Presentations Abound for UROP

Brian Kim/New University

As the new bells at the Student Center struck 7 a.m.  on Saturday, May 14, UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) was already up and bustling. They were preparing for the hundreds of people expected to attend over the course of the day during the 18th Annual UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium.

This year’s affair was a landmark event, with a whopping 820 student presenters, 100 more than last year. With 371 faculty mentors assisting with the students’ research, UROP is expanding and the annual Symposium is a platform on which students can showcase their hard work.

“UCI’s Undergraduate Research Symposium provides the opportunity for students to communicate their excitement over what they found and discovered, as well as celebrate what they have worked on for a year with their family, friends, faculty and other research collaborators,” said Said Shokair, director of UROP. “Plus, in the process, they build confidence, a key component that they will carry into the real world.”

From 7:30 a.m. to 4:50 p.m., a total of 556 oral and poster presentations were held, each a culmination of a year’s worth of research and dedication.

In between, participants were treated to keynote speaker, John Hemminger, vice chancellor for research and professor of chemistry at UCI, as well as unique and creative dance performances.

Sharon Salinger, dean of Undergraduate Students, honored the 2011 recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. For nine of the different schools within UCI, one student and one faculty member are recognized for furthering undergraduate research.

Each winner receives a certificate and students also get a $250 cash award. One faculty member, on the other hand, is selected by the UROP Faculty Advisory Board to receive an award for the purchase of computer equipment. This year, Katherine Faust, professor from the department of sociology, garnered the prestigious award.

Spread out throughout the Humanities buildings, students researched topics that ranged from the sciences, like biology and chemistry, to humanities, such as English and history, to computer science, engineering, business administration, and economics and everything in between.

One poster presentation that attracted many passers-by was the Formula Race Car team. A senior design team, they have participated in intercollegiate competitions and invitationals.

They brought along some of their race cars as props for their presentation, and interacted with the audience while explaining their design techniques.

Each car they brought represented one year of work. One is an all-electric car, which competed at the Energy Invitational held by UCI, where it used only 25 cents worth of energy during 20 minutes of driving.

Another car, which they started designing last December, is built purely for performance. Built by 30 students, they are preparing to compete at FSA West in Fontana on June 15.

“I really enjoyed the experience of taking something from a design to a tangible product,” said Casey Yasuhara, the leader of the team. “It’s not theoretical like the other classes; it is real world experience that you just don’t get in class.”

While the overall consensus of the student presenters was one of celebration and relief, guests and observers walked away excited, as well.

George Goodman, a third-year undergraduate student, originally came to support his friend, Raymond Wan, who presented on irrational decisions and prospect theory. However, he left with a different perspective on undergraduate research at UCI.

“Supporting a friend is always important, but it is also an interesting field that we don’t get exposed to in a normal classroom setting,” Goodman said. “These presentations right here are some of the core assets of our school. We should be making a bigger deal out of this.”

Another undergraduate observer, Nirav Bhardwaj, echoed the same sentiments.

“I want to support the research and innovation UCI students have,” he said. “I think even more students should come here to get involved because you really do learn so much simply by listening. This is the top of the line stuff they’re researching right at our school. It’s incredible.”

Then there were the parents, who were just as in awe at the students’ accomplishments as the others in the room. They attended their own child’s presentation, but were so interested in what the others had to say that many of them stayed the entire session.

Sally Hasson, mother of Danielle Jansen, who researched the sources of bias in predicting the intensity of future emotion, was one of those parents.

“First, I came because my daughter was here, but I also find the topic of psychology fascinating. I wanted to see all the research the undergraduates were conducting here,” she said. “I am thoroughly amazed at what they have done, so much so that I would definitely come back to listen again next year.”

Numerous faculty members also flocked to the annual event. Some made the rounds during the poster presentations, delving into scholarly conversations with students. Others acted as faculty moderators during oral presentations, essentially devoting their entire Saturday to helping out with the event and listening to student presenters.

“In my mind, I just had to,” said Professor Robin Keller, who served as both a faculty mentor during the year and a moderator for the Symposium. “I made this commitment and I find it really enjoyable. Quite frankly, I am very impressed with the high quality of the presentations. The style and quality of these undergraduate students actually rival that of the Ph.D. candidates.”

Of course, in order to make this massive event possible, UROP also had the full support of numerous student volunteers throughout the day. They were there before the presenters even started trickling in and remained as those presenters began leaving at the end of the day.

“I wanted to be able to listen to the presentations. I hope to research in my field in the future and this was really great exposure for me,” Annie Ngai, a volunteer, said.

At the end of the day, some of the poster presentations were selected to be displayed in Aldrich Hall for the next two weeks.

“Overall, I am very proud and excited about how the event went this year,” Shokair said. “I am very happy for UCI and for our students and faculty. This event renews our excitement and commitment to support undergraduate research.”