Dominican University of California to Host NCUR 2007

Dominican University of California will host the 21st National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), April 12-14, 2007. About 2,000 undergraduates from more than 250 colleges and universities will attend the three-day event. NCUR's announcement that Dominican won the competition to host NCUR 2007 brings to fruition nearly four years of work by the University to secure this major academic conference. The only other California university to host NCUR was the California Institute of Technology in 1991.

Hosting the conference will highlight the depth and breadth of the University’s academic programs. “Dominican is the ideal location for NCUR 2007. Our hosting the conference is one more manifestation of the University’s commitment to fostering an interdisciplinary approach to learning amongst our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists,” says Joseph R. Fink, president of Dominican University of California. “Dominican’s small class size and the subsequent opportunity for close collaboration between faculty and students enables our undergraduates to participate in a wide variety of research— research that at larger institutions would be reserved for graduate students.”

Since its inception in 1987, NCUR has become an annual event designed to promote undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity in all fields of study. NCUR 2007 will feature about 1,240 oral presentations and 700 poster presentations. NCUR 2006 will be held at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.

Among the keynote speakers scheduled to address NCUR 2007 are Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who was named Time magazine’s “Hero for the Planet” in 1998; biochemist and astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford, who was a member of the 1991 Spacelab Life Sciences mission, the first mission dedicated to biomedical studies; Dale Bredesen, the founding president and CEO of the Buck Institute; and Melba Beals, director of Dominican’s Department of Communications and a Congressional Gold Medal winner for her role in the civil rights movement as a member of the Little Rock Nine.

Dominican plans to network with various organizations such as McNair Programs, the Research Association of Minority Professors, and the National Black Student Association to enhance participation of low-income, first generation-students at NCUR 2007. In addition, Dominican will seek funding to support travel costs for participation of students of color who might otherwise be unable to attend the conference.

The conference will be held on Dominican’s San Rafael campus and at the nearby Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium. In order to minimize traffic and parking congestion, Dominican will coordinate shuttle services between designated conference hotels, the campus, and the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium. More than 50 University classrooms and seminar rooms will be utilized for the oral presentations. The Conlan Recreation Center will be used for poster displays, and Angelico Concert Hall will be the venue for the performing arts.

Supporting undergraduate research has been a priority at Dominican since the institution moved from college to university status in 2000. Attendance at NCUR has become an annual event, growing from eight Dominican students accepted in 2002 and 31 students in 2004, to today’s 35 students from a variety of departments, including biology, art history, English, humanities, interdisciplinary studies, political science, and religion.

Work on research projects has helped Dominican students successfully compete against students from much larger institutions to win paid internships at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Stanford Medical School, and UCSF Medical School. This summer, Dominican students have been awarded paid internships at NASA, Boston University, Children’s Hospital Oakland, Dartmouth Medical School, and Case Western Reserve University.

Research is particularly strong in the sciences, with 26 of the students presenting at NCUR 2005 coming from the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, which offers bachelor of science degrees in biology and environmental studies. Students in the department have worked alongside faculty on research into sudden oak death, breast cancer, and the spread of invasive weeds in National Parks. Research in the department has been supported by sources such as the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U. S. Forest Service and The Resources Legacy Fund. The number of biology students at Dominican has grown from 32 students in 2001 to 142 students in 2005.

“All science undergraduates are provided with an opportunity to experience research starting their first year at the University,” says Sibdas Ghosh, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “Research is embedded in the students’ learning experience. Sometimes smaller schools think research cannot be done, but we do it as part of our teaching tool. At Dominican, undergraduate research is performed across all disciplines, from art to zoology.”

It was the promise of undergraduate research that led junior Faith Hall to select Dominican University of California over several East Coast universities, including one Pennsylvania institution that had offered her a full scholarship. Now, with three years of lab experience under her belt and publication in the peer-review journal Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, Hall was one of 15 undergraduate students nationwide recently selected to receive a $25,000 United Negro College Fund Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Biology senior Rocky Chavez was accepted into the University of California system but instead chose to attend Dominican because of the small class sizes and the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with professors. As a sophomore, Rocky was a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar and received $30,000 to finance his college education. Rocky spent two summers on paid internships at Harvard School of Public Health researching gene therapy to help cure pneumonia. In late 2004, Rocky and three other Dominican students traveled to Arizona to work on a National Park Service research project. In the fall Rocky will begin medical school at UC San Diego.

Undergraduate research also is a key component of the University’s newly revamped Honors Program. Fifteen of the students presenting at NCUR 2005 belong to the University’s Honors Program.