Van Andel Institute conference invites undergraduate students to share scientific research

Dylan Grosser

Headline: Van Andel Institute conference invites undergraduate students to share scientific research

By: Dylan Grosser

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The yearly West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Research Conference put on by the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) is inviting roughly 50 Grand Valley State University students and 12 GVSU faculty members to attend the annual conference Saturday, Nov. 5. 

The VARI is bringing in an estimated 380 people from a number of different institutions and universities, such as Aquinas College, Calvin College, Hope College, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College and GVSU.

The conference is a daylong event set up by the VARI to bring in students to “participate in an authentic scientific conference.” Students registered for the free conference have been gathering data for a particular scientific study, and will be presenting their findings in the form of a poster to other scientists and graduate school recruiters attending the conference. The roughly 170 students who will be presenting their posters have been working on their scientific research for months, others for years. There are students who will be presenting only preliminary or unfinished data, and there will be students who have enough data to present at a regional or an international conference as well.

President and dean of the Van Andel graduate school Steven Triezenberg said there are a number of goals for the conference; one of them is to give students an idea of what attending a scientific conference is like.

“It’s a professional development experience – this is how scientists talk to each other,” Triezenberg said. “(The conference) is a version for them to experience what that’s like.”

Triezenberg said there are number of skills students will be learning from the conference. He said students will have to condense their work and make it appealing to people examining various posters. At the same time, he said students will have to be ready for others who want their work described in detail.

“That flexibility in describing your work for lots of audiences – that’s really a key aspect of this experience,” Triezenberg said.

Many speakers will be presenting at the conference. The keynote speaker, Philip Gingerich, is a retired professor of earth sciences, evolutionary biology and anthropology at the University of Michigan, and also a retired curator at the museum of paleontology at UFM. Gingerich will be talking about his scientific work on the origin of whales.

The conference is also allowing four undergraduate students to speak for the first time since the conference began 10 years ago. John McAfee from Aquinas College, Lauren Strohbehn from Calvin College, Sarah Peterson from Hope College and Jennifer Jess from GVSU will all be presenting their scientific research at the conference. After them, two graduate students, who are GVSU alumni, will also be presenting their own scientific research.

The VARI was founded by the Van Andel family in 1996, and the institute is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this fall. Triezenberg said another purpose of the conference is to get students familiar with the VARI and the work it does. He said the institute primarily does biomedical research, which involves cellular, molecular and genetic biology of human diseases.