from the College of Science & Engineering. Taking a deep breath in, the senior chemistry major scans the banners suspended from the beams. One catches his eye that states, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”

“If that is the goal of education,” Weaver said, “then I’ve definitely caught that vision through participating in undergraduate research.”

At large institutions, research is reserved mainly for graduate students, but at Southern Utah University, professors put a focus on giving their undergraduate students research experience in the classroom and in the field. Highlighting many of the exemplary students who expanded their educational opportunities, the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering hosted a symposium calling attention to the academic pursuits of many of these outstanding students.

One being Weaver, whose research was brought to life by a question that peaked his curiosity while taking a general chemistry class: what makes chemistry challenging and what obstacles do students encounter while enrolled in general chemistry?

From that question, Weaver worked with other students and a professor to analyze questions in chemistry homework, midterms and quizzes to ultimately gain insight into what makes chemistry difficult.

“We hope that our research will influence future grading practices of not only chemistry courses, but all academic courses,” he said with the intent of taking his findings to get published in the ACS Journal of Chemical Education.

Finding his own passion while in class, Riley Taylor, a senior biology major, used the opportunity to conduct research with a group of students and faculty members. The group is examining the ecological impact of two species of invasive turtles found in the Virgin River basin.

He said of his project,  “I am gaining knowledge and skills that most students don’t get until they are in their graduate program. There are times when it’s tough and hard to balance classes and research, but the rewards, skills and knowledge I’ve gained are irreplaceable.”

Both Taylor and Weaver agree that faculty mentors have greatly improved their experience with undergraduate research at SUU.

“It is reassuring that these professors are highly qualified professionals; we relied heavily upon their experience from past projects and publications,” Weaver said. 

Weaver and Taylor exemplify numerous SUU students from all disciplines who receive personal attention from professors through research, and become greater students, leaders and lifelong learners in the process. 

Photo: Riley Taylor conducting research in the Virgin River. 

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