A bonanza of undergrad research


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UI senior Rebecca McCray spent her summer helping women make books at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, Iowa.

An English major, her time there uncovered a passion for reaching out to the incarcerated masses — people who don’t have access to resources that may help them once they leave the confines of prison.

“They really appreciate education in a way we don’t because it’s so accessible to us,” she said.

McCray, who now hopes to pursue a career in the corrections system, shared her experience with interested spectators as the first Fall Undergraduate Research Festival on Thursday.

From the development of sloths to varying portrayals of Africa in documentaries, students displayed an array of research at the University Capitol Centre for the event, which the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates sponsored.

Hailing from a slew of educational fields, 33 UI students showcased their work.

“A lot of the research [at the UI] occurs across all disciplines — dance, arts, the humanities — not just science,” said center Director Bob Kirby.

Research presented at the festival proved his point, coming from all areas of the university from geoscience to journalism.

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Kirby said a quarter of all undergraduates take part in research projects, based on numbers gathered by the center. Students can design their own projects or brainstorm with professors.

McCray said becoming involved in research as an undergrad is important because it gives students hands-on experience in their field of interest.

“It gives you real-world experience,” she said. “You often work with a professional, and you can make relationships with people who can give you advice or write letters of recommendation for you.”

McCray, who graduates in May, is applying to nonprofit organizations that help formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society.

While she volunteered her time at the prison, undergraduates can receive research funding from a variety of UI programs and external grants.

Alongside a faculty member, geoscience major Justine Hart has been studying bones of prehistoric giant sloths found in southwestern Iowa in 2002. She receives funding through the center’s grant project, and with the money, she is attempting to create a 3-D technological model of the sloth’s bones.

“I’m studying how they grew and their development and comparing it with the sloths of today,” the UI sophomore said.

Amy Palace, a double major in journalism and international studies, was one of the several students displaying work from an Honors thesis project. She analyzed three documentaries about the conflict in Darfur, examining how the movies portrayed Africa, included credible sources, and the number of graphic visuals they used.

She said many of the films didn’t provide viewers with enough information on the issue.

“It’s good for people to act on it, but they need to know what they’re acting on,” she said.

Kirby said he hopes to showcase more undergraduate projects in the future.

“The idea is to make it an annual event,” he said.

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