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Student ambassadors lead peers into research

CURCA Ambassadors 2013
Dr. Daniel Hatch speaks to a group of CURCA Ambassadors about one of his recent research projects.

Student ambassadors for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) at the University of North Georgia will spend this academic year helping other students realize the importance and value of undergraduate research.

"Students who engage in research and creative activities as undergraduates have higher learning gains, such as problem solving and critical thinking skills, and increased self-confidence and independence, when compared to students who do not participate in undergraduate research and creative activities," said Dr. Miriam Segura-Totten, director of CURCA.

As a major initiative for UNG, undergraduate research is strongly encouraged because of the hands-on experience it offers inside and outside of classrooms, often under the guidance of professors serving as mentors.

"Undergraduate research makes a huge difference in the lives and careers of students," said Dr. Daniel Hatch, who oversees the CURCA Ambassador program. "When students are given this insight from their peers rather than from their professors, the impact makes for a much more compelling experience."

Hatch added that undergraduate research projects are mutually beneficial to the students and professors. The students' transfer of skills and knowledge from the theoretical realm to practical produces meaningful, insightful work that often receives special recognition at conferences and meetings, Hatch said.

Ambassador Angie Keilhauer said she wants to help other students realize how engaging research can be when they develop their own questions that hold special interest for them. Keilhauer experienced this herself when she attempted to start a garden behind her apartment, and discovered that using a homemade compost soil worked much better than using other enriched potting soils.

"I started learning the process of composting and discovered vermicomposting, which uses worms in the process," Keilhauer said. "By adding worms, waste can be turned into nutrient-rich compost three times as fast as traditional composting. The idea of taking trash and turning it into something that sustains new life was incredible to me, so I ended up attempting to make my own vermicomposting systems. When we as students make our own questions, it's much easier to be excited about searching for and finding the answer."

Jesse Rockmore, who saw firsthand how his experiences as an undergraduate researcher translated into the working world, said he feels it is important that he share the process he went through with other students so they can have the opportunity to build the same foundation he has.

"Most students that do not do research at the undergraduate level do not gain the skills needed for long-term project management," Rockmore said. "When I went into the workforce, I had to manage around 20 employees in a production environment of material recovery (recycling). I assimilated into the duties of the job efficiently because I had learned from my research how to prioritize and manage tasks and employees."

Throughout the 2013-2014 academic year, the ambassadors will assist fellow students by offering counsel, testimony and presentations on undergraduate research at meetings for student academic societies.

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