More than a dozen undergraduates from the University of North Georgia (UNG) traveled to Milledgeville, Georgia to present original research at the 5th Annual Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference (GURC).
Held at Georgia College & State University Nov. 4-5, the event featured 175 students from 14 schools, including 16 from UNG intent on building connections while showcasing the fruits of months — and in some cases years — of hard work and research.
"This was my first time presenting any research, but I have a defense of my thesis scheduled for later this month," said Eavan Thomas, a senior in UNG's Honors Program majoring in finance, whose research project is also part of her capstone course for the Honors Program. "GURC was a great opportunity to present to peers and get feedback so I can continue editing and honing my project."
For her project, Thomas wanted to know the effects of a childhood allowance on adult financial competency. She surveyed a group of 200 students to ascertain their current financial status, including whether or not they keep to a budget, if they have an emergency fund, if they are planning for retirement, if they have ever defaulted on a loan, and other criteria. As the research continues, she hopes to show relationships between these outcomes and childhood allowances.
Some other students have been developing their research for an even longer period of time, such as Samantha Clark, a senior majoring in psychology. As part of the 2016 FUSE (Faculty-Undergraduate Summer Engagement) program, she began her formal research early in the year, and has had an interest in the topic for an even longer time.
Her topic is eating disorders and the possible pathologies behind them. Her aim is to reshape current treatment methods with the ultimate goal of producing higher rates of recovery among those suffering from these disorders. Because of that goal, recruitment and collaboration into her project is a high priority for her.
"I finally began collecting data this summer, and it's been difficult to persuade counseling centers and universities to let me come in to pass out fliers, mainly because we are dealing with a protected minority population," Clark said. "So far we have about 20 percent of the needed responses, but I anticipate more coming soon. GURC was a great transition from what I learned in FUSE; whereas FUSE helped me develop research and interpersonal skills, I've had to really fine tune everything to prepare for the GURC presentation. It was the biggest conference I've been to. People were more critical of my work there, which helped me find new angles and perspectives."
According to Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant dean of student research and scholarship, those critical examinations are a large part of why opportunities such as GURC are often pivotal in the academic and professional careers of students participating in research.
"When students have to prepare to present their work on a stage this big, they are forced to find answers to difficult questions that may have been evading them during the course of their work," Lin said. "This builds character and critical thinking skills, and those traits grow even more as they talk with their peers and faculty during the conference. Another benefit is the connections they build with others who are researching in the same or related fields—connections that sometimes last decades and pay many dividends down the road."
Undergraduate research is a key component of providing a culture of academic excellence in a student-focused environment, part of UNG's mission. This initiative is supported by the Office of Research and Engagement and its units, including the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.