UNT undergraduates to show original research at University Scholars Day April 17

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 15:37

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Approximately 200 University of North Texas students will present the results of their original research projects during the university's Eleventh Annual University Scholars Day April 17 (Thursday).

Sponsored by the UNT Honors College, but open to all UNT students who are earning bachelor's degrees, Scholars Day gives students a chance to present their research in the same way that faculty members and other professionals present their research at conferences, either through display of research posters or by giving oral research paper presentations.

This year's Scholars Day will take place from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at UNT's Gateway Center, 801 North Texas Blvd. Students will be judged for their paper and poster presentations, and first-, second- and third-place cash prizes will be awarded for both papers and posters. The students may also win additional funds to travel to regional, national or international professional conferences during the next year and present their research papers or posters.

Susan Eve, associate dean of the Honors College, said freshmen in and outside the Honors College usually receive their first taste of university-level research when they enroll in Honors 1500, Introduction to Research. The course teaches basic research methods, including identifying a specific topic to investigate, studying past research on that topic, forming a hypothesis and writing a proposal for a future study. Each student must create a poster of his or her proposal.

Many of the nearly 100 students displaying research posters at this year's Scholars Day created them for the class. The students include UNT's Terry Scholars, who receive full scholarships as incoming freshmen from the Terry Foundation, Texas' largest private scholarship program.

"Students get very excited when faculty members and others who attend Scholars Day ask them about their research. It's validation for their work," Eve said.

Scholars Day will also include 16 sessions of students presenting their papers before judges. Two sessions, Sociology and Linguistics and Technical Communication, will include students from capstone courses -- courses that undergraduates take during their senior year to demonstrate all they have learned in their major by completing a research paper. The other 14 categories for the paper presentation sessions will group students according to their majors, with four or five students in each session.

Honors College student Alex Ruuska, a junior psychology and biology major, will present results of her college student binge drinking study that she has been researching with Victor Prybutok, Regents Professor of information technology and decision sciences and a board member at UNT's Center for Psychosocial Health Research. Ruuska investigated Honors College membership, gender, grade point average and binge drinking -- four drinks in a row for women and five for men -- as predictors of alcohol-related problems among more than 500 students in three of UNT's colleges.

Ruuska said that although she already wanted to be a practicing psychiatrist when she enrolled at UNT, she now wants to be a research practitioner as well.

"Research fascinates me, and I am constantly thinking of new ideas for future projects. Currently, I have around 40," she said. "The more I do research, the more I have realized that you can investigate just about anything in just about any academic area."

A student in the Honors College's research track, Ruuska is writing a thesis about her current research with Prybotok under the supervision of Mark Vosvick, director of the Center for Psychosocial Research. She hopes to graduate in May 2016 with a Distinguished Honors Scholar Award, the highest recognition available to students in the Honors College.

English major Caitlin Smith said an Honors course in which students have to write response essays to their weekly readings led her to do research. The assistant professor who is now her faculty mentor, Kelly Wisecup, suggested that one of the essays become Smith's Honors thesis. At this year's Scholars Day, Smith will present two papers analyzing various writers' work, including James Joyce's Dubliners, and display a poster.

"The biggest challenge of doing humanities research is finding a working methodology," she said. "Science takes a more analytic approach, but there's a lot of interpretation in English, and I must determine who to cite in a paper. It's also not enough for me to say something. I need to also say why it's important to the reader."

Smith, who also will receive a bachelor of music degree when she graduates next month, will enter a doctoral program at the University of Notre Dame on a full scholarship this fall. She plans to become a university researcher and professor.

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