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Early Risers

This story is featured in the Fall 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Works program offers students of every major the opportunity to conduct high-level research.

Research gives HPU students a head start on their academic and career ascent.

It’s not Everest, but any trek through the Himalayas gets the heart pumping. While climbing to 15,000 feet in the Annapurna region of Nepal, exercise science students compared their physiological responses to the local Sherpas.

“Our heart rates and oxygen concentrations varied with the change in altitude while theirs remained consistent,” says junior Brooke Smith. “The Sherpa people have lived at high altitude for generations, and their bodies have adapted in order to thrive.”

Meanwhile, HPU students have adapted to thrive in their scholarly and creative works because undergraduate research is in the university’s DNA.

Smith noticed that while looking at colleges. She met with professors and got involved in research her first semester on campus. Now, just halfway into her undergraduate education, she’s worked in a worldclass lab on campus, been mentored by faculty experts and had an abstract accepted for presentation at a national conference.

The head start makes a difference.


The Career Advantage 

There is a strong connection between skills developed while conducting research and qualities employers look for in new hires, according to Dr. Joanne Altman, director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works.

“It’s easy to think about research and career preparation separately, but they require the same life skills,” says Altman. “The critical component is getting an early start. It’s not doing a single project but having four years of growth.

“Research teaches students to rise to the professional level of their field. Over time, they develop something unique they can discuss during job interviews. It gives them an edge and makes them far more marketable.”


No Waiting Required

Many students start freshman year in HPU’s unique Research Rookies program. They complete a series of training in research approaches and techniques to earn the status of Research Apprentice.

The National Science Foundation funded a research project led by Dr. Martin Kifer (left), chair for the Department of Political Science. He and his students have reviewed 3,000 congressional candidate websites to analyze the strategies that incumbents and challengers use.

“It was the perfect way for me to get my foot in the door,” says senior biology major Bella Grifasi, who joined the lab of a pharmacy faculty member. “Without Research Rookies, I wouldn’t have unlocked the opportunity to connect with my research mentor, Dr. Alex Marshall.”

Two years in, Grifasi has published twice and delivered several presentations. Her original research assessing the effects of ethanol on the neuroimmune system will distinguish her as a competitive applicant for physician assistant programs.

“Early research experience definitely served me well in strengthening my adaptability and team-player mindset,” says Grifasi. “Research is something I never want to stop because there will always be questions to be answered.”


All Majors Welcome

Research at HPU happens across disciplines and involves students in projects of national and international impact.

One of those studies is collaborative research using website data to study political campaigns. Dr. Martin Kifer, chair and associate professor of political science and director of HPU’s Survey Research Center, has worked on this project with Dr. James Druckman of Northwestern University and Dr. Michael Parkin of Oberlin College for almost two decades.

More than 100 HPU students have participated in the National Science Foundation-funded project. They’ve reviewed about 3,000 congressional candidate websites and helped analyze the strategies that incumbents and challengers use. The results have been published broadly.

“Working on a project of this scale can be important for students no matter where they are in their time at HPU,” says Kifer. “The methods used to quantify and analyze text, photos, video and audio can be applied to many different disciplines.”

Sophomores Aleah Hayes and Jack Davis joined through HPU’s Summer Research Institute.

“Having done research early prepares me for future internships,” says Hayes, a psychology major. “I’ve attained certification in research ethics and compliance, giving me a great professional launching point.”

“Since I likely won’t be doing just one thing for the rest of my life, it’s best to fill my toolkit with an array of skills,” says Davis, a graphic design major. “Research is a credible way to put that on paper.”


Jump Right In

Charis Dinger first experienced research as the subject of a study her freshman year. From there, the senior and member of HPU’s track and cross country teams jumped in with both feet. She took a biomechanics class with Dr. Justin Waxman, assistant professor of exercise science, and became a research assistant.

Dinger and Waxman are testing a portable force plate system that collects data about athletic performance more efficiently.

When an athlete completes a jump test on the plate, the results are captured in an app on a smartphone or tablet. The test could help identify potential injury risk.

“It’s helping me develop critical thinking by designing experiments when not a lot has been done in that realm before,” says Dinger. “Also, being exposed to the computer software, literature and background knowledge of human biomechanics will set me apart.”

“Some students are intimidated, but the key is remembering that professors support your growth,” explains Waxman. “It goes the longest way when a student contacts me and says, ‘I heard about your research and I’m interested.’ Motivation and curiosity start the relationship. HPU undergraduates take on responsibility they wouldn’t otherwise get and rise to the challenge. I’m always impressed by their knowledge and how they carry themselves.”