ATLANTA — As Catherine Stankus showed Wednesday during the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference, research excellence is not limited to people with doctorates – and is not limited to the natural sciences alone.
The senior art history major took the first place oral presentation and Provost’s Award during the conference, in which undergraduates from 35 departments across the university participated in showing their prowess in research and artistic pursuits.
“I was completely floored,” she said. “I hope it brings some awareness that there is still a place for the arts and humanities in undergraduate research.”
Her project explored the meanings behind the art displayed on a snuff box from the 18th century, looking at the small, framed pieces of art displayed on the sides of the box — where even just the frames can tell a story.
“There’s a lot of meaning in those visuals than just a guy’s residence,” Stankus said.
For her, the process of research was thrilling and helped her learn about more than just the research subject, but also the process of discovery and organization.
“Research is everything,” Stankus said. “When you find those pieces of evidence or a source that helps connects something, it’s like Christmas. It’s very fulfilling.”
GSU Provost Risa Palm noted how undergraduate research and the conference help students in the learning process.
“Undergraduate research is one of the best ways in which undergraduates can take advantage of the wonderful research capacities of a university like Georgia State,” she said. “Through their research, they learn what it is like to explore questions the previously were unanswered and try out the same techniques that are used by people very advanced in their fields. It is a marvelous learning opportunity.”
The conference winners included:
• 1st place oral presentation and Provost’s Award: Catherine Stankus, art history
• 1st place poster presentation: Kristen Johnson, Interior Design
• 1st place artistic display: Tamara Argo, ceramics
• 2nd place poster presentation: Elizabeth Dlouhy, psychology
• 2nd place oral presentation: David Alexander Phillips, anthropology
• 3rd place poster presentation: John Williams, biology
• 3rd place oral presentation: The Georgia State Prison Initiative, English
Faculty mentorship was also honored at the conference. Dabney W. Dixon, professor of bioorganic chemistry and coordinator of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education initiatives at Georgia State, received the 2012 University Faculty Award for Undergraduate Research for her work in helping undergraduates excel in research and to prepare for graduate studies.
“Research has so many aspects — grounding in the literature, hypothesis, discovery, data analysis, and refinement of ideas,” Dixon said. “GSURC gives our students an opportunity to present their research to ‘critical friends:’ faculty, staff and fellow students who will celebrate the success of the efforts to date, while still pushing for further refinement and a deeper understanding of the topic of interest.
“Significant studies need to get out into the world, which happens largely through conferences and publications,” she explained. For many of our students, GSURC is a first opportunity to get the experience they need in presenting and defending their ideas as they move into professional careers.”
Beyond that, there’s also perhaps the most essential satisfaction that comes out of research.
“It’s so exciting to be the first person on the planet to know something,” Dixon said.
March 21, 2012