Bridges global gap among undergraduate researchers
By Katherine Ward
Amidst the chatter that filled Harrison Auditorium on April 8, several languages and half a dozen accents could be heard as 32 undergraduates from around the globe, along with their faculty advisers and members of the U.Va. community, milled about the room. The undergrads and others there on that rainy Friday morning were eagerly waiting to hear the student research presentations.
Listening closely, one never would have guessed that many of the students had met one another only two days earlier, and much less that they were gathering for an academic event. Students exchanged invitations intent on having their new friends visit their native country, shared information about their cultures and, like any undergrads, talked about what had happened the night before.
The group was convening for the final day of the Universitas 21 Undergraduate Research Conference. U.Va. sponsored the event and hosted the international researchers from 12 colleges who presented their work. The conference’s purpose was for undergraduates from around the globe to share their research projects with an audience of peers, faculty and mentors as well as the community. And, while that was the main intention, it seems the students took away much more from the experience.
“This has been spectacular,” said Claire Pearce, a student from the University of Birmingham in England, who presented on leukemia cells.
Friday’s events began with an introduction from J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs. “U21 is an avenue to become neighbors in this ever-shrinking world,” he told the audience. He thanked the students for participating and noted that the conference had broken new ground in several ways. For one, it has featured undergraduates presenting their research, “which is phenomenal.” Many members of the international faculty agreed that the work presented was comparable to the work of many graduate students they’ve seen. The conference also has provided students the opportunity to expand their vision and see the work each respective university is doing, he said. Finally, “the breadth is fantastic ... humanities, politics, medicine, health, the sciences, life sciences — it’s amazing.”
Three students from U.Va. participated in the conference. Catherine S. Neale, a history and American studies major, presented her research on slavery at the University; Jalan Washington, an interdisciplinary
human biology major, presented her studies on the AIDS syndemic in Uganda and the United States; and Yogesh Surendranath, a biochemistry and physics major, presented his findings in the field of chemistry.
Each student had 12 minutes to present, after which they fielded questions. Public health and medical science research were presented on day two of the conference; social sciences, physics, chemistry, engineering and math were presented on day three.
Nicole Hurd, director of U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence, watched the students from the crowd like a proud parent. “This has been widely successful. It’s most exciting to see the students talk to one
another — you can really envision the future collaboration that’s possible with this crowd with the way they are connecting with one another.”
“We at the University of Birmingham believe passionately in the work of U21,” said Robert Arnott, sub-dean and director of the School of Medicine at Birmingham. “I haven’t told anyone this yet, but I believe we are going to invite the next U21 conference to our University. This has been a huge success, and something that ought to be repeated.”
“I have made a lot of connections,” Neale said. “Also, many of the students have said they are thinking of coming here for graduate school now.
“To me, it’s amazing how quickly these people from around the globe came together and forged relationships across international boundaries. It’s great to get to know my fellow researchers so early in life. I hope we connect later and have the opportunity to work together.”
Helena Persson, a student from the University of Lund in Sweden, said she was fascinated by Washington’s AIDS presentation. “It was incredible — so, so cool,” she said, noting the “big difference” in presentation styles between international and American students. “Everyone notices it. We joke that we hate the Americans because they are too good. [They] speak louder, more comfortably; they are just better, but we’re learning from them.”