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STEM leaders up on the podium

Glimpses of a future science: Students present research at STEM Leaders Symposium 

By Katharine de Baun
Second annual OSU Stem Leaders Research Symposium

If you take a daily drink of milk from goats who have been fed poison oak, can you acquire immunity to urushiol, the dreaded allergen that causes skin rashes? Which type of bandages are best at avoiding infection? Can a robot be programmed to walk on two legs when scientists don’t fully understand yet how humans manage to do it without falling over?

Join us at the second annual OSU STEM Leaders Research Symposium to explore these questions and dozens of other tantalizing undergraduate research projects. The event will be held this Saturday, January 21, 2017, in the Memorial Union's Horizon Room. It is free and open to the public.

Nine students will give oral presentations from 9:30-12:00 pm, followed by poster presentations from 1:30-3:30 pm. Come out and show your support! Drop in for any part of the day’s schedule if you can’t attend the whole day.

The OSU STEM Leaders Program, funded by a National Science Foundation award and generous support from the OSU Research Office and Colleges of Science, Agricultural Sciences, and Engineering, is designed to increase the diversity and success of undergraduates in STEM fields at OSU. This is accomplished through a year-long orientation course and cohort-based workshops for freshman, peer mentoring with upper division STEM students, and faculty-mentored undergraduate research experiences.

The symposium is the culmination of a year’s worth of research that the sophomore students began during their freshman year, under the supervision of a faculty member. Studies show that students who participate in undergraduate research are more likely to become life-long learners. They also achieve independence, gain marketable skills, are more likely to complete their degrees, and are better trained for careers and graduate programs.

OSU STEM leaders headshots listed out
2016 OSU STEM leaders cohort

The undergraduate experience is greatly enhanced by engaging in research. Students learn to balance collaborative and individual work and often discover a passion for research. They learn the value of teamwork, a highly sought after skill in the workplace.

Undergraduate research is a key transformative experience in the College of Science that prepares our students to be leaders and 21st century citizens. Working alongside faculty, students engage in research and scientific inquiry. They learn how to formulate hypotheses, design and execute experiments, analyze data and prepare and present their research.

At the symposium, the students are eager to share what they’ve discovered, showcasing their newly acquired skills of present information to the public and delivering the perfect “elevator pitch” for a new product, research idea, or start-up concept in need of funding or greater public awareness.

"For most of the students, this is their first foray into public communication," said Sophie Pierszalowski, Program Coordinator for the OSU STEM Leaders Program. Pierszalowski was the first author on a high-profile article recently published in the journal of Endangered Species Research entitled "Local recruitment of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska, over 30 years." The paper has received considerable publicity and was translated into German.

The projects are as diverse as the students, but some common themes emerge, such as biohealth science. Biology student Jia Wu will present on how disturbances to the gut microbiome influence insulin resistance and metabolic disease; chemistry student Marissa Gallegos will present on building a better drug for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS); and Luz Jovita Dimas, a Biochemistry and Biophysics student, will explore how protein aggregation differs in short- versus long-lived species to shed light, ultimately, on how to prolong lifespan and protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Another common theme is sustainability and a healthy planet. Ana Aranda examines whether palm fronds can be used to make recycled plastic wood. Daniel Vargas examines how solar thermal chemical materials can be synthesized to make a relatively clean fuel. Indica Stephenson explores the impacts of fires and floods on water infrastructure, a critical inquiry for our era of weather extremes and “global weirding.”

Still unconvinced? Finding out from Nikki Vorland about “the hidden world of fungal art” alone might make your trip worthwhile. You’ll enjoy getting so many glimpses of where the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are heading.