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Student research, innovation displayed at annual conference

ARC 2015 DC
Luke Parks discusses his group's research project with Dr. Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement at the University of North Georgia, during the university's 20th Annual Research Conference..

Is north Georgia's amphibian population under threat of a fatal skin disease? What causes antisocial behavior in online video games?

Laurel Mailman
Laurel Mailman explored the possibility of drilling on Mars.

These and other research questions are under exploration by students at the University of North Georgia (UNG), dozens of whom presented their findings at UNG's 20th Annual Research Conference (ARC), held recently on the university's Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee campuses. In their projects, students work closely with faculty mentors to develop research questions in areas of special interest and create a plan of action to answer those questions. The event, sponsored by UNG's Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, supports the university's mission to provide a culture of academic excellence in a student-focused environment.

"Undergraduate research and ARC are investments in our students' future," said Dr. Andy Novobilski, UNG's associate provost for research and engagement. "Students learn to work with a mentor to grow their knowledge and experience beyond what is required in a classroom, raising it to a level their natural curiosity compels them to reach. This places them on the path to become lifelong learners. Also, the conference, while focused on scholarship, requires students to reach out and communicate their ideas to others. In a world that demands 'soft skills,' this provides students the opportunity to practice what their future employers articulate as a pressing need."

Vu Tran and Mynor Lopez will present their research on a pervasive amphibian skin disease at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research at Eastern Washington University from April 16-18.

Shupert and Holland

Avery Shupert and Joseph Holland developed a process for creating

stain-resistant polymers.

"In our research, we're trying to identify the prevalence of chytridiomycosis around the north Georgia region; chytridiomycosis is an infectious dermatological disease causing a drastic decline of the amphibian population worldwide," Tran said. "If we find a presence of the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, we could take necessary measures to disrupt the disease in the area and prevent mass mortality among the amphibian population."

Jesse Ladanyi hopes to pioneer deeper research into the psyche of "griefers" in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). A "griefer" is someone who disrupts the experience of other gamers in a manner that serves no instrumental purpose; Ladanyi says they have contributed to the downfall of many online communities.

"I am interested in understanding the motivations of the griefer; why do some players enjoy ruining the gaming experience of others?" asked Ladanyi. "In order to identify griefers, I developed a scale, administered it to gamers, and investigated the scale's validity. Initial studies have supported the validity of the instrument, and I hope to use it to gather some quantitative data about griefers in MMORPGs."

Keynote speaker Dr. Joseph Oppong, professor of geography at the University of North Texas, addressed students and faculty on all three campuses about the importance of geography as it relates to disease. Oppong is a medical geographer who focuses on Africa and North America. His research projects include climate and the Buruli ulcer in Africa, schistosomiasis in Ghana, urban slum health, and computational epidemiology, which uses computer simulations to understand geographic patterns of disease spread.

"I have seen many projects today that explore culture, society, gender, sex, and other things," Oppong said. "My goal is to show you how geography plays a role in all of these things, and especially in disease."

Novobilski said the posters and presentations demonstrated students' appreciation for engaged learning and a strong commitment to excellence in their work.

"The quality of the scholarship done across all UNG campuses was indicative of a faculty that make themselves available to students interested in exploring new ideas beyond the classroom," he said.

Many UNG students participate in undergraduate and graduate research year round, both individually and under the guidance of faculty mentors, and often assist faculty in their own original research.

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