Making Their Mark: Students Distinguish Themselves with Engaging Academic Research

This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU students gain valuable research skills and personalized mentorship from the moment they first set foot onto campus.

Seanna Naylon sat nervously, watching presentation after presentation at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium. A group of 14 students from High Point University, including Naylon, had left campus early that morning for a day filled with academic research presentations. It was the culmination of many hours of hard work spent poring over a plethora of subjects.

Naylon, a freshman from Florida majoring in international business, is just one among a distinctive crop of students who are taking part in student and faculty research projects. These projects ultimately help students build a unique set of credentials that distinguish themselves from among nearly 2 million others nationwide they’ll graduate alongside.

It’s all part of the plan for students involved in the Undergraduate Research and Creative Works (URCW) program at HPU. The program encourages collaborative partnerships between students and faculty — leading students to learn high-level skills — graduate level skills, explains Dr. Joanne Altman, director of URCW.

As a first-year student, Naylon is relishing an opportunity that most universities don’t offer to freshmen, but HPU does. The university shows students how they can make their mark through academic research opportunities with Research Rookies, a program designed to engage freshmen and first-semester sophomores as academic scholars.

Altman, who designed Research Rookies, says the program exists to teach students how to not only go about getting involved in research opportunities, but how to become active researchers. “The goal of the program is to prepare them to be ready to research; they’re learning how to enter the culture of research and learning how to embark in these opportunities,” says Altman. “Students are gaining critical thinking skills, creating surveys and learning how to utilize programs like Excel.”

Students in Research Rookies are also tasked with completing several activities to help build skills in all facets; they even attend conferences to get a first-hand view of what presenting research actually looks like. Following completion of the program, students connect with faculty members to get involved in various research opportunities.

Naylon’s story began in “American Moments,” a sports history class taught by Dr. Paul Ringel, associate professor of history. Her project — “The Negro National League,” which detailed the first-ever successful African American baseball league — impressed Ringel. He encouraged her to continue with her research and he guided her through the process.

Despite her initial fears at that first conference — “my stomach dropped as if I were on a roller coaster and it never came down,” Naylon says — she pushed ahead. “As a freshman, I had very little experience performing in-depth research. I didn’t know if I could move forward with the project. But Dr. Ringel encouraged me to continue; he mentored me throughout the entire project, as well as David Bryden, director of Library Services, who helped me learn how to use HPU databases.”

And that faculty support is precisely what makes research at HPU so successful. Naylon had coaching from supportive faculty every step of the way. Now, she’s more eager than ever to get involved in future research projects. She’s in good company with many other students on campus involved in academic research.

“Research projects get our students thinking critically,” Altman says. “These students are demonstrating their depth of knowledge. They’re getting to talk about something they did and learned — that makes them stand out. Their conference presentations are great examples of how they’ve used a set of skills. It’s also a great example of what companies are looking for.”

Naylon agrees, adding she realized if she’d attended another university, she would likely not have been afforded this opportunity. “I could not let this amazing opportunity go to waste,” she adds. “At HPU, I was encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone and take a risk. … I’ve gained experience in presenting and research skills, which will help me later on in my college career and when I enter the job market. As a freshman, I’ve already taken the first steps in building my resume.”

Each year, HPU students seize summer as an opportunity to put their scholarly research skills to work in the community, scientific laboratories and beyond. Here, Dr. Pamela Lundin works alongside summer research students on a study related to the development of the sonogashira catalyst-transfer polycondensation as a method to prepare covalently grafted films with anti-microbial properties.

It’s a message that Altman echoes. Critical thinking. Communication. Problem solving. Students who have continued with research in college have proven to become poised, prepared and ready to take on their future careers. “By the time our students graduate, they’ll have five or six presentations behind them,” she notes. “Students with this kind of experience grow up academically faster than their peers.”

Just like sophomore Bella Grifasi, a Maryland native who is majoring in biology with a minor in psychology and is on the pre-physician assistant path. While she’s just in her second year of college, Grifasi has not only completed Research Rookies, she’s now been deemed a “Research Apprentice” — and is excited about her future research prospects.

From day one, Grifasi — who learned about academic research from a presentation given by Altman at a Presidential Scholars weekend — became immersed in Research Rookies and found it to be the pivotal start to her research career at HPU. “I developed a wide variety of foundational skills and acquired a deep understanding of what research is all about through the program,” she says.

“Thanks to the program, Dr. Alex Marshall, assistant professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences, reached out to Dr. Altman looking for undergraduate research students who had completed Research Rookies. I was interested in interviewing with Dr. Marshall because of his research topic — researching the effects of alcohol on the brain,” Grifasi explains. “Dr. Marshall’s research could have the possibility to go above and beyond to figure out how ethanol affects the neuroimmune system, and how experts can hopefully develop pharmaceutical drugs to fix this in the near future.”

Grifasi’s work has paid off — she was recently awarded the George T. Barthalmus Undergraduate Research Grant. The money will go toward buying necessary supplies for her research analysis on “The Impact of Ethanol on Microglial Activation.” She plans to present the project at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research Symposium in November 2018.

Now juggling several projects at once, Grifasi notes the skills she’s learning are both surprising and rewarding.

“There’s a type of unexplainable focus that I’ve come to utilize in the lab. These projects have pushed me to become a patient, observational and diligent worker,” she explains. “From these research experiences, I hope to continue to learn how to become the most tenacious, diligent, hard-working version of myself. This growing version of myself will be an immense help in furthering my maturity and drive to do my best work after college.”

View this story and more in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine:

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