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U.Va. Undergraduates Explore Research Options at Fair

November 4, 2011 —  The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Fair on Wednesday was a chance for University of Virginia departments and centers to interest students in their research, and for students to survey their options.

"We have had a lot of first-year students come through here," said Lucy Russell, executive director of U.Va.'s Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which hosted the fair in the Newcomb Ballroom. "A lot of first-year students are interested in research and they come here to see how they can get involved."

"They are passionate about learning," she said of the students. "Some of them have already had opportunities to do research in high school."

This was the fourth year of the fair, which is designed to encourage undergraduates to add research to their educational portfolios, a key part of the undergraduate experience, J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic affairs, stressed when he spoke at Fall Convocation on Oct. 28.
 
Students wandered among 22 stations, from the Blandy Experimental Farm to the biology and English departments in the College of Arts & Sciences.

"Many of them wanted to know what was available," said Anna Brickhouse, director of undergraduate studies in the English department, which was represented at the fair for the first time. "I was impressed with the interest the students showed in areas outside their field or who were looking for double-major possibilities."

Kelvin Chan, a third-year double major in biochemistry and economics who is researching development of the nervous system, displayed some of this work at the fair. Chan, the workshop chairman of the Undergraduate Research Network, said there is a great deal of support for research at the University.

"Research can be very rewarding, but it can also be very frustrating," he said. "You are going into something that you don't know and you are trying to find things, but you have faculty members who can guide you."

John B. Rudder, communications assistant with U.Va.'s Institute on Aging, said the students with whom he talked want to contribute to society.

"They want to put their knowledge to use in the community to help people," he said. "This is part of Jefferson's idea of 'useful knowledge.' They can translate it from the laboratory into the community with a tangible result."

He said the students would also be able to show potential employers or graduate schools that they have successfully applied their research.

"We have gotten more interest this year and seen more first-year students," said Kyle Haynes, a research assistant professor and associate director for the Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, which conducts research in environmental and ecological sciences.  "Maybe they see how competitive the world is today and they want to get a good start."

Haynes said he was looking for students with a strong interest in science. He said Blandy has 10 summer research positions, but they normally attract about 250 applicants from around the country. In addition, some researchers at the farm also hire assistants; additionally, seven to 10 slots for graduate students are available.

"Since we are a couple of hours away, it is tougher to have a project there during the school year," he said.

The Center for Global Health is looking for new research to support, according to April Ballard, program coordinator.

"We are always happy to get a student with a new idea or a new way of looking at things," she said.

— By Matt Kelly

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