Undergraduate Research Shines

Nearly 300 students presented during the recent USF Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium.

 

The Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium was held April 17 at the Marshall Student Center. Photo: Laura Kneski | USF News 

 

By Laura Kneski

USF News

 

TAMPA, Fla. (April 30, 2013) – Nearly 300 University of South Florida students presented their findings – whether in groups or as individuals -- in disciplines across the board, ranging from Marine Science and Medicine to the Humanities and Business, during the recent Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium.

 

Richard S. Pollenz, director of the Office for Undergraduate Research, emphasized that the goal of the colloquium is always for students to be able to practice presenting at the professional level without the pressure of judges breathing down their necks.

 

The colloquium is hosted by the OUR and is part of USF’s yearlong ResearchOne series sponsored by the Office of Research and Innovation. A record 290 presenters participated this year.

 

Professionals, USF alumni, faculty and those who are simply intrigued by the posters talked to the students, and afterward, all of the researchers receive feedback on their projects and conduct from the OUR.

 

Among those who participated in the colloquium, 88 were a part of the CREATTE (Creating Research Experiences and Activities Through Teaching Enhancement) program. Sponsored by the OUR, students are able to do research in a classroom setting, having signed up for the particular course that they desired and receiving the accompanying credit. Those who chose to present their findings were not required to do so, but decided that they wanted to take that initiative.

 

One such student was senior Devon Robbins, who is majoring in Criminology and Psychology. His project, titled “Callous Unemotional Traits, Social Goals, and Reactive and Proactive Aggression: Concurrent Associations during Adolescence,” studied the early signs of psychopathy in younger people.

 

According to Robbins, studies have shown that the treatment of people who lack the ability to empathize is currently counterproductive. Psychopaths who come out of treatment are highly resistant to it, and are actually worse afterwards because they were able to pick up ways in which to manipulate the system and other people.

 

The goal of Robbins’ and his mentor’s research is to better understand how psychopathy develops in people, and by extension, better ways to treat it. While not all psychopaths turn into serial killers straight from the silver screen, they are “perfect predators…they have no remorse, they have no emotion, and they have no morals,” Robbins said.

 

This research began in CREATTE course Child and Adolescent Social Development, but Robbins was also fortunate enough to have been working in a lab that provided him with preliminary results for his research. When asked to compare a CREATTE research experience with that of the lab, he said that the course is more conceptual while the lab is hands-on. Both, however, provided him with “very positive experiences.”

 

On the other side of the room was Tyler Hickerson and his project, “Artificial Cells with Nano-engineered Surface.” The goal of his research is to increase the precision of drug delivery, such as chemotherapy to cancer patients. This idea started with a group project in a course last spring, and Hickerson decided to research the subject until he eventually began to work with the university and gain access to research materials.

 

He has since synthesized a new particle with a nano-engineered surface that can hold a higher volume of medicine. As with the case of cancer, a solution of these nano-particles can be injected directly to the cancerous area of an early stage cancer patient. This would decrease the amount of chemicals necessary in a patient’s body, being that the administration is more precise, thus having less of an impact on his or her quality of life. While chemotherapy is effective, Hickerson explained, it can also cause extreme fatigue, hair loss and often force the patient bed-ridden during therapy.

 

In cases of later stage cancer, main locations of cancer could still be treated prior to a less severe chemotherapy treatment, still reducing fatigue and other side-effects.

 

“There’s always room for improvement,” Hickerson said. He has presented this project twice before the colloquium, but he enjoys that the OUR provides support and feedback to all of the researchers.

 

The idea of diving into undergraduate research can be intimidating, but Pollenz insists that the earlier a student reaches out to the office, the smoother it goes.

 

“If you’re trying to do it in your senior year, then it’s too late. So what we want is for everyone to be informed in their first year, and then they can decide what their path is and how it works,” he said.

 

OUR cannot place a student into a guaranteed position – that responsibility still lies with the student and how he or she interacts with faculty members. But they can take the ideas that a student brings to the table and help to make an “action plan” that explains each step he or she must take in order to reach final goals.

 

Pollenz said that the easiest way to get into research is by coming to one of the 20 to 25 “Getting Started” workshops OUR holds per semester. By signing up and attending, students are automatically put into the OUR database, and receive emails when research positions are created by the office.