Blinded by science – and artistry

More than 300 undergraduate student researchers, artists dazzle in URAD event

Linnea Scherer

Linnea Scherer

NIU junior Linnea Scherer hopes to change the way women are portrayed in video games, and she already has developed an impressive game concept thanks to the McKearn Summer Fellows program she participated in last year.

“The McKearn Fellows Program was amazing. It was what got me to this point,” says Scherer of Elburn, a talented artist majoring in accountancy.

“Before (the fellowship program), it was just an idea,” she says. “This program gave me the chance to network, design my ideas and work with a team.”

Scherer was one of more than 300 NIU students displaying and discussing their original research Tuesday during Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day (URAD) in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.

The ballroom was abuzz with activity, as were #uradniu Twitter feeds. Nearly 200 student projects and exhibits were on display, from research on cancer, to tornadoes to robot design. The projects represented the culmination of work in independent studies, capstone projects and numerous other research-oriented programs across campus, including the McKearn Fellows.

Patrick Price

A project by Illustration major Patrick Price captured the beauty around us at NIU.

“Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day is seriously my absolute favorite day at NIU,” said Lisa Freeman, NIU interim executive vice president and provost. “I get so excited to see our students who have worked with faculty mentors to create knowledge, integrate processes and take the things they’ve learned in the classroom outside and beyond their wildest dreams.

“Undergraduate research was probably the transformational event in my own life,” Freeman added. “I wouldn’t have the job I have today at a university if I had not had a great faculty mentor and a really cool research project when I was a junior in college, and I think about that a lot when I walk around here.”

Freshman Ashley Sands, a psychology of major from Chicago who was mentored by Professor Laura Pittman, presented a study she conducted through the Research Rookies program. It examined the factors that influence the development of a positive grandchild-grandfather relationship.

“I think (URAD) is amazing, seeing all the different projects that other people are doing,” Sands said. “It’s really just a great experience being here. I feel like this opens doors to more opportunities in the future, and it also looks really good on applications. I feel I can get further along in life just by starting so early on.”

University Honors student and Research Rookie Ashley Sands presented “Grandfather-Young Adult Relationships.”

University Honors student and Research Rookie Ashley Sands presented “Grandfather-Young Adult Relationships.”

Joshua Ott of DeKalb, a senior mechanical engineering major, hopes to bring his research project to market someday. Ott and senior Derek Seaton, an electrical engineering major, are developing a twin chamber valve-less pulsejet engine for aviation use.

“The technology has been around a long time but has never really made it as a propulsion system for aviation,” Ott said.

He and Seaton put some new twists on it, including two combustion chambers and the addition of completely computerized controls that they hope will make it more attractive for use in contemporary aircraft. It’s already built to fit several types of airplanes. “My partner Derek also has a pilot license, so he might be the test pilot,” Ott said with a smile. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun. It’s great working with another student from a different department.”

More than 150 faculty mentors supervised and guided students through their projects.

“This is just an amazing opportunity to showcase the talents of our students, faculty and departments,” said Julia Spears, assistant vice provost for engaged learning and director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which hosts the annual event.

“The art of research and just the experience itself helps the students to gain the soft skills and academic skills necessary to be successful here at NIU,” Spears added. “All of the students deserve some recognition for the hard work that they’ve done.”

A number of students, however, also walked away with impressive prizes. A panel of more than 80 judges reviewed all 196 projects and selected the following URAD winners. Project descriptions can be found in the 2014 URAD program.

Arts, Education, Health, Humanities, and Social Sciences
  • 1st place- Maria Senf, faculty mentor Larissa Barber (page 53, project 116)
  • 2nd place- Thomas Bouril, faculty mentor Nancy Castle (page 38, project 76)
  • 3rd place- Barbara Ohata, faculty mentor Douglas Wallace (page 56, project 120)
  • Honorable Mention- Juliane Totzke, faculty mentor Courtney Gallaher (page 29, project 51)
  • People’s Choice- Lauren Nale, faculty mentor Lucy Bilaver (page 16, project 13)
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
  • 1st place (tie)- Patrick Wendling, faculty mentors Elizabeth Gaillard and Mai Thao (page 35, project 67) and Amany Abdel-Motaleb, faculty mentor Elizabeth Gaillard (page 37, project 71)
  • 2nd place- Alex Ekstrom, faculty mentor Yanbin Yin (page 27, project 45)
  • 3rd place- Audrey Pearson, Ryan Riddel, Kevin McNary, and Martin Zon, faculty mentor Ji-Chul Ryu (page 83, project E12)
  • Honorable Mention- David Beamish and Adam Krejci, faculty mentors Martin Kocanda and Brianno Coller (page 69, project 154)
  • People’s Choice- Joshua Ott and Derek Seaton, faculty mentor Nicholas Pohlman (page 82, project E8)
Humanities Award (presented by the Humanities group of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)
  • 1st- Jennifer Wegmann-Gabb, faculty mentor Ann Van Dijk (page 18, project 18)
  • 2nd- Dylan Donley & Michelle Boesen (page 64, project 142)
  • 3rd- Kristina Kroger, faculty mentor Giovanni Bennardo (page 20, project 24)
  • Honorable Mention- Natalie Cincotta, faculty mentor Heide Fehrenbach (page 43, project 86) and Anthony Amettis, faculty mentor Barbara Jaffee (page 19, project 21) (tied for honorable mention)
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