Originally published April 10, 2015
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
Setting The University of Texas at El Paso apart from comparably sized institutions around the country is its dedication to connect undergraduate students with research opportunities that can mean a world of difference when it comes to academic and professional success.
Juan Pina, a senior majoring in sculpture, feels it’s an experience that can’t be beat.
“I’ve learned a lot about looking at things from different perspectives,” he said. “The opportunity to do unconventional work, since it’s not common to get a grant to make and explore art through different means other than just in the common classroom setting, is amazing.”
Pina will be among dozens of students presenting the process and results of their research at the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) Symposium April 17-18 at the Undergraduate Learning Center (UGLC). The event is free and open to the public and a schedule can be found here.
The upcoming event marks COURI’s fifth spring symposium and ninth overall (three summer symposia also have been held since 2012). During its evolution, representation by the arts has steadily increased.
COURI works to promote hands-on guidance from professors to engage students in investigation and innovation on a regular basis. Its semiannual symposium puts emerging undergraduate researchers in the spotlight. There are awards for best presentation and best poster in each of the seven disciplines represented.
COURI Assistant Director Karina Canaba anticipates a similar number of presenters and guests to last year’s symposium, bringing several hundred people together from both the UTEP and wider local communities.
“What makes this year’s symposium really special for us is that we are moving from our regular poster format to oral presentations at the Rubin Center,” Canaba said. “This format is more conducive for our students in theatre, art and dance.”
Pina’s research idea came from one of his previous pieces, which was awarded Best Sculpture at the 2014 UTEP Juried Student Art Exhibition. He approached Therese Bauer for help in applying for the COURI grant since it was the first time he had to communicate his art practice in research-related terminology.
Pina came up with a project exploring the relationship between drawing, the most basic of two-dimensional artwork, and sculpture, which he describes as “most emphatically three-dimensional.” The resulting works are two-dimensional planes cut out from hand-drawn grids on paper; the planes were then arranged, stacked and cut as called for by the aesthetics, procedures and methodologies of the project with the aim that they transcend boundaries and classification.
Therese Bauer, a drawing lecturer, watched her student dutifully work through challenges including the time-consuming intricacy of creating each piece, reading as much as possible to bolster his research and juggling this project with his regular coursework. She acknowledged that it was daunting, but worthwhile for Pina.
“It provided the opportunity to investigate an area of interest with a research-intensive approach and ongoing one-on-one dialog with a faculty mentor that goes beyond the typical undergraduate experience,” Bauer added. “Allowing the student to explore a singular topic in such depth obviously enhances their critical thinking skills and is a great preparation for graduate school.”
The drawing professor pointed to increasing respect that the commercial and tech sectors are demonstrating for creativity in the workplace.
“The tech companies value the innovative thinking that artists bring to the process,” she said, referring to an NPR report addressing this smart business move.
Associate Professor of Art Kim Bauer encouraged his mentee Deven McCoy, a senior majoring in studio art, to apply for a COURI grant.
The idea behind their collaboration was to incorporate McCoy’s illustrations with less common methods of presentation through traditional and new technologies in print media. McCoy drafted the proposal in July 2014 and began to research contemporary and historical parallels to his topic. After the written proposal was accepted and funded by COURI, the actual work began in August 2014.
“Groundbreaking research and creative activity in the arts and humanities is vital to the development of any comprehensive top-tier university, and we’re doing what we can to support that work at UTEP,” said Associate Provost John Wiebe, Ph.D.
In November 2014, Wiebe, art department chair Vincent Burke and COURI Director Lourdes E. Echegoyen, Ph.D., attended the Creative Inquiry in the Arts and Humanities Institute presented by The Council on Undergraduate Research, a national organization devoted to supporting and promoting high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship. There, they received inspiration through learning what others around the country were doing.
“When students are given the opportunity to make an original, intellectual contribution to their discipline, they gain skills that are highly sought after by employers and graduate programs, including the ability to think independently and critically, apply knowledge to new situations, acquire new skills, prioritize, solve problems, create, communicate, network and lead,” Echegoyen said.
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