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Feb. 19, 2012
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Students ‘STEM’ onto national stage

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – If there is a ladder to employment success in this economy, it is a college degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics coupled with a student-faculty research project, professors say. Slippery Rock University students get the message: Five STEM undergraduates and a December graduate have been invited to present their research at the March 29-31 National Conferences for Undergraduate Research in Utah.
      Student research projects included studying landscapes in South Dakota, the geologic history of limestone in western Pennsylvania, perception of ideal body weight and computer cloud scripting.
     The National Conferences for Undergraduate Research, hosted by Weber State University, promotes undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity. More than 2,000 undergraduates and their faculty mentors will present research through posters, oral presentations, visual arts and performances.
      “Within the mission statement of the College of Health, Environment and Science is an emphasis on undergraduate student-faculty research,” said Susan Hannam, dean. “Completing a research project and presenting the results or having results published in reviewed venues really opens doors for our students as they look to be competitive for graduate school or for the job market.  It sets them apart from other applicants.  These six students who had their papers accepted for the NCUR conference, and the faculty who mentored them, are evidence of the quality research our undergraduate students are producing.   We are very proud that they will represent SRU at a competitive national conference in March.”
       The students invited to present are geography, geology and environment majors Lisa Andresky of Monaca, Megan Burns of Canfield, Ohio, Colten McDeavitt of Slippery Rock and James Stevens of Tabernackle, N.J.; computer science major Kelly Smith of Slippery Rock and Ryan Spiardi, a December exercise science graduate.
      Stevens and McDeavitt collaborated on “Understanding Recent, Rapid Landscape Evolution in the White River Badlands, South Dakota.”
      The White River Badlands are a sculpted landscape on the northern Great Plains.  “Castles” of precipitous ridges and steep ravines are incised into bedrock and exposed along a cliff band called “the wall,” Stevens said. Pediments from eroding highlands washed down the bedrock forming a sloping apron. They collected rock samples for radiocarbon dating in an attempt to find the date that marks the start of the current erosion processes that transformed the landscape to how it looks currently.
      “It was a great honor to be selected as one of 2,000 students attending the conference,” Stevens said. “This is an immeasurable opportunity to share with my peers the information and understanding I have gained during a year of research.”
     McDeavitt said the conference offers great networking opportunities.
    “Conducting student research puts a new perspective upon one’s field of study; it brings a working level of comprehension of materials and introduces elements of the professional field,” he said.  “I can say from my time spent at Slippery Rock University, there has been an overall focus on campus to provide students with truly life-altering opportunities and experiences at all levels.”
     Patrick Burkhart, SRU professor of geography, geology and the environment, said research gives students a track record of success.
      “Students benefit in many ways – they gain practice and confidence in conveying discoveries they have personally made,” he said. “They get to observe the high caliber of other students’ work, preparing to prosper in a competitive world.  They have fun, doing their projects, telling their stories, travelling to distant places.  They learn that the world is smaller in some ways, while expansive in others.  The gain a track record testifying to their success as scholars, convincing reviewers of future opportunities that they can contribute to successful collaborations, because they have.” 
     “Participation in professional meetings, especially those that focus on undergraduate research, encourages intellectual development and lively discussions in a variety of research areas,” said Tamra Schiappa, associate professor of geography, geology and the environment.  
     Andresky and Burns will present “Paleoenvironment Reconstruction of the Brush Creek Limestone with Emphasis on Molluscan Interactions.”
    Brush Creek Limestone records the rise of sea level in western Pennsylvania and sheds light on the fossil record of ammonoids, an extinct group of marine invertebrates with a coiled external shell. Andresky said she and Burns found an ammonoid fossil near Etna and are researching how the creature fits into the geologic history of the area.
    Andresky said presenting research at a national conference has many benefits.
Learning to communicate effectively is a skill that everyone needs to improve,” she said. “This is an undergraduate research conference, so my audience is not simply geology professionals but people from a wide variety of backgrounds, so by understanding my audience I have to learn how to communicate what I am researching to them. Also this is good experience for the professional world.”
    She said research shows ambition to prospective employers.
    “Good grades are easy to get in my opinion,” she said. “Research shows future potential employers or graduate schools want to know that you are a motivated and curious individual. It helps you stay involved and helps keep your brain thinking.”
     Spiardi will present “Perception of Ideal Body Weight Using Mass Index Standards in Men and Women Exercise Science Students.”
   He said the research concluded that freshman and senior women exercise science majors chose an ideal weight for themselves that led to an ideal Body Mass Index that is lower than their actual Body Mass index. Freshmen and senior men exercise science major exhibited no difference between their actual and ideal Body Mass Index.
     “Participating in research is important for any student because it gives him or her a chance to better understand the research process and scientific method,” he said. “This is crucial in any field to be able to understand the latest research and utilize evidence-based practices.”
    Spiardi said SRU provided opportunity for him to grow and develop as a student and individual and that the research conference is a capstone experience. Spiardi works as a rehabilitation technician and will start medical school at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in August.
    “Presenting at NCUR is a great opportunity to interact and network with other students and professionals in many fields,” he said.  “This also provides a chance to showcase research that we have worked on for quite some time.  Most importantly, we can represent SRU on a national stage.”
    Smith will present “Platform Independent Cloud Scripting.” Cloud scripting involves running computer programs simultaneously on different devices, including personal computers, androids and smart phones.
o really stand out, you need a research project,” said Deborah Whitfield, professor of computer science.  Once an employer sees that a student gave a presentation at a national conference, it not only shows he or she is bright but a good communicator.”
    SRU promotes the importance of STEM education on many fronts.
   “Reaching for 2025 and Beyond,” the University’s strategic plan, notes the nation’s fate depends on maintaining leadership in science and technology. SRU plans to increase enrollment in science and technology majors and provides workforce skills and training to adult learners through partnerships with business, industry and educational providers.
   Earlier this month, Robert Scherrer, principal of the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, lectured at SRU about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. He spoke to more than 350 faculty, staff and students about making cross connections between disciplines and the need to reach historically underrepresented students. 
    SRU’s April 10 “Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement” will also provide opportunities for students to present. Students will have the choice of creating a poster for display or offering a 10-minute oral presentation, mounting an art exhibit or creating a music, dance or spoken world performance.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.