Undergraduate Research Day Allows Students to Share Their Passions

Most of the University's colleges will be represented during the presentations

 Tessa Long studied non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents, while Megan Truax and Christopher Rivera delved into ancient Greek to help restore Homer’s “Iliad.” Seth Pedersen worked on ways to measure water clarity in airborne laser mapping systems, developing a prototype device to compare with conventional devices.

But all four, students at the University of Houston and participants in Undergraduate Research Day, came to some common conclusions.

“Research is ongoing,” said Rivera, a senior majoring in Classical Studies and Political Science. “There’s always something new to do.”

They will be among 130 students participating in Undergraduate Research Day Oct. 10 in Rockwell Pavilion and the Honors College in the M.D. Anderson Library. Presentations begin at 4 p.m.

This is the 9th year for the project, coordinated by the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Honors College. Most of the University’s colleges will be represented.

Undergraduate research has been a hot topic in recent years, partly because students who have a research experience are more likely to graduate on time.

Karen Weber, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said 92 percent of students who entered UH between 2002 and 2007 and participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Scholarship program or the Senior Honors Thesis program, graduated within six years.

Nationally, just 59 percent of full time, first time undergraduate students who entered a four year institution in 2005 had graduated by 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Research experience prepares students for graduate and professional schools, Weber said. And presenting their research is good practice for job interviews.

Undergraduate ResearchBut undergraduate research is also about passion.

For Megan Truax and Rivera, that meant diving into an accelerated class in Greek to improve the skills gained during their first two semesters in the classical language, after Casey Dué Hackney, director of the UH Program in Classical Studies, suggested they participate in the Homer Multitext Project.

 The project is an ongoing, involving people from all over the world, and makes use of technology and open-source data to convert the condensed versions of the Iliad and Odyssey commonly seen today to an online version that is closer to the sprawling original works performed by countless singers over hundreds or even thousands of years.

 Truax, who will earn degrees in Classical Studies and German next spring, said Dué Hackney described it as, in effect, “un-editing” the Iliad.

 She and Rivera spent two weeks at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C., a research center where the Multitext Project is based.

 They deciphered 10th century handwriting, incorporated notes found in margins and tried to put everything together. And they worked with other researchers.

 “It’s not just my translation,” Rivera said. The work will continue, even as Truax enters graduate school to study German and the classics and Rivera begins law school next fall.

 But that’s OK. Research is a process.

 Long discovered that, too, as well as the fact that a researcher’s original thesis may not always be proven.

 A senior psychology major, she expected to find that adolescents diagnosed with both major depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder would be more prone to self-injury than those with just one diagnosis.

 Long grew interested in the subject through studies at the UH Developmental Psychopathology Lab, which is run by Carla Sharp, who served as Long’s faculty mentor for the research project.

 Earlier research had looked at non-suicidal self-injury in adolescents with depression and ADHD separately, but her search of the literature didn’t show any studies exploring the relationship between self-injury in adolescents with a dual diagnosis.

 Like Truax and Rivera, Long participated in UH’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, open to undergraduates from all colleges and disciplines and offering a $3,500 stipend to allow students to immerse themselves in research.

 “Before, I thought, 10 weeks, that’s definitely enough time,” Long said. “It really opened my eyes on how focused you have to be to conduct research.”

 She conducted her research using data from the Menninger Clinic in Houston, and ultimately ran the data three times, looking for answers. But there weren’t statistically significant differences between the groups, and her hypothesis wasn’t borne out.

 “I was sad, but it was an opportunity for fuSetpture research, and for me to grow,” said Long, who plans to attend graduate school.

 Pedersen, a junior civil and environmental engineering major, began his project at the suggestion of his faculty mentor, Craig Glennie, a researcher with the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at UH.

 Water clarity affects how effectively airborne laser mapping can measure submerged surfaces, Pedersen said, so he looked at whether there were better alternatives than the traditional method, which uses a Secchi Disk.

 His research supported his hypothesis – both the Secchi Disk and the more expensive Turbidimeter  yielded similar results, as did his hand-built prototype.

 But after completing the project, he realized that more work could be done.

 He ran field tests in a dozen locations over the summer – he, too, participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship – including at Lake Woodlands, the Woodlands Waterway,  Buffalo Bayou and in new subdivisions. Replicating the results in more varied types of water conditions and locations would strengthen the results, he said.

 Additional work on the prototype, including adding an amplification circuit to see if it stabilizes the raw night voltages, is another area for future research.

 But Pedersen also enjoyed learning about the research already done on this and related topics.

 “It’s amazing how much there is out there,” he said. “You think this is a really narrow topic, but Secchi Disk science, there are dozens of journal articles out there.”