Undergraduate Research Fair highlights importance of academic research

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Kathleen Underwood (left) and Ashley Rapp)

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Kathleen Underwood (left) and Ashley Rapp)

Ben Glick

An important first step for students looking to continue their education after receiving their bachelor’s degree is learning to do research in their field of study and how it can be applied later on.

The Undergraduate Research Fair was held on Wednesday with the sole purpose of emphasizing the importance of pursuing research throughout and after a student’s academic career.

Thirty fields and areas of study were represented at the fair, with over 300 students in attendance to get information on research opportunities available at Grand Valley State University.

Isaac Simon, a senior, attended the event and had a hand in its preparations.

“The Undergraduate Research Fair is an opportunity for first time freshmen and students that are just realizing that research can be a very important part of their academic journey to meet up with professors in the different disciplines in order to foster relationships and kind of get the ball rolling, or take part in undergraduate research,” he said.

Research may seem like something that is done primarily by students at the end of their university careers, but students of all class standings have done research and published their work. The problem, Simon said, is about connection.

“What I’ve found is the range is from freshmen to seniors and we do this specifically because very often students don’t know where to go to take part in this sort of research,” he said. “They might know that research is good for them if they’re looking toward a grad school application and the future path, but they might not understand exactly how to connect with professors and different researchers that are in their fields or general things they might just be interested in.”

Susan Mendoza is the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, or OURS, and said much of the difficulty in doing research is knowing where to start.

“Students generally have the idea they’re interested in doing research, or at some point that it’s part of their academic experience,” she said. “But they don’t always know how to connect with faculty and how to start pursuing research questions.”

Mendoza said students shouldn’t be discouraged to seek out research opportunities.

“I think there’s a perception that it’s for upper-division students that are academically very, very strong, and that’s very true, but there are students who don’t connect with the course work unless they get to do it hands on,” she said.

Katie McGuire is an undergraduate research ambassador for OURS and does work in cellular molecular biology.

“(It requires) a bit of independence,” McGuire said. “The whole process of finding research, seeking out other people – you don’t know what you get yourself into – it’s all a leap of faith really. Anyone can do research, it’s just that they take the initiative and want to invest themselves in it.”

An overarching theme of the conference had little to do with the research projects themselves and more to do with getting students educated about research and getting them connected with faculty and other aids.

“A lot of students that come around here say ‘oh I’m interested in research but I don’t know where to go’ and this is a good spot for them to find their starting point,” said Glenn Valdez, associate professor of psychology .

Valdez, who has some research assistants of his own, said the fair is a good place to get connected with students interested in researching their fields.

“I’ve always found this to be a good opportunity for both students and faculty to talk about their research and get it out there,” he said.

Much of the inspiration for research projects comes from students who develop an interest in a topic in their fields. Each area of study has its own requirements and students interested in pursuing research opportunities are encouraged to consult their instructors

Lisa Hickman, an associate professor of sociology, said that doing research and getting published is important for students who want to pursue education beyond the undergraduate level.

“Especially for students that are looking to go to graduate school, these are the kinds of things they need,” she said.

For more information on research opportunities, visit

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