Gateway Students Present at National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Bo Kim and Tyler Woods

National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 16–18, 2015
Eastern Washington University, Cheney and Spokane, WA

Reflection by: Bo Kim, Mathematical Economic Analysis '16

In April 2015, I traveled to Spokane, Washington for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), hosted by Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney. NCUR, hosted annually, is a national conference where university students across the country present their research in oral, poster, or performance presentations. This year, around 400 schools and 3,000 presentations were represented.

I presented findings from two research projects that I had worked on for roughly the past year. The first poster presentation, ‘A New Method of Using Energy Security Risk as a Decision-Making Tool,’ is an independent energy policy research project on energy security. My paper on this topic was additionally published in this spring’s issue of The Journal of Science Policy and Governance. The second poster presentation, ‘Re-Examining Federal Interpretations of Chinese Political Asylum Cases,’ is a current project that I am working on with Dr. Steven Lewis. This project, which won the Chao Center for Asian Studies Prize at last year’s Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium, is a policy research project focusing on political asylum cases from China.

The conference was, above all, an invaluable learning experience. While I have attended my share of conferences before, I had never before had the opportunity to present at such a large, interdisciplinary conference to such a wide audience of students and professors from many different fields. From presenting to an audience with varied backgrounds, I got to field a number of unique and interesting questions. Furthermore, I got the opportunity to explain my research so that people without a background in energy or asylum policy could understand my work.

Additionally, I was able to hear a number of interesting presentations of student research from a variety of fields. It was particularly interesting to see concepts from my economics classes being applied to real-world problems and questions. From talking to students, I got to hear about the unique individual approaches that each student had taken to addressing their research questions. Having been involved with the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium the past two years, it was similarly informative to be able to learn from a wider variety of students outside of Rice.

Overall, the trip reminded me why I’ve pursued undergraduate research. Research provides an unparalleled opportunity to apply classroom lessons to projects where you can pursue your personal academic interests. To me, research is a great way to bridge the classroom and real-world applications. On top of that, being a setting with so many other research-minded undergraduates taught me a lot about the work that students nationwide are doing and the incredible breadth of academic interests that I never would have thought about.

Reflection by: Tyler Woods, Sociology '15

Through the generous support of Gateway and the School of Social Sciences at Rice University, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2015 National Conference on Undergraduate Research. The conference took place in the beautiful Northwest, at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, just outside of Spokane. The conference brought together undergraduates from all across the country, presenting their research in all different disciplines, from biochemistry to history, from psychology to art. The energy and passion stemming from the conference across campus was inspiring. I presented my research in the form of an oral lecture on Thursday afternoon. My project, which was completed as part of my senior honors thesis in Sociology, is titled “Migration, Masculinity, and Perceptions of HIV Risk among Mexican Men.” I’d presented this once before at the Southern Sociological Society conference in New Orleans, so I felt fairly comfortable when I began. There were a number of conference attendees and EWU students in the room, and it felt incredible to share my work with them. They asked meaningful and specific questions, pushing me to think about my project in new ways that I had never before considered, as well as giving me several ideas for how to extend this research in the future. The conference was great preparation and practice for my thesis defense, as well as for any academic conferences I will attend in the future. In addition to presenting my own research, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to learn about and engage with other attendees’ projects. In one of the poster sessions, which consisted of hundreds of individuals presenting their work in the Recreation Center, I had the privilege of listening to several fascinating projects. For example, one individual examined racial disparities in the ballet world, asking “Where are all the black swans?” and questioning the barriers that African-American women face in succeeding. Another individual, a sociology major, utilized content analysis to examine gender in all animated Disney films, studying the gender roles of the female protagonists in an effort to deconstruct femininity. These are just two examples of the many projects that stimulated my intellectual curiosity, gave me new ways to consider my own work and the world around me, and taught me a great deal, both about sociology and a variety of other disciplines. I am extremely grateful for the monetary support of Gateway for allowing me to attend the 2015 NCUR. Overall, the conference gave me the opportunity to publically present my research, challenged me to think about my project from a variety of perspectives, and helped me to connect with other like-minded undergraduates from around the country and to learn about their work. I would highly recommend any individual involved in undergraduate research at Rice to attend, as the experience one gains and the lessons one learns are invaluable, regardless of future career path.