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Blugolds, research showcased at annual Celebration of Excellence, Research and Creative Activity

| LeBrenda Street

More than 500 students representing 29 departments will participate in UW-Eau Claire's Celebration of Excellence and Creative Activity (CERCA) April 25-29.  From its humble beginning in 1993 with 60 student posters, the event has grown and evolved over the years and is blowing up stereotypes and myths when it comes to student research.

Myth #1: Research is boring

Traveling to China to collect research data and presenting the findings at a national conference in upstate New York are two opportunities Greg Sikowski and his team were able to participate in as a part of their research on climate change. Sikowski, now in his fourth semester with the team, originally joined the research project led by Dr. Eric Jamelske, director of collaborative research and a professor in the department of economics, to fulfill a capstone requirement. After the capstone requirement was removed, Sikowksi decided to continue with the research because of the other benefits the research team offered.

 “The most rewarding part of research is the relationships you build throughout the research process," Sikowski said. "In my experiences, these relationships are not only built with the other researchers, but with people you meet at conferences, and even people in other countries. The friends you make along the way are what make it fun.”

Myth #2: Research is only for upperclassmen and the academically gifted

One of the things that make UW-Eau Claire unique is its commitment to making high-impact practices available to all students. Providing students the opportunity to work directly with a faculty member is often not common at large universities, where students can get lost in the mix.

At CERCA you will find research being presented by first-year Collegiate Bridge students, seniors completing capstone projects and everything in between. Many of the posters presented are collaborations of students from different disciplines and experience levels.

Jamelske heads two research projects that have been ongoing for more than six years: an analysis of Chinese and American public support for an international climate change treaty and an initiative aimed at increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables among elementary school students. He believes he has the perfect recipe for developing his research teams.

“I choose students from various grades and disciplines. I am not just looking for seniors who have skill, but young interested students in which to build skills. Through the process they transform from followers to the next leader,” Jamelske said.

Myth #3:  Research is only for the sciences or for someone seeking to be a scientist

Jamelske’s teams are made up of students majoring in economics, biology, psychology, finance, business administration, criminal justice, ecology and systems management. Most of these students won’t continue on to do scholarly research after college or go into fields related to climate change or fruits and vegetables. They joined the teams to gain communication, teamwork and leadership skills and because they believe in the cause and want to make an impact on their community and society as a whole.

The fruits and vegetables research project seeks to improve the health of children by increasing their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Investing in this research is investing in our future by seeking to create a healthier population.

Josh Bodnar, a microbiology major and Spanish minor, plans to pursue a career as a physician assistant. Being involved in the fruits and vegetables research has helped him realize how a variety of factors can impact an individual's health. What he has learned will help him become a more holistic and thoughtful physician assistant.

During CERCA, departments are not only represented collaboratively but individually as well. There are 29 departments represented among students participating in CERCA, presenting research and creative activity encompassing a broad spectrum of topics, skill sets and backgrounds. On Wednesday, you can take in therapeutic interventions and performing arts and literature in the Menomonie Room; Thursday’s schedule includes performance and film presentations in the Woodland Theater and immersion experiences in the Ho-Chunk Room; and Friday’s schedule includes the Provost’s Honors Symposium, which will include 47 different oral presentations.

Myth #4: Student research has no benefit outside the classroom

Building community and international relations is an essential part of conducting effective research. Jamelske’s fruits and vegetable teams collaborate with area schools to improve the health of students. Jamelske has also developed relationships with visiting Chinese scholars, enabling him to bring teams to China to conduct research on Chinese and American public support for an international climate change treaty. Students work with their Chinese counterparts to conduct surveys and participate in cultural exchange.

Many of the students participating at CERCA have already presented their research at other venues. Earlier this month, students presented at the UW System Symposium in Stevens Point, and a select group of presenters participated at Posters in the Rotunda at the State Capitol. Bodnar and his fruits and vegetables team were able to present their findings to the state legislators at Posters in the Rotunda.

“I'm very interested in the ways that policy can impact public health," Bodnar said. "Our poster was on display at the event for most of the day, which gave us an awesome opportunity to meet and discuss our research with a variety of individuals, including members of the state government and the public.” 

Funding through UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs has enabled many other students and faculty members to travel across the United States to present their research at national conferences and conventions.

Whether presenting at CERCA or in front of an audience of professionals at a national convention, students need to be able to explain all aspects of their research, give an oral presentation and field questions regarding their research.

According to Jamelske, going through this process several times builds an invaluable skill set that is transferable to any vocation. He believes gaining knowledge and confidence in public speaking is the number one benefit. Research also develops critical thinking skills as students collect data, make correlations, draw conclusions, overcome obstacles and determine the best way to present their results.

“Students gain a sense of accomplishment — ‘Here’s what I did, I was part of a team,’” Jamelske said.

Students who participate in research have an edge when they enter the work force: experience working with a team on an extended project and a reference from a professor who knows them and their abilities well.

Myth #5: CERCA is just dry research posters

“There is something for everyone during CERCA," said Dr. Karen Havholm, director of UW-Eau Claire's Center of Excellence for Faculty/Student Research Collaboration. "Students from nearly every department and program on campus are presenting, so the topics are amazingly varied. The style of presentation is also varied. Like the excitement of three-minute presentations?  Attend the WiSys Quick Pitch on Monday. Like to browse posters? They are up in the Ojibwe Ballroom in Davies all day Wednesday and Thursday. Interested in performances? Head to Woodland Theater in Davies on Thursday. Like to hear students present orally? There are talks on Wednesday and Thursday, capped by the Provost’s Honors Symposium on Friday.”

Go to CERCA to get some ideas on how you might get involved in research — the possibilities are endless. Go to support the students who are a part of creating our future.

Dr. Jamelske welcomes any questions from people who want to learn more about his research projects as well as from any students with an interest in joining one of the research teams (jamelsem@uwec.edu, 715-836-3254).