The 25th Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference (MassURC) was a success, featuring over 1,200 students and representing twenty-two of the public higher education institutions throughout Massachusetts. Spanning from Cape Cod Community College, north to Fitchburg State University and out west to Westfield State University, students journeyed from all parts of the state to display their research and thesis projects at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Center on Friday, April 26. Research projects stemmed from 68 unique fields of study, culminating in 936 presentations, throughout the day.
For the first time, the conference launched an adaptive iOS and Android application, used for following the conference’s schedule, taking notes, networking and other conference information.“It was exciting to be able to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the conference,” said MassURC Coordinator Emily Hodos said. “It was great to be able to move into the 21st century with the introduction of the MassURC 2019 app.”
Students showed that research can come from a variety of fields and topics and can interact in an array of various ways. Meghan-Grace Slocombe of UMass Amherst presented research on “Working with Citizen Scientists to More Efficiently Count Emigrating River Herring,” an environmental effort meant to protect two species of fish in Massachusetts. Slocombe’s efforts aim to show the importance of herring to ecosystems in Massachusetts and get the animal on to the endangered species list. Her research also has a community outreach aspect, as she and her research team post videos of the herring online to allow “citizen scientists” to do fish counts, actively engaging with nearby communities. Other environmental-based projects included Kaleigh Keohane of UMass’ research “Monitoring the Effect Rainfall Patterns in Central Montana Have on Grassland Bird Nesting Populations,” and Adam Lesieur of Springfield Technical Community College and his study titled “Impacts of Dams on Watershed Ecosystems.”
Research projects also involved many studies on the relationships between the government and large-scale industries such as media and pharmaceuticals. Joseph Thorpe of Cape Cod Community College presented “Behind the Scenes: The First Amendment, and the Media Economics Influencers of Division” in which he investigated the role media plays in modern politics. Thrope’s research studied how modern media is an instigator in dividing political sides in the U.S. as a way to grow profits, faltering from its intended purpose of informing the American people. Nicholas Monica of UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management and Commonwealth Honors focused on institutional corruption within the pharmaceutical industry for his research, studying how the government-funded industry has largely diverted its intended purpose to prioritize profits over people’s health.
While some projects provided full-scale views on major industries, others examined the under and misrepresented. CHC senior Ashley Everson showcased research on community feminism and the fight for black liberation through her presentation “The Amy Garveys.” Everson investigates Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques Garvey--the wives of Jamaican-born political leader Marcus Garvey--and the contributions the two women made to the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Everson presented biographical research on the lives of the Ashwood and Jacques, detailing how each woman led their own independent movements within the black liberation movement.
“One thing that was really hard for me when doing biographical research is that I didn’t want to misrepresent their legacies,” Everson said. For example, “Amy Ashwood Garvey was very vocal and known [to have] a lot of leftist policies, but I wouldn’t call her a leftist because she didn’t say she was a leftist herself. I tried to make sure to not say anything that’s inaccurate.”
Everson shared her panel presentation time with Nada Shabaan of Framingham State University, who presented research on the “Study of Black Theater in Contemporary Societal Drama” discussing the importance black theater has in telling the experiences of African-Americans and other minority groups. Shabaan outlined the importance of playwrights August Wilson and Suzanne Lori Parks during her research.
Sharing a personal connection to her thesis helped drive her to go the extra mile. “I went off of a lot of first-hand experience because as a minority in theater, I was able to use that to go on about my research,” Shabaan said. “I think we can all personally relate to our topics and that makes the research aspect easier.”
Shabaan and Everson were also joined by Emmanuella Nei, whose thesis “Vodou, Black Women and Liberation,” described the importance and usage of Vodou religious practices in black culture. Nei explained how the often marginalized Vodou served as a liberator for black women, who could use the practice to channel their roots and utilize change.
Since the topics of Everson, Shabaan, and Nei are not typically covered in traditional education curriculum, the three found their research experiences to be particularly rewarding and indicative of a bigger societal picture.
“The less that I found [in my research] the more it pushed me to continue digging,” Nei said. “The less I found also speaks to the way our society and patriarchy really influence history that is being written down and what I could find for my research.”
Though students like Everson opted to study individual human beings, other projects decided to take a wider look at human nature as a whole. Chloe Current of Quinsigamond Community College explored “The Meaning in Life”-- a study of the changing nature of where we get the meaning in our lives.
While Current asked an open-ended question with her research, many students such as Sam Carr of CHC hoped to find definitive answers when studying “Risk and Protective Factors of College Adjustment.” Carr’s research studied what factors are most important to a successful transition into college life such as level of physical activity, self-efficacy, extracurricular participation and amount of sleep. Among his findings, Carr found that resilience factors play a twenty-five percent role toward a successful college transition and that developing healthy drinking habits can actually have a positive correlation to college success. Carr found the MassURC experience rewarding.
“Having the opportunity to talk about my project led to so many interesting conversations and questions,” said Carr. “I was able to think about my findings in new ways and consider alternative explanations and future directions with my newfound perspective. I also enjoyed listening to other students talk about their projects which they clearly were so passionate about.”
The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. David Cash, dean and associate professor in the John W. McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. Cash congratulated student researchers at the conference: “The breadth and depth of what is going on here are fantastic, awe-inspiring work that [all the students] are doing.” Cash’s presentation “Researching in the Age of Conflicting Truths” was an analysis of how successful research comes about when it both coincides and conflicts with politics and social issues.
In his speech, Dr. Cash referred to three main components that link modern research to policy change: credibility, salience, and legitimacy.
“Credibility is the wall between research and policy,” Cash said. "It’s a permeable membrane that allows ideas to flow between scientific research and policy change. Salience is asking the right questions. The scientist needs to be humble enough to know that if he wants to do research, he needs to listen to the farmer and answer the questions of the farmer, not just what curiosity finds. Legitimacy asks: What’s the process and source of our research? The trick here is to balance these three things.”
Be on the lookout for details on next year’s conference through the MassURC website!