From an autonomous firefighting robot, to how the “Harry Potter” book series has impacted the cultural history of the modern American childhood, the 10th annual Undergraduate Research and Prospective Graduate Student Conference on Thursday, April 19 in Squires Student Center will feature a diverse set of research topics and creative scholarship by undergraduate students.

“The purpose of the conference is to give students experience in presenting their work while highlighting their contributions to research and scholarship,” said Tomalei Vess, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “The conference also serves as an opportunity for students, who have yet to engage in research, to learn from their peers about the possibilities and how to get involved. We want to focus on the process of scholarship and those opportunities rather than the ‘holy grail’ of the product or publication, however, it is always wonderful to see students reach that goal.“

Ashley Taylor of Fort Chiswell, Va., a sophomore mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering, is one of the more than 100 participants. Recently, she shadowed a pediatric physical therapist, helping babies learn to move in the neonatal intensive care unit. “I was absolutely blown away by the experience,” she says.

The experience led to her research project – using accelerometers to analyze the movements of infants for early detection and intervention of cerebral palsy. “I was immediately drawn to this research project as I could see how it directly helps babies to have a much happier and healthy life,” said Taylor, who worked with faculty members from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute and the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

While the Office of Undergraduate Research, part of the Division of Undergraduate Education, is the official host of the event, the University Libraries held a key role in helping the students reach their research goals, by coordinating a series of workshops specifically focused to help students with their undergraduate research projects. Jennifer Nardine, college librarian for performing arts and foreign languages, said that each session was structured with a mini-lesson about library tools, and then students worked on their individual topics while librarians were on-hand to provide assistance as needed.

“Students participating in the undergraduate research program are very focused on their projects,” Nardine said. But even with a specific research agenda in mind, the amount of information sources available can be overwhelming. “We provide such a tremendous amount of materials that it’s hard to know where to start. Our job as librarians is to help make our holdings accessible,” Nardine explained.

Students, faculty, staff, and community members are welcome to observe the oral and poster presentations. The full schedule is available on the Office of Undergraduate Research website.

Participating students will be eligible to apply for travel money to attend regional and national conferences through the Office of Undergraduate Research.

The conference is made possible with support from the following groups: the University Libraries, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence, the Virginia – North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation at Virginia Tech, and the Graduate School.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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