Undergraduate students across a variety of disciplines demonstrated academic excellence and resilience at the first-ever Wolf Pack Discoveries event on Dec. 7, 2021, in the Joe Crowley Student Union. The collaborative event featured high-quality poster presentations by more than 100 undergraduate students covering a wide range of topics representing the STEM fields, liberal arts and social sciences. The event was attended by other students, staff and faculty, many of whom serve as mentors to the undergraduate researchers.
The event combined several poster presentations previously held separately into one symposium hosted by the University’s Undergraduate Research, Office of Service-Learning & Civic Engagement, Honors College and the McNair Scholars Program. This new collaboration streamlines the presentation process for some students who before presented at several individual events for each program they were a part of.
“The University of Nevada, Reno has a thriving population of undergraduate students conducting research, evaluation, scholarly work and creative activity,” said Tanya Kelley, director of Undergraduate Research. “Wolf Pack Discoveries is a collaborative event for students to present their work from co-curricular and curricular opportunities, and it helps them develop presentation skills for a professional-event setting event regardless of the format.”
Many of the student-researchers presented work supported by funding awards. For example, Undergraduate Research, part of the University’s Research & Innovation division, offers several opportunities for funding awards, plus assists student-researchers with finding a mentor and preparing proposals or presentations.
“Normally it would be intimidating, but everyone is encouraging; the funding award opportunities were encouraging. It gives you confidence to try it out,” said Leonardo Rodriguez, a College of Science student-researcher who received a Nevada Undergraduate Research Award (NURA) for his quantum-physics-based project and then was selected to receive an additional Daugherty-Westfall Research Award.
What draws these students to research in their undergraduate years? Interviews with some of the student-researchers prompted several responses, all centered around passion and personal interest.
College of Science student-researcher and presenter, Saige Howard, received a NURA and also was selected to receive a Daugherty-Westfall Research Award for her paleontological project involving isotopes. Of the research experience, Howard said, “It helps me understand what I want to be and do. It gives real insights to the research process.”
Talaya Flicop, a sophomore studying psychology, plans to continue with undergraduate research next year and explore the emerging themes identified through their project, “Check ‘Other’: Nonbinary and Gender Diverse People of Color.” The support of a Pack Research Experience Program (PREP) helped Flicop balance their time and devote more time toward their research project and less toward outside employment.
A desire to represent and protect marginalized communities led Honors College student Alondra Espinoza-Cervantes’ to her project, “All in This Together? Solidarity between People of Color,” which she described as exploring “how people of color become allies for the people they represent.”
Duncan Brown’s interest in the outdoors and “for future generations” led to his academic pursuits in environmental engineering and metallurgical engineering and to his undergraduate-research project to assess the environmental footprint of nuclear-waste transportation. He is one of six student-researchers who received an award supported by Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS), which manages operations at the Nevada National Security Site. As Brown said, the topic of nuclear waste transportation is “super important for Nevada.”
“The tenacity and strong work ethic demonstrated by this next generation of innovators will result in lasting outcomes,” said Karla Hernandez, associate director of the TRIO programs which includes the McNair Scholars Program. Hernandez also commended the faculty and staff involved in encouraging and supporting these students.
Mridul Gautam, vice president for research and innovation, noted that Wolf Pack Discoveries marks yet another important milestone in further developing undergraduate research at the University.
“This new event provides a wonderful opportunity to spotlight the hard work, dedication and contributions of undergraduate students and their mentors,” said Gautam. “These programs are about opening doors for students from all backgrounds and from across the span of this University’s colleges and degree programs, and enhancing their educational experience.”
Wolf Pack Discoveries is planned to return in April 2022 to highlight undergraduate student activities achieved in the Spring 2022 semester.