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Undergraduate researchers heading to Utah for national conference

Western Carolina University junior Kriston Haynes is among a group of 35 WCU students who will be flying to Utah this week to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, widely regarded as the nation’s most prestigious conference of its type. She is feeling both “excited and terrified” about the upcoming trip, Haynes said Monday.

It’s not the airplane ride that is making the Wilson resident antsy about traveling to the conference, set for Thursday through Saturday at Weber State University in Ogden. “There’ll be people (in the NCUR audience) listening to my presentation who have master’s degrees and Ph.Ds, and I’m worried about being prepared to answer any and all questions,” she said. “My friends and family have been asking me questions about my topic to help me prepare.”

A secondary education mathematics major, Haynes will be presenting “The Children of War: A Plight for Afghani Children,” a project she developed with guidance from her faculty sponsor, Ann Fletchall, a geography lecturer in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources.

Another member of WCU’s NCUR contingent, physical education major Anastasia Carlson, said she is looking forward to her first trip to Utah. She will present “Frequency and Perceptions of Dodgeball in the School Environment,” a project she developed under the mentorship of faculty sponsor David Claxton, professor of health and physical education. “I want to see a Mormon temple. The architecture looks really cool,” said Carlson, who isn’t too concerned about making her presentation at the conference. “I love talking to crowds of people,” she said.

It is that opportunity to present research before an intellectually sophisticated audience of university faculty members and students from across the nation that helps make attending NCUR a valuable experience for WCU students, said Brian Railsback, dean of the Honors College, which oversees undergraduate research activity on campus.

WCU students have attended NCUR to present projects for the past 15 years, and for seven years in a row they have placed WCU among the top 10 universities in the nation in terms of the numbers of student projects that have been accepted for presentation by the NCUR abstract review committee. Fifty project abstracts submitted by 45 students (some students submitted more than one) were accepted for NCUR this year, sixth most among the 326 colleges and universities that will send students to the Utah conference.

This year’s trip to NCUR is being provided mostly free to WCU students, who will pay only for some meals, incidentals and airfare costs if exceeding $500, Railsback said. Funding to pay for student travel was made possible by a grant from Student Affairs and funds generated from local tuition earmarked for support of the Quality Enhancement Plan and undergraduate research, he said.

WCU’s NCUR contingent will not be traveling as a group this year, but most of the student participants will fly from Asheville to Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Railsback said. Shuttles will take the students to Ogden, where the group will stay in a motel. The students will be accompanied by Railsback and Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College. After the conference ends Saturday, some students will return to Cullowhee while others go on to their spring break destinations, Railsback said.

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said he’s “extremely proud” of all 45 students who had their research projects accepted by NCUR this year. “Such an achievement is testimony to our students and their curiosity, their diligence and their innovation, and to the Western Carolina faculty who worked tirelessly with great commitment to these students and their potential,” Belcher said.

The chancellor said he’s also proud that undergraduate research has become “an integral part of the WCU student experience.” The fact that students from Cullowhee had the sixth-most accepted abstracts in the nation is “icing on the cake,” he said.

To see a list of the projects that will be presented by WCU students at the conference, and to read detailed information about each project, go to this NCUR web page, select WCU as the institution, and click on “Search Abstracts.”

For more information about undergraduate research at WCU or the NCUR trip, contact Railsback at 828-227-7383.

By Randall Holcombe

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