Research Your Way to Success - Undergraduate Research at UNCW Rewards Students

At most universities, research opportunities are reserved for graduate students; however, the University of North Carolina Wilmington prides itself for making undergraduate involvement a priority.Steve Welc

When students pursue undergraduate research they are transcending the theoretical knowledge they have learned from the classroom to applied research. This allows students to enhance their inquiry-based skill-set such as problem-solving and critical thinking.

"Through my undergraduate research, I have built essential skills that I have been applying through hands-on experience," said undergraduate researcher Monica Stewart, a senior at UNCW.

The Center for the Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CSURF) is a resource for undergraduates developing their scholarly projects and research. Travel awards, scholarships and research fellowships help fund undergraduate research and allow students the opportunity to present their research at conferences worldwide. From 2010 to 2011, $36,941 was used to support 116 undergraduates in 19 different disciplines.

Wayland Tseh, associate professor in the UNCW School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, has been assisting undergraduates since 2005 and mentors students through their research process.

"I enjoy watching my students take their education to the next level while also helping students get into graduate school," said Tseh.

This year Tseh helped six undergraduates present their research findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. Each student strategically chose a topic of academic interest and conducted a scientific research investigation.

Five of the students were exercise science majors working directly with Tseh. The sixth performed her research independently for the film studies department.

Seniors Laura Shupe and Cameron Shaver looked at the difference between untrained and trained individuals' expectations when taking a performance enhancement supplement (which was, in fact, only a cornstarch-filled capsule). Their data revealed that untrained participants displayed no changes, whereas, trained individuals displayed significant increase in upper body muscular strength, but not lower body muscular power.

Senior Matt Skelly and junior Katie Whitley examined how personality factors may predict expectations from performance enhancement supplements. Their findings revealed that individuals who are less extraverted and more compliant were more susceptible to experiencing enhanced athletic performance, specifically, increased upper body muscular strength after taking supplements.

"Undergraduate research is a great experience and gives me the opportunity to practice skills that I have learned in the classroom," said Skelly.

Monica Stewart examined the prevalence of masked obesity (when an individual has a low or normal body mass index, but yet has obesity-related percent body fat values) in a young, non-sedentary adult population. She discovered that masked obesity was displayed in 74 out of 419 individuals. Stewart suggests that further research is necessary to determine the prevalence in masked obesity and is hoping for an opportunity to expand her research in graduate school.

Junior Cadence Railsback, a film studies major, studied the career path of film director Richard Linklater and analyzed the contrast between his mainstream films and his independent productions. She studied how his two styles have slowly started to merge, what made it possible for the two styles to merge and the effects this may have on mainstream productions.

Undergraduate research can open many doors for students. Tseh said that many students used their experience to obtain scholarships/fellowships and admittance to graduate schools. In one case, a student was able to use his undergraduate research to skip his master's degree and begin graduate school at the doctoral level.

That student, Steve Welc, was able to use his combination of a high GPA, good test scores and commitment to research attained throughout his undergraduate career to be accepted directly into a Ph.D. program in the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida.

Welc exemplifies how commitment to undergraduate research can be exceedingly helpful. His undergraduate research tested the hypothesis that performing aquatic plyometrics would result in less delayed onset muscle soreness and performance degradation than land-based plyometrics. Welc presented his work at the Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Conference.

"Undergraduate research was immensely helpful in preparing me to stand in front of a small group of faculty to propose/defend my work; it introduced me to scientific writing, the process of writing a thesis, and also prepared me to present my work to my peers at a conference," said Welc.

Welc offered some advice to current undergraduates, saying that doing research "allows for a more interactive relationship with faculty, it demonstrates commitment and independent/critical thinking to graduate schools, it teaches you the skills needed to be successful in a laboratory, and most importantly it allows you to learn about yourself."

Undergraduate research enhances students' resumes and market value when they apply for employment, scholarships and graduate school. Tseh said participating in the research process gives them a chance to ask scientific questions, collect and analyze data, generate conclusions and derive practical implications. They learn the scientific method and build "a critical skill-set necessary for the next level and in fact, everyday life."

By Brooke Keller '12