Undergraduate Research Conference Receives Rave Reviews
By Eric Breier
Hosting the Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research (SCCUR) was an exhaustive process that took nearly two years of planning.
But as a small group of conference organizers stood in Cal State San Marcos’ University Student Union Ballroom on Nov. 23, amid hundreds of students from throughout Southern California (and beyond) during the event’s second poster presentation, four words said it all.
“This was worth it.”
“It” referred to the hard work and countless hours required to host a conference-record 1,363 participants representing research from 150 different institutions, including 14 CSUs and nine from the University of California.
“We have been on the map for undergraduate research, but this really cemented our reputation to a larger audience as a place for research and creative activities,” said CSUSM chemistry professor Robert Iafe, who co-chaired the event with biology professor Betsy Read.
The annual one-day conference is an opportunity for undergraduate students from all disciplines – including the arts, humanities, business, science, technology, engineering and math – to present their research, scholarship and creative work. The 2019 edition of SCCUR, which was founded in 1993, marked the first time the event was held in San Diego County. There were 530 poster presentations and 236 oral presentations, including 172 student presenters from CSUSM.
The event concluded with remarks from CSUSM President Ellen Neufeldt, who praised students for their efforts and faculty for providing critical mentorship, and a keynote address from John Warner, a renowned chemist and co-founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.
“It was such a supportive conference,” said biochemistry student Araceli Alvarez, who was an Exemplary Award recipient for her oral presentation titled “Microwave-Assisted Gold-Catalyzed Reaction of Benzylic Alcohols: Mechanistic and Kinetic Investigations.”
It was the first time doing an oral presentation for many of CSUSM’s participants, and it represented an important part of their continued growth.
“I would have never imagined that I would talk for that long in front of people,” said biochemistry student Kaylee Shoemaker, whose presentation was titled “Synthesis of Novel Bioactive Benzotriazole Derivatives by Gold Catalysis.”
“When Dr. Iafe asked me to do it, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ But then when I did it, it was a lot of fun.”
It was a sentiment echoed by chemistry student Amanda Melanese, whose oral presentation was titled “Kinetic and Mechanistic Investigations of Gold-Catalyzed Friedel–Crafts-like Reactions of Benzylic Alcohols.”
“Most jobs you go into, you’re going to have to present at some point,” Melanese said. “Having this opportunity be with your peers – you’re all undergrads, you’re all in the same shoes – this is just helping you set up for further presentations. It was a really great conference.”
Students who participated in the poster presentations felt the same way.
“It was awesome to see how many people wanted to get involved with the poster presentations. You could barely walk,” said molecular biology student Matthew Cope, who gave an oral presentation titled “Retrieving Novel Digestive Genes from an Uncultured Bacterial Phylum Found in the Human Oral Microbiome Found in Association with Periodontitis.”
Molecular biology student Ebony Stretch’s work, “Utilizing a Next-Generation Sequencing Bioinformatics Pipeline to Analyze Antibiotic Resistomes in Coastal Microbial Communities,” garnered attention from the TRIO McNair Scholars Program. Following the conference, she was invited to apply to the program, which helps students pursue graduate degrees.
“I was proud of what I did,” Stretch said.
Iris Lee, who graduated in December with a degree in visual and performing arts, was pleasantly surprised to learn about the inclusion of creative works at SCCUR.
“I was enamored with the idea of presenting dance as a source of formal academic research,” said Lee, whose presentation with Lesly Rodriguez was titled “This is What Happens Inside of a Washing Machine.” “I greatly appreciate the inclusion and recognition of the arts during this event, and I am honored to have been seen for what I practice.”
Added Rodriguez: “SCCUR is an amazing opportunity to connect with other students. It is inspiring how students can come together to be each other’s audience. Undergraduate research is the future, and the possibilities are endless when we come together to support each other and work together.”
Many of the students who participated at SCCUR are already making arrangements for future conferences. Melanese and Shoemaker are among those who attended the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) symposium in Santa Clara this month. And many are already looking forward to the 2020 SCCUR event at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
“These events really show the growth of our students,” said biology professor Elinne Becket, who was part of a committee of CSUSM faculty organizers of the conference. “They go from having no confidence to feeling good about what they accomplished.”
Becket, Iafe and Read were joined on the organizing committee by Deanna Asakawa (kinesiology), Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez (psychology), Charles De Leone (physics), Jane Kim (biology), Devan Romero (kinesiology), Wesley Schultz (OGSR), Arun Sethuraman (biology), Lucy HG Solomon (art, media and design) and Jackie Trischman (chemistry and biochemistry).
Iafe noted that more than 200 CSUSM students, faculty and staff volunteered to help the conference run smoothly, and he said the Office of Graduate Studies and Research (OGSR) was instrumental in the event’s success.
Brianna Madson, OGSR’s office manager, and student assistants Aditya Kalani and Grace Simnitt contributed to the organization, execution and marketing efforts that helped attract the most attendees in SCCUR’s history. CSUSM Corporation also provided funding to cover registration costs for all CSUSM presenters.
“One of the most impressive things is how many campuses now know not just about Cal State San Marcos, but they got to visit our beautiful campus,” Becket said. “Everyone was just stunned at how pretty it is and how amazing the whole event was.”
In addition to Araceli, other CSUSM award winners at SCCUR included:
- Micah Mariah (faculty mentor Lucy Solomon): Runner-up Exemplary Awards in Creative and Preforming Arts
- Iris Lee, Lesly Rodriguez (faculty mentor Karen Schaffman): Runner-up Exemplary Awards in Creative and Performing Arts
- Jinxiu Han (faculty mentor Lucy Solomon): Exemplary Awards in Creative and Performing Arts
- Lesly Rodriguez, Erin Atkins, Caiser Leboss (faculty mentor Anya Cloud): Exemplary Awards in Creative and Performing Arts
- Ana Mentado (faculty mentor Devan Romero): Runners-up Exemplary Awards in the different categories
- Areli Jannes Javier (faculty mentor Carlos Luna): Exemplary Awards in the different categories
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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