Release Date: July 15, 2012
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- More than 500 undergraduates from around the country, most of them first-generation college students, will arrive in Western New York this week for a research conference intended to spark their interest in careers in academia.
"All of these students come from backgrounds and families where they would have gotten little exposure to navigation of the graduate-education process," explains Henry Durand, senior associate vice provost of undergraduate education at the University at Buffalo. "The goal of this conference is to continue nurturing their interest in careers in the professoriate."
The 18th annual UB McNair Research Conference, to be held July 19 – 21 in the Niagara Falls (NY) Conference Center, may be the largest undergraduate research conference of its kind in the U.S. Freeman A. Hrabowski, PhD, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County will deliver the keynote address.
Approximately two-thirds of the participants are enrolled in the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at such schools as UB, Alabama, Michigan State, Temple, Mississippi, Vermont and California State.
McNair students are from low-income families and are the first in their family to attend college. Funded by the Department of Education, the McNair program is named in honor of Ronald E. McNair, PhD, a pioneering African American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
Other conference participants are from groups historically underrepresented in higher education: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic and Pacific Islanders among them. They are enrolled in such campus programs as C-STEP, LSAMP and S-STEM, designed to support and encourage student interest in science, technology and math-related academic programs and careers.
More than 100 UB undergraduate students will present research conducted with faculty mentors.
University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Maryland, and Maryland Baltimore County, University of Mississippi, University of Vermont, University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, University of Southern California, and the University of Colorado are among the institutions sending students to the UB conference.
They will attend a graduate school fair, participate in workshops on how to apply to PhD programs and visit UB's Graduate School to learn about the university's doctoral and master's programs.
"These are very bright and motivated young men and women," Durand says. "Only students who perform faculty-sponsored research are eligible to present at the conference. We give them the same kind of platform to showcase their research as we would provide to a faculty member."
Students will present research results on dozens of topics in the sciences, humanities and social sciences, ranging from the dangers of prenatal smoking to patterns of money laundering in Russia to development of nanomedicine therapies for heart disease.
UB student Christine Tjahjadi-Lopez, for example, will present research she did on ethical approaches to diamond retailing. She was mentored by UB geography professor Trina Hamilton, PhD, who studies corporate, environmental and social responsibility. Tjahjadi-Lopez said the research project has provided "a deeper glimpse into the ethical retailer market" and persuaded her to minor in geography at UB and pursue it in graduate school.
"Christine has really been a superstar research assistant," Hamilton says. "She's accomplished much more than I had originally expected, and she has demonstrated not only an excellent work ethic, but also a genuine inquisitiveness about the research process, and about the intersections between research and social change.
"Overall, this will make Christine a more informed and critical evaluator of other research, whether presented in academic journals or the popular press, and a better candidate for future graduate studies."
UB student Nurys De La Cruz will present a poster describing research she performed alongside UB associate professor Gregory Fabiano, PhD. She investigated differences in parenting styles among mothers and fathers who have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"Nurys is a terrific example of how rewarding it is to work with undergraduate students," says Fabiano, a nationally known researcher in the ADHD field. "In only two months, she has learned a lot about research methods and has been a great addition to our lab. Her enthusiasm is contagious."
De La Cruz plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology after she graduates from UB next year. "Two of the most important things I have learned through this experience are how to conduct research and how to share it in a professional and correct manner," she says. "I feel I have the tools necessary to conduct and present research in any field of choice."
According to Durand, when undergraduate students perform research with accomplished faculty members it increases their chances for acceptance into doctoral programs and encourages their pursuit of careers as college professors and researchers. McNair program alumni are currently teaching at institutions all over the world. But more needs to be done, Durand says.
"A study on faculty diversity by Cathy Trower and Richard Chait at Harvard University, revealed that more than 90 percent of full professors at research universities are white, and more than three-fourths are male," Durand points out. "It's no stretch to realize that this lack of diversity probably impacts scholarly inquiry, pedagogical approach, departmental climates and institutional priorities.
"More than one third of full-time faculty members are 55 or older," he adds. "As a result, the coming decade will require record numbers of new faculty to accommodate enrollment growth and extensive retirements.
"Some large institutions will need to hire more ladder-rank faculty in the next 12 years than they already employ. This, combined with projected diverse demographics of the nation, makes increased faculty diversity critical to serving both the interests of the academy and society at large."