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UNG research conference showcases student innovation

ARC 2014 Feature
Nursing students Mattie Goss (left) and Patrick Hollar (center) discuss their poster project with students and faculty during a poster session of the University of North Georgia's 2014 Annual Research Conference, held on UNG's Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee campuses. Goss and Hollar's poster examines alternative measures to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. Both students have had family members who were oncology patients in the past, and may be presenting their research at future conferences.

Whether building a new cipher to safely encrypt sensitive text or mapping the North American speaking tour of British poet Matthew Arnold in the 1880s, research by University of North Georgia (UNG) students is already impacting their fields.

UNG's 19th Annual Research Conference (ARC), recently held on the Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee campuses, provided undergraduate and graduate students with a scholarly venue to present their original research to peers and professors. 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.

ARC Joshua Johnson
Joshua Johnson and his project, "A Study of Identity Through Imagery"

"The research that our students engage in encourages an inquisitive disposition that will benefit them in the professional world and in graduate school," said Dr. Eric Skipper, dean of honors and graduate studies and acting CEO of the Oconee Campus.

This year's conference topics were varied and often spanned multiple disciplines. Projects included how the U.S. could learn from Switzerland's policies on illicit drugs, the driving forces behind the development of Adolf Hitler, and how misogynistic lyrics in modern music may be negatively shaping our culture.

During his panel session, Jonathan Mcrae presented a cipher, a method of manipulating plain text so that it appears in code form and is unreadable without a key, that he constructed himself. His cipher differs from other ciphers in how it accomplishes its purpose and may offer advantages over more traditional models.

"The main security enhancer in my encryption scheme is how the plain text is divided up," Mcrae said. "The text is divided into a certain number of blocks, and each block consists of characters selected from the plain text at regular intervals. When viewed, the encrypted blocks do not contain any intact words from the original text. Though this doesn't necessarily enhance the security of other ciphers that rely on massive numbers to create the key, this block cipher is more aesthetically pleasing and easier to manage."

ARC Woody Depew
Woody Depew (left) and Dr. Shannon Gilstrap (right)

Under the guidance of Dr. Shannon Gilstrap, associate professor of English, Woody Depew created a poster illustrating his research, which blended Geographic Information Systems technology and literature to produce a visual representation of Matthew Arnold's "North American Lecture Tour." Arnold, a British poet and social critic, made the trip throughout the United States and Canada to deliver lectures on education, democracy and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Depew said that one of the more exciting parts of the project came when he discovered that his great-grandfather's great-uncle met Arnold during his travels.

"I began this project with a desire to show the relationship between geography and Arnold's tour," Depew said. "By demonstrating his route and the modes of transportation he used, we hope to identify correlations, such as how population demographics may have influenced his choices. I was thrilled to find a personal connection between Arnold and my great-great uncle."

The conference also welcomed professionals for whom research has played an important role in their personal and professional lives to deliver keynote addresses to students.

Dr. Jaspal Sagoo, chief technical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, focused his address on research in information technology. He spoke on the Gainesville Campus about how research and high-power computers are impacting the mission and abilities of the CDC, and how students can contribute.

"We need innovation and academia," Sagoo said, as he highlighted the skillsets and competencies the CDC looks for in students who may be considering internships or careers.

The Oconee Campus welcomed Dr. Maureen Grasso, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Georgia, who spoke about society's need for a continual pipeline of researchers to improve quality of life.

Dr. Tina Harris, professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia, spoke on the Dahlonega Campus about how research shaped her desires and led her to her current position.

"I want to assure you that there is great potential in the research you are doing, and I commend you for your hard work," Harris said. "I would not be as fulfilled as I am today without my background in research and the many mentors I have had."

UNG is committed to helping students and faculty conduct inquiries and explorations that make an intellectual or creative contribution to their discipline and the world around them. Multiple initiatives and programs such as the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, which supported ARC 2014, foster an environment conducive to fulfilling this aspect of the university's mission.

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