By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – Not long ago, undergraduate science research gave college graduates a sharp advantage when applying to graduate schools. Now, graduate school aspirants without hands-on research skills are at a decided disadvantage as even liberal arts majors are gaining valuable skills as undergraduate researchers. Another key advantage research provides for undergraduates is the opportunity to actually construct knowledge.
Recognizing this, Gonzaga University – in collaboration with other Inland Northwest institutions of higher learning – will host the 10th annual Spokane Intercollegiate Research Conference on Saturday, April 21 – the culmination of 2012 National Undergraduate Research Week (April 16-20). A call for proposals has been issued; students have until Feb. 17 to apply.
SIRC represents opportunities for students at Gonzaga, Whitworth University, Washington State University-Spokane, Eastern Washington University and the Community Colleges of Spokane to present original research across all disciplines. Undergraduate research extends beyond the sciences to the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Tarin Worrest (Richards), a 2010 Gonzaga alumna, says she would not be studying in her second year at Georgetown University Medical School now without her undergraduate chemistry research experience.
“It is essential that Gonzaga continue undergraduate research. This is what does the actual preparation for graduate school,” Worrest said. “My senior chemistry thesis gave me access to the world of research, which not only looked good on my application, but also helped me understand the scientific process.”
SIRC will feature research in a wide range of disciplines, including the natural sciences, humanities and arts; all disciplines are open. So far, there are applications in the disciplines of chemistry, computer science, math, psychology, biology, education, and physical therapy with submissions anticipated in literature, political science, marketing, engineering, communication, religion, history, and economics.
Gonzaga English Professor Patricia Terry, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is in charge of the daylong conference in College Hall. She hopes to see some 100 GU students present their original scholarly research at the conference, which aims to promote student research performed in partnership with faculty or other mentors.
Terry emphasizes undergraduate research is “learning based on discovery guided by mentoring rather than on the transmission of information.” That is, students take an active role in creating knowledge, rather than being told what it is.
Gonzaga students’ research ranges from Nicole Sanders’ and Andrew Newcombe’s, “Are We Making Happiness Scarce?” to Elizabeth Wehner’s “Characterization of Designer Drugs.” Students will convey their findings in panels or poster presentations. Students’ work must break new ground in a discipline rather than restating or synthesizing the known.
Student-researchers also benefit from learning to apply classroom knowledge, building mentor relationships with faculty, and having opportunities to communicate to a wider audience, Terry said.