April 04, 2011

Events to showcase research, creative activities

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Three major events showcasing research at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are set for April, with dozens of faculty and students taking part and hundreds expected to attend.

The annual Undergraduate Research Forum is set for Monday, April 11. The event celebrates and recognizes the research and creativity of undergraduate students, showcasing their efforts in conducting those activities.

Following that event, SIUC will host its annual Research Town Meeting and Fair and Outstanding Scholar Lecture, set for Tuesday, April 12. The events highlight SIUC’s research and creative accomplishments, which make up a crucial portion of the University's mission.

All three events are part of the Chancellor’s Inauguration Week activities that will showcase the campus, faculty and students. The theme for the week is “Advancing a Culture of Excellence.” Chancellor Rita Cheng’s installation as SIUC’s 22nd chancellor is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, April 15, in Shryock Auditorium. Admission is free, and members of the campus community and general public are welcome. For more information, visit www.chancellor.siuc.edu/installation/activities.html

The research events, among the highlights of the academic year at SIUC, point up the central role that research plays in all levels of education at the University, said John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the SIUC graduate school.

“The involvement of students in the critical thinking and problem-solving aspects of basic and applied research enriches their educational experience and better prepares them for career success, as well as improves the quality of the workforce,” he said. “The research process, in which faculty and students interact to solve problems together, is arguably the highest form of teaching and learning, and nowhere else is it remotely accomplished to the same extent and degree of success as at U.S. research universities.

“Research universities are distinguished from other types of postsecondary institutions in that they offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, are committed to graduate education through the doctorate, and give high priority to research in addition to teaching and service. And since SIUC is the only research university in the southern half of Illinois, the citizens of this region derive the benefits from the presence of such an institution,” he said.

The annual SIUC Undergraduate Research Forum began in 2002 and is part of the Research-Enriched Academic Challenge -- or REACH -- at the University. It coincides with national Undergraduate Research Week, as declared by the U.S. House of Representatives and celebrated by the Council on Undergraduate Research, a national organization of which SIUC is a member. Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole also is issuing a proclamation declaring the week as Undergraduate Research Week in the city of Carbondale.

The program stresses the importance of immersing undergraduates in the research experience early in their careers as a means of promoting scholarship and academic curiosity, as well as providing valuable hands-on experience in the field, laboratory or studio.

Sponsored by the Office of Research Development and Administration and the Office of the Provost, the event features a poster session highlighting original research and creative activities by SIUC undergraduates, who worked under the guidance of faculty mentors. Posters explain their research or creative methods, with the best projects winning prizes. Dozens of students participate each year and organizers say about 80 are scheduled to do so this year.

All University undergraduates engaged in original research or creative activities are eligible to participate in the event, which starts at 1 p.m. in the Student Center ballrooms and runs through 3 p.m., when award presentations begin.

Koropchak said SIUC graduate and undergraduate students can compete with the best students anywhere, when give the right opportunities. SIUC undergraduates have won major scholarships, been included on high-profile academic teams such as the USA Today All-USA College Academic Teams and had other successes, he said, often by describing the undergraduate research efforts at SIUC as having a profound effect on them.

“At SIUC, we are proud to say that we have as extensive a portfolio of opportunities to do undergraduate research as any research university in the country, and we have a faculty culture that particularly supports students in those programs,” Koropchak said. “The undergraduate research forum gives the campus and local community the opportunity to observe first-hand the impressive abilities and great things that our students accomplish to solve problems of local, national or worldwide importance.”

The Research Town Meeting kicks off the following day, April 12, promising an audience of hundreds and cutting-edge research discussions. The Research Town Meeting, also set for the Student Center ballrooms, allows faculty and students across campus to learn how their colleagues outside their units are conducting research and to look for opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration, organizers said.

Presenters will set up displays beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the event kicks off with the 2010 Outstanding Scholar Lecture, given by Dale Vitt, distinguished scholar and chair of the Department of Plant Biology. Vitt will speak on “The Changing Landscape of the Boreal Forest: Permafrost, Peatlands and Oil,” from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium. A reception will follow in the International Lounge East.

From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., presenters will conduct poster discussions, research demonstrations and exhibits in Ballrooms B, C and D, the J.W. Corker Lounge and the International Lounge. A visual arts forum is set for Ballroom A and a technology transfer forum, including a video featuring inventions that have resulted from SIUC research, also is scheduled in the J.W. Corker Lounge.

Students involved with SIUC’s $3.2 million Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant from the National Science Foundation will give a presentation on "Balancing Environmental Protection and Economic Growth: A Case Study of the Panama Canal Watershed" in Ballroom B, concluding at 2:30 p.m.

Presenters, participants and audience members are then invited to a wine and cheese reception beginning at 3:30 p.m. in Ballroom D. Organizers will also present awards for top research and creative activities at that time, as well as recognition for faculty members who have received patents for their research and technology creations.

Koropchak said the Research Town Meeting and Fair is an annual opportunity for faculty and students to showcase the fruits of their research, scholarly and creative labors to their colleagues, the campus, and the local community. This year is special, he said, as it coincides with Inauguration Week events for SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng.

“Chancellor Cheng is a staunch supporter of those research and creative efforts and results,” Koropchak said. “Uniquely, this year's event also will open with the Outstanding Scholar Lecture of Dr. Dale Vitt; and include a presentation of the first cohort of our NSF IGERT students, who will discuss their studies of watersheds in Panama, as well as an awards recognition of poster presenters.A closing wine and cheese reception will provide a relaxing atmosphere for presenters to discuss their results with colleagues.”