The 21st Annual Research Conference (ARC) at the University of North Georgia (UNG) kicks off on Friday, March 25 on the university's Gainesville Campus, and will feature myriad research projects being pursued by dozens of undergraduate students.
Undergraduate research is a primary component of the institution's mission. According to Dr. Andy Novobilski, UNG's associate provost for research and engagement, encouraging students to pursue scholarly questions of their own choosing leads to greater passion and understanding within the subject matter.
"It's rare for students to have opportunities to pursue research at this level before enrolling in graduate programs," Novobilski said. "Students learn much more readily and passionately when they get to pose the questions to themselves. This process builds more than scholarly skill; it builds character and an inquisitive nature, which will both serve our students well as they transition into advanced degree programs and careers."
The chance to choose a research area leads to some interesting questions that are often very relevant to current events. For example, what can we learn about the difficulties women face in career fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by looking at what female video game enthusiasts experience while playing with or against male players?
Rachel Bryant is trying to learn just that, and she thinks the video game industry itself holds some interesting clues and answers, pointing out that male gamers often have a condescending or belligerent attitude toward female gamers.
"For the past three years I have been involved in research looking at how women are not well-represented in STEM fields," Bryant said. "We are concerned about why the video game industry has so many female gamers supporting an industry that is not conducive to them; there are very few female engineers, programmers or other professionals in the field, a stark contrast to how many female gamers there are. We want to discover how women in the gaming industry got past their barriers, and we are looking for buffers that helped them do so. An example of a buffer could be a romantic partner who plays with a female gamer, acting as a source of encouragement next to them that is non-discriminatory and supportive."
In a similar vein, senior English major Kim Griffin has a passion for supporting diverse education, and she wants teachers to be aware of the culture and identity of their students.
"We have been working with Gainesville High School teachers to see how we can affect change through teacher programs, to see how they are prepared to deal with diverse populations of students," Griffin said. "What we saw from students was there is a disconnect between them and their teachers that is based on a lack of understanding between different cultures. We want to bridge that authoritative gap so the teachers can reach young people. Focusing on the common intersections we all have instead of the differences makes it easier to reach people and understand all of their facets."
It's not just upperclassmen that get to seize these opportunities. Nataly Morales Villa, now a sophomore, began researching her hometown of Durango, Mexico, as a freshman in an attempt to share her culture and its uniqueness with her peers and professors.
"I believe others will find the unique culture interesting, and it's also a chance to break the many stereotypes surrounding the whole country of Mexico, such as drugs and violence," Villa said. "I don't yet know if it will be possible, but I would love to tie this research into my sociology major and undertake some deeper research on the cultures prevalent in Durango."
The 21st ARC will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Martha T. Nesbitt Academic Building; for more information on times and locations of specific presentations, view the complete conference schedule.