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Hundreds participate in UNG's Annual Research Conference

ARC 2017
Tony Nations (right) talks to fellow students about research conducted by himself, Axel Jones, Nou Moua, and Molly Rowe during the 22nd Annual Research Conference.

Why does research matter?

This was the topic of the keynote speaker and the driving force behind the University of North Georgia's (UNG) 22nd Annual Research Conference (ARC). Students, faculty and staff from each UNG campus converged on the Dahlonega Campus on March 24 to showcase the broad spectrum of research underway across dozens of departments and disciplines through oral presentations, poster sessions and panel discussions.

"Undergraduate research is a huge part of preparing for a graduate program," said Dr. Jennifer Gerz-Escandon, director of national scholarships and fellowships for the Honor College at Georgia State University (GSU), and keynote speaker for ARC. "Research matters. The inquiry trajectory is important to the entire framework of your undergraduate experience. You may not think about how research impacts your daily life, but I encourage you to reflect on your experience today to discover whether it was your topic or your experiences at the conference that were more exciting to you; this can greatly inform your choices for graduate programs."

Gerz-Escandon was joined by UNG alumna Jennifer Hightower, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in psychological science. Hightower was very active in undergraduate research during her time at UNG, and was the university's first Truman Scholarship finalist as well as a Fulbright semifinalist. She is now pursuing a master's degree in counseling at GSU, where she is working with Gerz-Escandon on research surrounding student success and scholarships.

"The biggest benefit of research is putting into practice what you've learned in the classroom," Hightower said. "UNG gives many more undergraduate research opportunities than most other universities, and conferences like ARC really help develop your critical thinking, writing, public speaking, and other soft skills that are very important in graduate school interviews."

Monica Leavell, a senior majoring in biology who will graduate in May, has been researching multidrug resistant bacteria in freshwater streams in Hall County.

"We collected water from three streams, looking for bacteria that are resistant to more than one antibiotic," said Leavell, who won the award for Best Presentation at ARC. "Part of the project has been trying to gauge how much of a problem this could be for the communities. Because we had to take many of these samples during cooler months, the next step of the process is to take samples this summer. Though I'll graduate before then, I intend to continue the project until we can publish our results."

Dr. Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer at UNG, was pleased with the high turnout from each UNG campus, and said the event offered great perspective to participating students.

"Dr. Gerz-Escandon's keynote address asked and answered a very pertinent question: why does research matter? As our students interacted with each other and faculty and staff, I know they came away with an even greater appreciation for the importance of the work they are doing," Novobilski said. "When students combine powerful curiosity with an understanding of how their study can change their communities, disciplines and the world, it creates long-lasting fuel that will sustain them throughout their professional careers, and that will lead them to keep asking those questions and searching for answers."

ARC is presented by UNG's Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, and supports UNG's mission to provide a culture of academic excellence in a student-focused environment that includes quality education, service, inquiry and creativity. For more than two decades, ARC has provided a platform for students to present original research and gain feedback from peers and faculty both within and outside their chosen discipline.

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