Undergraduates Present Research at Two Major Conferences

Undergraduate research is thriving at Dominican University of California. Thirty-five students from the University presented their research at the 19th annual meeting of the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Virginia April 20-23. In addition, six Dominican students were invited to present research at the Western Psychological Association (WPA) meeting, April 14-17 in Portland, Oregon.

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, 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. This is the first year students from the University’s Department of Psychology have presented at WPA.

“While the concept of undergraduate research is not new to Dominican University of California, in recent years this research has become a highly visible aspect of our University,” says Kenneth J. Porada, PhD, the University’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Work on research projects has helped Dominican students successfully compete against students from much larger institutions to win internships at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Stanford Medical School, and UCSF Medical School. This summer, Dominican students have been awarded 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 this year 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.”

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 is one of 15 undergraduate students nationwide selected to receive a $25,000 United Negro College Fund Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Biology junior and Honors Program student Charla Scott presented research into locomotion of sea cucumbers at NCUR last year. This January Scott, under the direction of her faculty mentor Diara Spain, assistant professor of biology, presented at the annual conference held by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Scott, whose poster presentation was titled A Preliminary Investigation into the Ossicle Density of the Body Wall of Sea Cucumbers (Class: Holothuroidea), was one of only a handful of undergraduate students presenting at this international conference. “At first it was intimidating, I had professors asking me questions, but after a few questions I really felt comfortable.” Scott was also able to network with experts in her field from all over the world and discuss aspects of her work that she plans to investigate in the future. Scott has just received a paid summer internship at Boston University.

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

The University’s Office of the Provost supports faculty research via Faculty Research Grants, which provide faculty with release time to begin, continue, or complete a research project or produce creative works. This year the Office of the Provost launched the Academic Excellence Initiative. Up to three awards will be available annually to three groups of Dominican faculty and students in recognition of enhancing outstanding teaching through active learning. Each group chosen by an all-university committee of faculty and students, appointed by the Provost, will receive a maximum award of $1,000.