Undergraduates Present Research to Legislators


(Photo Courtesy of Bryan Tran)


(Photo Courtesy of Bryan Tran)
(Photo Courtesy of Bryan Tran)


Students from the U are presenting their research to the Utah Legislature this week.

Cindy Greaves, project coordinator for the Office of Undergraduate Research, said this has been an ongoing project for 15 years. The U has partnered with USU for “Research Posters on the Hill,” a chance for undergraduate students to get the word out about the work they are doing on campus.


This year 29 students will represent the U with research topics including bird trends in Red Butte Canyon and emotional distress among soldiers.

Savanne Bohnet, a senior in linguistics, is eager to present her research about how the accents of international teaching assistants can affect students.

“I’m really excited to meet with my legislators and my parents’ legislators and talk about something that can essentially benefit everyone everywhere,” she said.

This study arose from frequent complaints by students not being able to understand their teaching assistants, some of whom have traveled from other countries to teach at the U. Rachel Hayes-Harb, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, has been working on this research for a couple years. Bohnet decided to join the team last semester. She said the project has opened her eyes to more studies she can pursue in the future.

Greaves said she has seen years of happy and successful students participating in the research on Capitol Hill experience.

“Every one of them love it,” she said. “For a lot of students, it is their first time presenting … It makes them more confident, and you’ll see them start to apply it to other conferences we have.”

Besides benefiting students, the event can help university funding.

“If legislators can see the great work these students are doing, it will help give a little more of a push to funding the education system,” Greaves said.

Educational funding is part of the drive for two students working in the Utah Nanofab, which is the U’s College of Engineering lab. Bryan Tran, a junior in mechanical engineering, and Jeff Thomas, a senior in civil engineering, are presenting a new curriculum of nanotechnology to bring to other universities, colleges and high schools.

Current funding for the research came from the WMKeck Foundation, but that funding will run out this year. Their research is almost complete, Tran said, but they have their eyes set on future research that requires more money. The research was also made possible by equipment in the USTAR building, which is funded by tax-payers.

“USTAR was a critical part in this whole research thing,” he said. “Without this beautiful lab we have here, none of this would have worked. If we can convince [legislators] that this is actually viable research, they should keep funding money into this building.”

Tran and Thomas put about 20 hours of work per week into the project. Tran said although there have been some mistakes among the successes, he is grateful for the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student.

“It makes you stand out,” he said. “When an employer sees you were a four-year student but still took time to invest in research, they’ll find that very appealing.”

Students will be in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.

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