Becoming a Scholar: Undergraduate Research Helps Students Tap Their Potential

Aug 03rd, 2015

Becoming a Scholar: Undergraduate Research Helps Students Tap Their Potential

At High Point University, students immerse themselves in undergraduate research.

They’ll be somewhere on or off campus, and hours slip by as they focus on what they love — or what they long to understand.

Science Research
Matthew Beck conducts research for his topic, “The Role of Rac1 on Cell Migration in ATM Deficient Cells.”

They study lemurs, kill bacteria, create cutting-edge technology or slip into a white bee suit.

They see themselves as scientists and writers, animal behaviorists and artists or mobile system mechanics who will develop an app for HPU students and the world.

What they’re doing is important for their future. A recent national survey shows undergrad research ranks No. 2 behind internships/apprenticeships on what employers want in potential hires.

But there is something bigger here. After weeks of work, they give presentations about their research and become pictures of confidence. They’re engaged scholars. They work with HPU professors and cultivate a relationship that can last a lifetime.

“All you have to do is get them thinking,” says Roger Shore, a HPU computer science professor. “You plant a seed and let them go.”


Finding an Edge

With research, students blossom, and they do things they never thought they would.

That includes meeting a lemur named Roscoe.

HPU students Helen Barker and Arielle Hodges went several times a week to the Greensboro Science Center 30 minutes north of campus and recorded how Roscoe did in touching a tablet in a game of sorting cards.

Economics App Undergraduate Research
Students work with professor Roger Shore on an iOS application that helps students better understand economic concepts.

It’s a decision-making game based around numbers, colors and shapes. Barker and Hodges worked with Dr. Joanne Altman, HPU’s director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works (URCW), with her cognitive research on lemurs.

“You have all these A-ha moments.” says Hodges, a senior from Concord, North Carolina. “That always reminds me why I love education and learning. It gives me a boost to keep going.”

Those moments happen in the most ordinary of places.

Like the basement of Congdon Hall. Computer science majors work with Shore to perfect a mobile app to help students learn about economics.

Or in Congdgon’s third-floor chemistry lab. Students try to understand how bacteria can communicate as they explore hands-on science with HPU chemistry professor Megan Blackledge by their side.

The possibilities are endless.


Teaching Students to Think

At HPU, the growth of undergraduate research has attracted talented students and stellar faculty to campus and has helped build a solid foundation for a school growing even more in size and academic standing.

In the past two years, the URCW program has engaged nearly 1,200 students. It has awarded grants, published a yearly journal, hosted symposiums, taken students to conferences and started a new program, Research Rookies, which helps underclassmen transition into their roles as scholars.

During the summer, HPU offers the Summer Research Institute and the Summer Research Program in the Sciences (SuRPS). Undergraduate research unfolds year-round.

“I’d like to think that undergrad research is almost like an apprenticeship because it teaches you to think like a scientist,” says Dr. Brian Augustine, chair of HPU’s chemistry department who helped organize SuRPS. “When you’re taking laboratory courses, it’s almost like following a cookbook. But here, we’re working on things we don’t know what the answer is going to be.”


Liz Pruitt Bee Apiary
Liz Pruitt poses with the bee apiary she created for her undergraduate research project.

Developing a Passion

For Liz Pruitt, working toward those unknown answers is a dream come true.

In a campus garden beside Blessing Hall, Pruitt tends to her bees. She has them in two apiaries, bee houses built out of cypress. She and student Taylor Daniel made it themselves.

Pruitt wants to start a beekeeping club on campus, and with the help of her English professor Allison Walker, she’s writing and designing a book titled, “From Beginner to Innovator: Inspiration for the Aspiring Beekeeper.”

That inspiration came from her grandfather. He was a beekeeper. Now, she’s a beekeeper, too.

“When I found something I love that is important to me and my community, it was like a wall in front of me getting torn down,” says Pruitt, a graphic design and English major from Asheboro, North Carolina.

Undergraduate research has helped Pruitt merge her majors with her passion for bees. And now, whenever she puts on a suit that looks like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie, she looks into her apiaries and discovers something new.

“I see,” she says, “a completely different world.”