UTEP Undergraduates Showcase Research Chops

Last Updated on January 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Originally published December 12, 2014

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

“It’s hard.” “It’s boring.” “It can only be science-based to be valuable.” “No one cares what I research and write about.”

These are some impressions held by UTEP undergraduate students before the completion of their UNIV 1301 Seminar in Critical Inquiry class. After months of immersion into what the term “research” can mean and the recent presentation of their own research during a new event, their perspectives have changed.

Undergraduate biological sciences major Asfaneh Hamad-Zanjari presents her research project during the first Entering Student Research and Creative Projects Showcase, held at UTEP Library’s Blumberg Auditorium on Dec. 6. Photo courtesy of the Entering Student Program.

Undergraduate biological sciences major Asfaneh Hamad-Zanjari presents her research project during the first Entering Student Research and Creative Projects Showcase, held in the UTEP Library’s Blumberg Auditorium on Dec. 6. Photo courtesy of the Entering Student Program.

On Saturday, Dec. 6, more than 30 projects representing the work of approximately 80 of these students were on display during the UTEP Entering Student Program (ESP) Research and Creative Projects Showcase, held at Blumberg Auditorium inside the UTEP Library. More than 150 people attended the event, including faculty, staff, and proud family members and friends.

“I believed the showcase would give students something to aim for beyond the coveted good grade in the course, a challenge that would inspire high-achieving and at-risk students alike,” said ESP Director Dorothy Ward, Ph.D.

An art and fashion-themed UNIV 1301 course led by Kathleen Key had students using recycled materials to construct wearable costumes. One student used more than 600 coffee filters to reconstruct the tutu from Swan Lake. Students circulated through the showcase in costume answering questions about the inspiration and construction of their final projects. Key’s students also produced artwork in the Bhutanese style and several – including one from Bhutan – presented videos on the story of their lives.

“The class helped me realize that there is a whole other world out there,” said Rosario Dominguez, a freshman who plans on majoring in psychology. “Research is to be willing to make connections and try something new, to take on a new perspective.”

Other students presented documentary videos about the relationship between the borderland and Australia, made as part of Joanne Kropp’s Global Learning Community, which connects students at UTEP and students at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

“I have always been impressed with the level of creativity and hard work my students have put in to produce quality research projects,” Kropp said. “But having the opportunity to share those projects beyond our classroom was more validating to them than just a grade from me. They realized that an assignment is not a chore but an opportunity to shine.”

Students from Ann Gabbert’s class presented original, primary source research where they reconstructed periods in American history from eyewitness perspectives. Gabbert, Ph.D., is one of ESP’s assistant directors.

One of Gabbert’s students, freshman biological sciences major Asfaneh Hamad-Zanjani, was intrigued by the concept of analyzing information versus simply reading material.

“The class allowed me to see that research should be something we implement in every task,” she said.

Daisy Alvarado, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biochemistry, said, “This project required my work to be at a much higher level than in high school. I had to learn how to collect and analyze information independently. Your evidence doesn’t always point in a single direction and it doesn’t always give you the answer you’re looking for.”

Gabbert, Ward and lecturers Kropp and C. V. Garcia began discussing the possibility of the showcase as part of their work on the ESP’s administrative team. During the spring 2014 semester, Ward, Kropp and UNIV 1301 instructors Karina Calderon and Beau Pihlaja formally established the event committee and researched other universities’ first-year seminar showcases.

A handful of UNIV 1301 instructors were recruited to take part in this pilot showcase and provided suggestions for how class projects could be completed in time for the Dec. 6 event. Nominated student entries were closely reviewed to reflect the students’ hard work and talent.

DeAnna Kay Varela, an ESP lecturer, relished the opportunity to teach how technology can be used to instill a strong research foundation as well as to keep students on the cutting edge. Training and troubleshooting took place regularly in the Access to Technology Learning and Service Lab (ATLAS) while library staff taught workshops to students to help them through smaller assignments and practice research methods.

UTEP undergraduate students organized and participated in a fashion show sporting recycled and repurposed materials as part of the Entering Student Research and Creative Projects Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Entering Student Program.

UTEP undergraduate students organized and participated in a fashion show sporting recycled and repurposed materials as part of the Entering Student Research and Creative Projects Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Entering Student Program.

The students all agree they now have valuable skills that will carry them through the remainder of their academic careers as well as life beyond. For them, essentials like time management, patience, confidence in public speaking and a love for learning will never go out of style.

As an educator and lecturer at UTEP, Monica V. Martinez is passionate about what is accomplished via the UNIV 1301 courses.

“I believe introducing entering freshman to research is essential,” she said. “No matter the field, research is a necessary part of being a college student. The sooner they get used to the process and make it second nature to be curious and to research, the better equipped they will be for the rest of their academic career.”

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