In regards to higher education, its common for students to associate academic research exclusively to math and science fields.
University of South Dakota associate professor of neuroscience and IdeaFest chairman Brian Burrell wants students to know the notion is untrue for USD.
“We tend to talk about research because we think of people working in labs or students doing literary research on a specific topic or perspective, people on a panel, etc. But we’re really supporting scholarship at every level; that includes music performances, artistic pieces, etc,” Burrell said.
Burrell and other USD administrators, as well as numerous students, have been working over the past year for such scholarship to be presented at the 2013 IdeaFest, held at various locations on the USD campus April 10-11.
IdeaFest is USD’s annual showcase of graduate and undergraduate student research, scholarship and academic engagement. Participants show off their work via oral and poster presentations, with several exhibits and displays.
Additionally, two keynote speakers will be featured for each day of IdeaFest. Captain Mark Kelly, a retired U.S. astronaut and U.S. Navy captain, will speak at 7 p.m., Wednesday April 10. Dr. David Sweatt, decorated biomedical researcher and artist, will speak at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 11.
In total, 521 students are scheduled to present this year, with a total of 219 presentations. Burrell said IdeaFest has never had so many participants.
“This is the largest IdeaFest USD has ever had. We haven’t had the opportunity to really evaluate where the numbers are coming from, but we believe the increase is due largely to the increases in the liberal arts, humanities and art disciplines.”
While both undergrad and graduate students alike will be present, Burrell said the undergraduate presentations are what sets USD apart from other universities.
“We are unique in our region and one of the few institutions in the country that when we say we support undergraduate scholarship or research, we’re really talking about all disciplines, not just a laboratory-based discipline. That is reflected in this year’s IdeaFest,” Burrell said.
Burrell said the IdeaFest chair members identified presentation variety as a primary objective in this year’s presentation.
“Our goals have been to improve the quality of invited speakers, which we’ve done, but also improve the diversity of students coming in as far as their disciplines. We don’t want it to be a science-only kind of event,” Burrell said.
Burrell said the schedule indicates the effort to include a broad host of speakers.
“You’re going to see some very jargony talks from some of the hard-science labs like the ones around here (the Medical School) but you’re also you are also going to see talks on Middle East politics, the historical development of musical instruments, or arts and theater discussions. That’s something we should be justifiably proud of,” he said.
First-year student Ellen Nelson is an undergraduate student scheduled to present April 10. She will be presenting her research involving child abuse and capital punishment. Nelson said her research focuses on the effects of child abuse and how capital offenders often have a history of child abuse.
“Most individuals who are on death row, or have committed murders and are imprisoned for life, were abused in some way or came from an unstable environment. I did my research on that because I’m interested in working with kids in the foster system and kids who have been abused and I want to be a counselor and a psychiatrist.”
Nelson said the research process gave her a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system.
“It opened up my eyes to how many steps can be taken before a crime can be committed. In many cases we’re focusing too much on what on what to do after rather than preventing it from starting in the first place,” she said.
For undergraduate students such as Nelson, Burrell believes the IdeaFest experience offers the opportunity to advance their education beyond the classroom experience.
“Doing undergraduate scholarship is different than taking a class,” Burrell said. “It’s getting involved with anything at the nitty-gritty levels. This provides a way to learn how to actually take the knowledge you’ve gained in a lecture-based class and apply it. It’s the difference between being a dilettante and a practicing fill-in-the-blank in your field of study.”
For some, the research goes beyond an exercise in academic achievement. Nelson had a very personal connection to her research as she previously worked at Children’s Inn, a Sioux Falls-based shelter where women and children can find safety and support.
“I worked primarily with the children who were abused and neglected,” Nelson said. “They were 5-and-under most of the time and some of the most beautiful kids in the entire world. So I really want to help others like them in the future to make sure that kids don’t go back into homes that are abusive and that they’re able to lead normal lives rather than let their horrible past define their future.”