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Undergrads embrace opportunity to showcase research at symposium

April 24, 2024 By Sophia Ross
Studnets mill about around posters.

Undergraduates present their poster projects during the Undergraduate Symposium at Union South on April 28, 2023. Photo: Bryce Richter

As a sophomore research fellow in UW–Madison’s Glass Lab, Amber Mans found an opportunity to explore some of her ideas on a project with guest instructor Brett Swenson.

“I had been subtly pursuing my own personal research without the title since my freshman year, but Brett had an idea of something we could work on together that aligned with some of the work I had been doing and it seemed like a good fit,” she said.

Mans will be among 672 undergraduates presenting research at the annual Undergraduate Symposium, which is 105 more than last year. The yearly event will be held in Union South from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 25.

Mans is excited to share her project, called “Refractory Cements and Their Qualities in Mold Blown Glass,” with other researchers at Thursday’s conference.

“I am very firm in the belief in access to knowledge,” said Mans. “I just want to share as much as I can but also to create avenues to people interested in this field who otherwise may be closed off from having access to the material or learning about it.”

A photo of a woman blowing glass.

Amber Mans at work in the UW–Madison glass lab.

Two of UW–Madison’s key missions meet at the symposium: leading-edge knowledge discovery and quality undergraduate education.

“The symposium showcases the remarkable work of undergraduates as individuals, and it also puts on kaleidoscopic display a commitment to mentored undergraduate research, scholarship and creativity on the whole,” said Kelly Copolo, academic program specialist for the Division for Teaching and Learning, who coordinates the Undergraduate Symposium. “It is truly exciting to see so many students presenting and to see the event continuing to grow.”

The research projects explore a wide array of subjects, in STEM and other fields.

Another presenter at the symposium will be Grace Dai, who is a part of a research team exploring the nuances of parenting by individuals who are incarcerated. Her work touches more on the human impact rather than that of data and statistics.

“People don’t really associate research with the social sciences, but as someone who is incredibly interested in family law, and especially family dynamics, I think parental incarceration is a very closely related topic,” said Dai. “Doing research that can not only benefit the children who really don’t deserve to be experiencing that kind of separation, or a lot of the scientifically studied, negative effects that parental incarceration has on children.”

Dai’s project is titled “Parenting in Prison: How Contextual Variables Relate to Program Outcomes.”

Dai first got involved when she joined a research lab run by Dr. Pajarita Charles in the School of Social Work. “The specific projects that happen, she kind of chooses that for the most part, and, you know, as a research assistant, I help where most manpower is needed,” Dai said.

Often the research projects try to fill gaps in the public’s knowledge.

“At the end of the day, it’s about what gaps there are, what other community organizations have an incentive to provide, and what kind of programs community organizations want to provide,” Dai explained.

Mans’ experience in research has been rewarding and has opened doors for her.

“Talking at the symposium is a forerunner practice session for when I’m going to be in Germany for a conference (the Glass Art Society Conference) in May,” said Mans. “I’m hoping to have some really lovely conversations with other artists!”

She also looks forward to being on the other end of the conversations at the symposium.

“I’m just excited to walk around and listen to other people’s presentations and what they’re passionate about!” said Mans.

Alice Hu

Another student who got involved in undergraduate research is freshman Alice Hu, who jumped at an opportunity that popped up in her first-semester English class.

As a research assistant for Professor Maichou Lor at UW–Madison’s School of Nursing, Hu and helps Lor in her work studying how Hmong patients communicate pain to health care providers through various storytelling techniques.

The topic was one that resonated personally with Hu. Although she is not of Hmong descent, she noticed commonalities with her own experiences in the impact of a language barrier in a healthcare environment.

“This research is about limited English proficient patients, which really hits home for me,” Hu said. “My parents are first generation immigrants, so there’s that barrier too with all those big and complicated words in healthcare. It can definitely be difficult to pick up on if you’re not proficient in English.”

Hu won’t be presenting at the symposium this time, but loved the opportunity to get involved in research so early in her college career.

The Undergraduate Symposium will be held on the second and third floors of Union South, on April 25 from 2:30-6:30 p.m. Students, faculty and visitors alike are encouraged to learn more about these students’ research projects among others.