The University of Alabama

Students and Faculty Encouraged to Participate in UA Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference

More than 300 students participated in the 2010 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference, and 2011 conference planners hope to see an increase in participation by both students and their faculty mentors. According to faculty members who have been involved in past conferences, these mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial and positive.

Sarah M. Barry

Sarah M. Barry, associate professor of dance, served as a faculty mentor for the past two years. Last year, she mentored Shannon Lindamood, whose research explored George Balanchine’s theories about dance and ballet choreography. By conducting an analysis of Balanchine’s writings, original choreography on film and several reviews of his work throughout the 20th century, Lindamood was able to identify which concepts in his work largely influenced his success. She also choreographed an original dance piece in accordance with Balanchine’s techniques and theories.

“I think the research conference is a great forum to make dancers, as well as the general public, realize just how much research goes into the arts. We don’t think of research in the field of dance in terms of the scientific method, but research really is a huge part of it,” Barry said. “I also love that the conference helps dancers to think of what they do in a different way.”

Barry also explained that the conference helps to make research more accessible to students, especially to those without extensive research experience. “Our students are required to conduct research for class projects on a day-to-day basis, so this conference just pushes them a little further to make the work a little more formal,” Barry said.

Furthermore, students add a research component to their résumés by participating in the research conference.
Dr. Bronwen Lichtenstein, associate professor of sociology in the department of criminal justice, emphasized that conference participation helps students at an earlier stage to understand the level of research required in graduate school programs.

Dr. Bronwen Lichtenstein

“Most undergraduate students graduate without having done any research,” Lichtenstein said. “This helps them tremendously to understand the language of higher education, which is all about critical thinking and analysis.”

Last year, Lichtenstein mentored Sam Mantel, whose research project explored the level of HIV awareness and knowledge among high school students. Mantel executed his project as part of Lichtenstein’s undergraduate course, “The Sociology of AIDS.” Lichtenstein explained that Mantel’s project was unique compared to those of other students in her class because of his decision to survey high school students in Alabama. She urged him to enter his project in the department of criminal justice’s undergraduate research competition.

After winning first place in the departmental competition, Mantel worked even harder to perfect his project for the universitywide research conference. According to Lichtenstein, the extent of the relationship between student and professor can make or break a project.

“If the student doesn’t have a close relationship with the professor, you can basically kiss the project goodbye,” she said. “So I sat down with him to discuss the structure of the project, and he went back to revise it until it was of the highest standard. He was definitely motivated and went on to win second place in his division.”

Dr. Rebecca Kelly, director of the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, strongly believes that mentoring is one of the best ways to motivate students.

“As faculty members, it’s important that we encourage students to participate actively in what they’re studying. We should remember the importance of enriching our students’ lives and encouraging them to explore deeper into their own fields of study,” Kelly said.

Kelly mentored David Butler, who facilitated the automation of the WellBama program for his project. Butler conducted the automation in three steps: the registration process, the data that captured participants’ biometric and health risk data and the statistical analysis of participants’ health data gathered from the WellBama screenings on the whole.

Dr. Rebecca Kelly

Kelly explained that her office benefited from Butler’s project in ways that could not have been possible had they not worked together. By working with Butler, new and creative ideas were brought to the table to help expand their knowledge and to advance WellBama. Most importantly, his data analysis helped to move the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness one step forward in improving the health of University employees overall.

Application deadline for research project entries is March 7. The conference will be held on April 11 at the Bryant Conference Center. To enter, students must complete the online application and include a project abstract to describe their research. The main criteria for judging include professionalism, project content, project materials, presentation manner and responses to the judges’ questions.

For more information about the conference, contact Lauren Wilson at lawilson@fa.ua.edu or Michelle Estes at mestes@fa.ua.edu, or call 348-5152.