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University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

UWyo Magazine

September 2014 | Vol. 16, No. 1

Singular Student Experiences

Undergraduate research offers UW students the chance to put their classroom learning into action for a leg up on graduate school and careers.

By Micaela Myers

For many college students, opportunities to conduct their own research or to study one-on-one with a professor aren’t available until graduate school. However, in Wyoming, these opportunities are plentiful for undergraduate students and often become one of the most meaningful experiences of their undergraduate careers.

While the research goes on year-round, the efforts are celebrated each spring during Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day, now in its 15th year. The 2014 celebration included more than 360 undergraduate students from UW and Wyoming’s community colleges who gave oral and poster presentations.

“Undergraduate Research Day is my favorite day of the year,” says Bill Gern, UW vice president of research and economic development and one of the event’s founders. “We get to see some really smart students presenting some really interesting material.”

At Undergraduate Research Day, students present research across all disciplines and showcase their honors student projects and engineering senior design projects. It all culminates in a celebration dinner with a speaker who participated in undergraduate research and is now enjoying a successful career.

“What we’re trying to do is put what the students learn in the classroom into action,” Gern says of the projects. He adds that, of the past students surveyed, nearly 95 percent of those who had completed a one-on-one learning experience listed it as either the most important experience or a very important experience at UW. That experience helps students take another step toward a career—perhaps a job, or graduate or professional school.

“If you are interested in going to graduate school, doing research in your field as an undergraduate is probably the single best thing you can do to enhance your odds of getting into grad school,” says Katherine Rogers, a 2007 UW alumna from Rock Springs, Wyo., who received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and is pursuing her doctorate in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University.

At the 2014 Undergraduate Research Day, Yadira Portillo of Kimball, Neb., presented her research from Laramie County Community College. Her project involved identifying unknown fungi for antibiotic properties. “Doing this type of research will help me get into a master’s degree program or into medical school,” she says. But first, Portillo is transferring to UW in fall 2014 to pursue her bachelor’s degree in microbiology.

Senior Jeff Santos of Temecula, Calif., also presented at April’s event with his hydrology research. “I propose that sound recordings can be used to detect the amount of water flowing in a particular river, which could then be used to measure the flow of ungauged rivers,” says the environmental geology and geohydrology major. Santos worked with the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) and earned a fellowship from Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). Now, Wyoming Public Radio is planning to cover Santos’ project after learning about it at Undergraduate Research Day.

“I am working toward being a U.S. Forest Service hydrologist, with the ultimate goal of obtaining a position as a watershed manager stewarding our nation’s headwaters because the quality of our drinking water, the ability to raise crops, and clear water areas for recreation and industry all depend on the health of the forest ecosystem,” Santos says.

As his research concludes, he plans to incorporate video and sound recordings of the rivers he studied into an interactive display at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center that will include touchscreens for the public to learn about active research. Santos says, “I feel that my time at UW is preparing me for my goal of bridging communication among scientists, government agencies and the public.”

Student Opportunities

Jeff Santos
Student Jeff Santos researches using sound recordings to measure the amount of water flowing in rivers.

Research Day

Qing Ying
Qian Yang, an energy resource management major, presented a solar energy conversion project at the 2014 event.

The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming

About UWyo

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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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