WHITEWATER — Viewing post-secondary undergraduate education as offering students just early preparation for research that only can be conducted at the master’s or doctoral degree level clearly is a misconception that anyone attending the fall semester University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Undergraduate Research Day Nov. 13 discovered.
At this event held in the Hamilton Room of the James R. Connor University Center, 50 posters were displayed of research studies conducted by individual students or teams of two to five students, all under the guidance of faculty members. The student researchers also were present to answer questions and describe their project in greater detail.
Posters of research projects generally contain three sections.
The introduction offers a condensed abstract of the study, along with the background to the study, the hypothesis being tested and the objectives/purpose of the study.
The research section includes information about materials, methodology and models used in the study, along with analysis and results.
The conclusion part of a poster includes the conclusions reached by the researcher(s), along with recommendations, implications and discussion. Acknowledgements and contract information also can be included in this section.
The 50 posters represented 22 different majors or fields of study. Biological Sciences was the most common area with nine studies. Other areas included Communication Sciences and Disorders, Social Work, Psychology, Educational Foundations, Art and Design, Music, and Computer Sciences.
By title, many projects appeared to be understandable to non-experts in the field such as “Effective Strategies for Community Gardens as Service Learning in Schools” (Curriculum and Instruction).
Other posters described research projects that seemed to be highly technical, like “Rescue of Caenorhabditis elegans Insulin Receptor Mutants with an Insulin Receptor from the Parasitic Nematode Brugia malayi” (Biological Sciences).
Anya Jeninga, a 2016 graduate of Delavan-Darien High School, teamed up with Austin Draper for a research project entitled, “Acute and Chronic Toxicity of the Neonicotinoid Insecticide Thiamethoxam to Select Aquatic Intertebrates,” in Biological Sciences under the guidance of Associate Professor Elisabeth Harrahy.
Jeninga is a senior pursuing a bachelor of science degree in Biology with an Ecology, Evolution and Behavior emphasis, and double minors in Geology and Psychology.
She described the goal of her research project as understanding the effects of an insecticide called thiamethoxam on three species of aquatic insects and crustaceans.
“We wanted to see what concentrations of insecticide would kill them and what concentrations would have long-term negative effects,” Jeninga said. “The species that I work with, a type of water flea, a non-biting midge, and an amphipod, are all important sources of food for native fish populations. If they are being impacted by this insecticide, it could be harmful to local recreational and economic activities.
“Understanding the effects of thiamethoxam is an important step in preserving and protecting our local ecosystems,” Jeninga said.
She linked her interest in the subject of her research study to an ecotoxicology course with Dr. Harrahy during her junior year.
“The main focus of this course was where do all the substances we put in the environment go once they’ve been used, burned, leached or evaporated,” Jeninga said. “When I was given the opportunity to work in an ecotoxicology lab it felt like an opportunity to apply knowledge I had gained in class and have a positive impact.”
According to Jeninga, three Delavan-Darien High School teachers play important roles in fostering her interest in science and research.
Jeninga shared that Dr. Butitta, her instructor for Principles of Engineering, showed a passion for science and hard work, and that “She was never afraid to push her students or herself to learn new concepts. She’s a big part of the reason I want to go into science.”
Cindy Irwin was her Advanced Placement Biology teacher.
“Her class inspired my passion for Biology and helped push me to pursue it for my career,” Jeninga stated. “I really appreciated all of the time she put in to helping us get our lab experiments to work and that she encouraged us to design our own experiments.
“Both Mrs. Butitta and Mrs. Irwin were great examples of women in science for me, and having them as teachers helped me picture myself as a biologist,” she added.
Nick Marsh taught Jeninga’s Physics and AP Physics courses.
“He made math fun and helped us learn to problem-solve in new and creative ways,” Jeninga recalled. “His classes taught me to apply what I learned in school to the real world.”
Asked to consider the value of her participation in the UW-Whitewater Undergraduate Research Program, Jeninga stated: “This program has given me a lot of experience. I learned a lot about lab and field safety, how the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) work, how to write a grant and how to run a lab.
“I’ve gotten to work with different species of aquatic insects and crustaceans, each with their own unique environmental needs,” she added. “I have also gained experience in how to present my work and explain my research.”
For more information about the UW-Whitewater Undergraduate Research Program and the next event showcasing undergraduate research projects, visit www.uww.edu/urp.