Katherine Rogers figured she'd have to wait years to conduct laboratory research in college.
She would have at most universities. But not at the University of Wyoming.
"I remember just walking into my advisor's office one day and saying, ‘Hey, listen, I'd be interested in doing research sometime,'" Rogers recalls. "That second, he [Dale Isaak] picked up the phone and started calling professors."
Within days, Rogers was working in David Fay's laboratory, a placement that reinforced her desire to study developmental biology and later propelled her to graduate school at Harvard University, where, today, she is conducting National Science Foundation-funded research.
"I thought I'd start out washing dishes, but I went right into research," says Rogers, who showed up in Isaak's office just months after her graduation from Rock Springs High School. "I don't know how many other places that would happen."
To celebrate its commitment to undergraduate research, UW in 1999 created Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day, a one-day annual event open to all students who have completed an independent research or creative project in any discipline at UW, UW/Casper College or any of the state's seven community colleges.
This year's event, set for Saturday, April 21, on the UW campus, will feature more than 300 students presenting their research findings in topics that include agriculture, business, education, engineering, health sciences, biological and physical sciences, mathematical sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. All poster and oral presentations are free and open to the public.
"The University of Wyoming is better at this than many institutions, and we're better at it because we're small enough to really pay attention to undergraduate students yet large enough to compete for federal funding," says Bill Gern, UW's vice president for research and economic development. "It's one of the largest symposia of its type that we know of, and we're very proud of it because we think UW did this before it became cliché.
"And these are really smart kids. If you go to Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day, you will be like, ‘Wow, I'm impressed.'"
In the 13 years since its creation, Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day has served as a springboard for many students -- including Rogers, who recently learned that a paper she co-authored has been accepted for publication in the international journal Science.
"I always had a lot of fun presenting there," she says. "It's just such a big foot in the door to do research as an undergraduate."
Years later, Noah Hull is walking the same path Rogers followed to success.
A senior molecular biology major from Los Angeles, Hull will give an oral presentation at this year's event on the biological hydrogen production research he has been conducting for the past 3 ½ years. His work is funded by NASA through the Wyoming Space Grant Consortium.
"It's nice to be in a state that funds the university and where there are still so many opportunities for undergraduates," says Hull, who will graduate in May and begin graduate school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the fall. "When I started applying for graduate schools about six months ago, the feedback I got was, ‘It's great that you've already had this research experience,' and ‘You've had a lot of opportunities that other undergraduates don't get.'
"Everything that UW does really sets the students up for graduate school and for their professional career."
Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day is sponsored each April by the UW offices of Research and Economic Development, Student Affairs and Academic Affairs; the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Agriculture, College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Health Sciences, Wyoming INBRE, the UW Honors Program, the McNair Scholars Program, Wyoming EPSCoR and the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.