Sophomores presented original research they conducted over the summer Monday and Tuesday at the First-Year Summer Research Symposium. Students explained their work at poster sessions and through in-depth individual presentations over the two days.
The objective of the first-year research program is to provide freshman with an opportunity to get a taste of what academic research is like, according to Gail Zimmerman, dean of first-year students.
"It is to spark their interest in doing research, so they are able to pursue any interest or any passion," she said.
The first-year research program has been in existence since 1992.
"We have been able to award pretty much at least 10 grants per year," Zimmerman said, adding that additional grants are often made available from other foundations and centers.
Students may choose to pursue topics outside of their majors or a defined curriculum.
Research is about having a question and wondering why something happens, what it is all about and pursuing it from an investigative perspective, Zimmerman said.
"Our hope and goal is to motivate students," she said, emphasizing the importance of intellectual curiosity.
Ten students gave comprehensive overviews of their summer investigations in lectures which lasted about 45 minutes each in Carson Hall during both evenings.
Owen Zidar '08, who studied how the Internet and other recent media trends affect the newspaper industry and the quality of the news reported, said a New York Times article sparked his interest in the subject.
"I thought the topic was a cool idea to pursue so I went up to my Economics 1 professor and asked him if I could pursue the relationship between the Internet and news quality," Zidar said.
Zidar read extensively throughout the summer and his research culminated in a 25-page paper. In contrast to the opinion of many scholars, Zidar concluded that competition relevant to Internet news and other trends fosters accountability.
Weblogs, watchdog groups and competing sources make it harder for newspapers to get away with misleading people.
"I enjoyed it a lot," Zidar said, adding that it was "much better than getting coffee for some lawyer in an internship."
Meghan Feely '08 said the opportunity to conduct research on malignant tumors in bone marrow solidified her goal of pursuing a medical career.
"The knowledge I have gained from performing independent cancer research in a hospital extends beyond an understanding of reaction mechanisms or genetic assays," Feely said.
"I have personally affirmed my desire to pursue a career in the medical field, to dedicate my life to the service of my patients."
Dewey Hoffman '08 seeks to apply the models of sustainable rural development he learned while studying eco-tourism in Brazil to interior Alaska.
"It definitely ballooned. I didn't realize how huge a field it would be -- how intricate it was," Hoffman said. "It might turn into my senior thesis."
Zimmerman stressed that students own the results of their projects and can submit their work for publication in academic journals.
Kristen Wong '06, who coordinated the poster session and presentations as an intern in the First-Year Office, stressed that students may pursue research in various disciplines, not just the sciences.
She regards the presentations as culminating experiences and described them as low key.
"It's about getting your foot in the door," Wong said. "It's about the process and not just the end result."