“Undergraduate research pushes the boundary of knowledge and gives students a taste of real research,” said Dr. Daniel Ippolito. “They get a better appreciation of research while strengthening their resume.”
Ippolito, professor of biology, works with students in the Senior Science Seminar and is leading the honors program’s senior seminar this year, assisting soon-to-be graduates in their research projects. The senior honors students participated in Academic Honors Day this past Friday, where they presented their work to high school seniors and their families.
Ippolito said that undergraduate research is becoming more and more important and that graduate and medical schools look very closely for it.
“The senior honors students are expected to do an independent research project, which they then defend at the end of the year,” Ippolito said. “They defend the honors thesis kind of like a graduate student would defend a Master’s thesis.”
Ippolito emphasized that there is a wide variety of topics that students are able to research.
“One honors student is doing a comparative study on the status of women in the Middle East,” Ippolitio said.
Another project involves some of the biology department’s lizards.
“We have two geckos of comparable size, and we are feeding one crickets and the other one mice, and we want to see which one has the most growth over a certain period of time,” he said.
Other students are conducting research on things like cardiovascular fitness in undergraduate dancers and pet owners’ perception of therapy dogs.
When asked how undergraduate students benefit from doing these projects, Ippolito said that, unlike the already-reviewed information in textbooks, research gives students the opportunity to experience revisions and setbacks, allowing them to gain appreciation of that process.
Ippolito also said that liberal arts colleges benefit by having a lower faculty-to-student ratio when it comes to research. State schools have more resources, but there is a more one-on-one experience in liberal arts schools.
Pia Gossweiler, a senior theatre major, is writing a play about the Berlin Wall for her research project.
“I’m writing about the time that Germany was separated into East and West Germany after WWII,” Gossweiler said. “My work has really been about researching that time period, reading a lot of history books along with historical accounts of witnesses that went through that time. I’ve also interviewed people personally that have experienced that as well.”
Gossweiler said that she really appreciates that she has the freedom to write a play for her project.
“I know other people do more of a paper where they research something and have a hypotheis and conduct experiments, but in my field of study, there really isn’t that kind of project. I just really appreciate the freedom of being able to do what interests me, what I am passionate about, and not having a set outline that I have to follow.”
Zach Van Duyn, a senior political science and economics major, conducted research on social and economic freedoms in 22 OECD nations.
“I did that research jointly with Dr. Bose, who was one of the economics professors,” Van Duyn said. “It was a project that he had already started, and I was actually one of three students that at some point in the project’s life cycle got to work on and contribute to the project.
“We went to the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference in April 2017 and I presented a version of it there,” he said. “It was a really ongoing thing, and there were other AU students there that worked with other professors on different projects. It’s a really great opportunity that anyone one can do with any undergraduate research, spanning from biology to political science to finance.”
When asked how that opportunity benefited him for the future, Van Duyn said it is something he includes on his resume.
“I know that, in my experience, a lot of employers have called attention to that specifically, and have been impressed with a technical and relatively intense project that shows your analytical reasoning abilities,” he said. “It’s really similar to, but an extension, and not like anything you’ve ever done in college. It really shows that you’re able to apply academic principles and be knowledgeable about a topic in a way that’s not constrained to the classroom.”
Becca Peach, a junior, did a research project with Economics Professor Dr. Shin.
“At the beginning, he would give me a lot of articles to read and we would discuss them to determine what I wanted my topic to be,” Peach said. “He gave me the idea of researching child labor.
“We formulated a questioned and conducted research on that specifically and created a research proposal,” she said. “By the end of the semester, I hadn’t actually written a paper, but Dr. Shin encouraged me to write it and submit my work to the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference.”
Peach said that she saw an immediate benefit of this opportunity in the internship that she received this summer.
“I did an internship at Sagamore Institute, which is a public colosseum think tank in downtown Indianapolis,” Peach said. “My job there was to be a research assistant. I worked under a senior fellow at Sagamore on the Africa portfolio doing research. It was advantageous for me to have had experience in what the research process looks like as well as interacting with somebody who is senior than me in my research.”