This story is featured in the Fall 2022 edition of the HPU Magazine.
Anthony Quagliata, ’22, had a ball – literally and virtually – at High Point University’s Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, known as High-PURCS.
As a senior from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Quagliata made a presentation titled “Mixed Reality Research: An Interactive Virtual Scene” at HPU’s 10th annual High-PURCS. The event was held inside the new Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena and Conference Center – a superstructure that exudes innovation and prestige.
Wearing a sharp, gray suit, he looked as if he’d been giving professional presentations for years. The math and computer science major walked his audience of 30 students and faculty through a video that showed a 3D virtual ball bouncing against real-world objects. He explained how he programmed software and set up cameras to make it happen.
“I worked on the project for a year,” says Quagliata, now in graduate school at Vanderbilt. “It was an awesome experience for me to showcase my work to people. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
Quagliata was one of the hundreds of students who flocked to the annual spring High-PURCS. Each year, students range from seniors to freshmen because HPU welcomes first-year students into the process of scholarly research. The spring High-PURCS event showcased nearly 200 projects.
Mentored by faculty members from a variety of academic departments, these fired-up students make presentations in fields that range from physics and pharmacy to exercise science and English.
These presentations run the gamut from “Anthocyanins Modulate Drosophila Melanogaster Feeding Behavior” to “Voldemort’s Vulnerability: Violently Falling Victim to Various Mental Health Disorders.”
Built like an actual business conference, Quagliata shared his research in one of nine private breakout rooms.
Later, during poster presentations, the energy level shoots up throughout the entire corridor that wraps around the arena. It feels like halftime at a basketball game. These show-and-tells happen with students crowding around their peers’ professionally-designed posters on easels as enthusiastic conversation fills the halls.
Earlier that day, they piled into an auditorium to hear a pep talk from High-PURCS’ master-of-ceremonies Dr. Joanne Altman. She’s the psychology professor whose job is to create a university-wide culture of undergraduate research.
“This is your day, your opportunity,” she told them. “Don’t worry about being nervous. The next time will be even easier. You’re setting yourself up for what employers and graduate schools require. You guys do extraordinary work.”
High-PURCS is like the Olympics for research. The event happens in a short span of time, but preparation for it happens year round, especially for Altman, the director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works.
“My challenge and my efforts go toward making sure that undergraduate research and creative works at High Point University reflect our diverse areas of study, which include but also extend beyond the sciences,” she says.
Indeed, dance and voice students also made original presentations, including a performance by 43 singers HPU sent to Disney World for an a cappella competition. They sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the movie “Pinocchio.” Its lyrics reflected the day’s events — “When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are / Anything your heart desires / Will come to you.”
But High-PURCS expects more than wishful thinking. It is demanding. It requires students to conduct original research — not recycled classwork. And HPU gets students started as early as possible in the freshman Research Rookies program.
“Students learn about professors who conduct research on campus and how to get connected with them,” says Altman. “The sooner we get our students connected, the more they can accomplish.”
What keeps students engaged, particularly STEM majors and underrepresented students in college, according to her, is the mentorship and connectedness the program provides. Freshmen who complete the program get the title of Research Apprentice, a certificate and a medallion to wear at graduation.
Her office has vast resources to help students successfully complete their research. It offers summer programs in which students stay on campus for free. They get a stipend, and they spend the summer working with a faculty mentor on a project.
Summer research opportunities and High-PURCS are just a few examples of HPU’s commitment to professional development. The summer programs end with a speed dating-style event. Students each give 90-second elevator pitches about their projects before a panel of judges from HPU’s staff, who choose the winners.
Courage and confidence. That’s what High-PURCS and HPU’s other student research programs really teach. No matter the student’s focus, conducting research and making a presentation teaches them new ways to conquer fear and be self-assertive.
Abby Copeland, ’22, a biology and Spanish major, had never before delivered a presentation. The experience made her feel more confident in her capabilities. Her presentation was called “Evaluation of Polymer Surface Modification as an Inhibitor of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) Biofilm Formation.” In layman’s terms, she investigated ways to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“I just fell in love with that research,” says Copeland, who plans to get her master’s in public health. “Getting up in front of other people taught me how to sell myself and present my skill set in a relatively low-stakes situation. It will give me a leg up in the future.”
For Quagliata, High-PURCS taught him to juggle many projects.
“Doing research is a great opportunity to learn, grow and do things you’re not able to do in the classroom,” he says. “I got to pair up with my mentors. We’ve become very close, and those are great connections to have.”
As The Premier Life Skills University, HPU knows the real return on investment is these life skills students built along the way.
“This is what students sell themselves on,” says Altman. “This is what they tell employers they did to showcase their skills and passions.”
As a freshman, she dreaded being in front of an audience. That fear faded, thanks to HPU’s undergraduate research opportunities. Today, she is pursuing a career in trial consulting or victim advocacy after she earns her master’s at George Washington University.
“Conducting research helped me step out of my comfort zone,” says Tumilty, who majored in psychology with a double minor in history and criminal justice. “When you’re in front of people giving a presentation, it’s nerve-wracking. But once you do it, you know that you are your own expert. You know how many countless hours you’ve spent working on it and how much you’ve dedicated yourself to your project. It’s very rewarding to share what you know.”
Her senior presentation focused on the relationship between rekindling and psychological aggression in romantic relationships. With the aid of Dr. Kimberly Wear Jones, associate professor of psychology, Tumilty found that aggression is more likely to occur the more often a relationship is rekindled.
“I know that my research with her is going to benefit me in graduate school,” says the Suffolk, Virginia, native. “I wanted to get more experience in research — conducting it and presenting it.”
Having gone to a small high school, Tumilty loved the intimate-sized classes she found at HPU.
“I was able to thrive in this Environment because it was very small and student-focused, and you don’t get that at every university,” she says. Her professors became her research advisors, which made doing research even easier. “I was able to form relationships with all of my professors,” she says. “I wasn’t just a number. I was a name and a person to them.”
Looking back on the opportunities HPU offered her, Tumilty shares this advice for future students:
“Go for it,” she says. “You’re going to find a passion in your research. Explore it, and don’t be afraid.”