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    Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
    Laramie, WY 82071
    Phone: (307) 766-2929

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    Real-World Research

    woman looking at a book at a desk with a microscope
    Chelsea Victoria Turner catalogs plant field samples in the Rocky Mountain Herbarium at UW as part of her undergraduate research.

    UW offers ample opportunities for students to take part in exciting hands-on research projects.

    By Michaela Jones

    Almost all students have standout memories and opportunities that shape their college years. For many, that experience is the chance to conduct their own research. The University of Wyoming offers countless research opportunities that enhance students’ academic and professional growth while also providing hands-on learning experiences beyond a traditional classroom.

    But for some students, conducting research is about more than gaining a competitive edge in the job market — it’s a second chance at life, an opportunity to help at-risk children and many other life-altering experiences. Read on to learn about the stories of four students and how research at UW has impacted them.

    New Life, New Opportunities

    Six years ago, Chelsea-Victoria Turner was battling drug and alcohol addiction while living on the streets of Cheyenne. Today, she’s a senior at UW majoring in plant production and protection with a 4.0 GPA.

    Turner was named a 2023 Udall Scholar — one of just 55 people nationwide to receive the award last year. Each year, the Udall Foundation awards scholarships of $7,000 each to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or to the environment.

    “Receiving this scholarship is like a nod of approval from the universe, for which I am so grateful,” she says.

    Turner is also a Wyoming Research Scholars Program fellow, a McNair Scholar, a recipient of a NASA space grant, and the recipient of several other scholarships and grants.

    However, her life wasn’t always headed in such a positive direction. She began drinking alcohol at age 11 and later began experimenting with drugs.

    “Then, at 20, I started doing heroin via IV. By the time I got arrested, I had been a transient for two years and was doing meth, heroin and cocaine all together in one shot. And I was doing Xanax,” Turner recalls. “So, it’s really a good thing that I got arrested.”

    While she was in the Laramie County Detention Center, Turner eventually had the opportunity to ask a judge if she could go through a treatment program. In January 2019, she arrived at Volunteers of America, a treatment center in Sheridan. By April, she had successfully completed her treatment program and was hired by Landon’s Greenhouse in Sheridan.

    “I stayed in Sheridan for four years,” Turner says. “That’s where I fell in love with nature.” 

    That’s also where she began conducting undergraduate research at Sheridan College as an INBRE (IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence) fellow and working at UW’s Sheridan Research and Extension Center.

    After transferring to UW, Turner began research in a soil ecology lab and an invasive plant informatics lab as well as in the Rocky Mountain Herbarium. She describes her experience with student research as “monumental.”

    “Research is so important, especially in the plant world, because it helps you understand the scientific process,” she says. “It’s so cool to be able to say, ‘I did that.’”

    This year, she plans to present at Undergraduate Research Day and also hopes to travel to botany conferences in Michigan and Spain. For her McNair Scholars Program project this summer, Turner will continue her plant-related research, looking into fungal endophytes that create compounds that deter predators. After graduation, she plans to pursue her Ph.D. in ecology at UW.

    “Eventually I want to start a nonprofit research institute to look at ways to combat invasive plant species without so many chemicals — to work with nature, not against it,” she adds.

    To fellow students, Turner says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors or researchers who are doing research you’re interested in. Email and introduce yourself and tell them about your interests. Take advantage of opportunities like scholarships and programs.”

    two people talking
    Graduate student Isabella Mijares works with Kinsey Jaap in the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic.

    Coaching Early Language and Literacy

    For Isabella Mijares, a first-year graduate student in speech pathology from Pagosa Springs, Colo., conducting research was about more than an opportunity to learn about something new — it was a chance to help countless at-risk children develop their language and literacy skills.

    She currently is working on a project called “Coaching Early Language and Literacy Strategies to Parents via Digital Media.” It explores the early language and literacy strategies of caregivers of at-risk children during shared storybook reading before and after receiving digital media coaching.

    “I love learning about parent-child relationships and dynamics,” Mijares says. “I think, if digital coaching works, there are endless possibilities for how it can be used.”

    The coaching is provided through videos, and data are collected through parent surveys. Mijares’s research was encouraged and mentored by College of Health Sciences Professor Mark Guiberson.

    Wherever Mijares goes, she has a strong sense of UW pride. “I remember my sophomore year, we were camping in the middle of Utah, and we met this couple who saw the Steamboat sticker on our car and spent the next two hours telling us about their glory days in Laramie,” Mijares says. “Or I was with my family in Mexico, and some guy saw my dad’s UW shirt and ran over to say ‘Go Pokes.’ It’s amazing.”

    She has presented on her research at the Wyoming Speech-Language-Hearing Association Conference, as well as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association conference in Boston.

    “I feel like we’re actually making a difference and being able to see how our intervention program affects individual children or parents,” she says. 

    After graduate school, she hopes to continue doing early-intervention speech pathology.

    To incoming students, Mijares recommends participating in research, taking advantage of the free activities on campus and exploring Laramie and surrounding areas.

    “UW has been a great place to get my undergrad and to continue my graduate education,” she says.

    woman examining something in her hands
    Piumi Indrachapa conducts research in Assistant Professor Jifa Tian’s physics lab.

    Studying Superconducting Materials

    When Piumi Indrachapa of Kalutara, Sri Lanka, decided to come to UW, it wasn’t just because of the academics. It was also the campus.

    “I adored the pictures I saw where the golden buildings of UW were covered with a snowy blanket,” she says. “Coming from a tropical country, that was a heavenly view.”

    She is a Ph.D. candidate in physics studying 2D materials with a primary emphasis on 2D superconducting and topological superconducting materials and their transport properties.

    In essence, 2D superconducting and topological superconducting materials enable energy-efficient electron transport with unique quantum phenomena, promising advancements in many technologies.

    “The realm of superconductivity has always captured my curiosity,” Indrachapa says. “Questions about the underlying mechanism behind it, the reasons for their absence at commonplace temperatures and pressures and what-if scenarios all fueled my fascination.”

    Through an analysis of how data fluctuates under the influence of various external factors, she can draw conclusions about the changes in the properties of these materials.

    Once Indrachapa earns her Ph.D., she hopes to pursue her career in the semiconductor industry. “I’d love to be a part of the innovative and competitive technologies to be discovered,” she adds.

    When reflecting on her time at UW, she’s grateful for her experience: “For me, this is nothing but a dream come true. Though the time spent here presented its challenges, it was a beautiful journey that will forever hold a place as one of the fondest chapters of my life.”

    Preparing for Veterinary School

    Coming to UW from Cheyenne, Emily Purifoy wanted to push past her shyness. “One goal I set for myself was to be more outgoing and do more things,” she says. “I really put myself out there and became the person my freshman self would be proud of.”

    Not only did she get involved, but she also took on leadership roles as an officer in student organizations, as a teaching assistant and as a researcher. “UW ended up being the best choice for me,” says Purifoy, who graduated spring 2023 with degrees in animal and veterinary sciences and minors in honors, zoology, and human and animal physiology. “I wasn’t expecting there to be so many opportunities. I got to do research, teach and really be involved with my classes and professors, which helped me develop awesome relationships.”

    woman holding a notebook beside a large microscope
    Emily Purifoy researched spinal cord regeneration in zebra fish at UW in preparation for veterinary school.

    One of her most impactful experiences was undergraduate research studying zebra fish spinal cord regeneration. Purifoy focused on diet’s role in recovery after an injury and was able to present at conferences and work toward publishing her research. “It really opened my mind to asking questions, chasing down answers and the scientific process in general,” she says.

    Purifoy also volunteered at science fairs and the annual Women in STEM Conference, and she was president of the Wyoming Undergraduate Research Coalition and an officer in the Pre-Veterinary Club. She’s now attending veterinary school at Colorado State University and hopes to focus on emergency medicine or pathology.

    Research Funding Opportunities at UW

    Across campus, there are many programs that support student research. Below are some of the largest programs.

    Undergraduate Engineering Scholars Program: Each year, a limited number of graduating high school seniors are selected for this competitive scholarship that includes annual renewable funding and the opportunity to be mentored while conducting world-class research.

    Wyoming Research Scholars Program: Open to undergraduates enrolled full time in STEM fields, this Science Initiative program pairs students with faculty mentors to participate in cutting-edge funded research projects starting as early as their freshman year.

    EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research): Wyoming EPSCoR is a program funded by the National Science Foundation to support researchers, students and institutions in Wyoming by building a robust and diverse research education infrastructure in the state.

    INBRE (IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence): Funding is intended to enhance biomedical research capacity, to expand and strengthen the research capabilities of biomedical faculty and to provide access to biomedical resources for promising students.

    McNair Scholars Program: The McNair Scholars Program prepares students from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education for success in doctoral degree programs. This includes support for undergraduate research projects.

    Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium: The consortium sponsors education and research programs in the state, including research fellowships for UW students.

    Contact Us

    Institutional Communications
    Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
    Laramie, WY 82071
    Phone: (307) 766-2929

    Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)