Third annual Undergraduate Research Symposium demonstrates promising future for South Dakota undergrads

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BROOKINGS, S.D. — Students, faculty and industry experts from institutions across the state gathered in Pierre, South Dakota July 31 – Aug. 1 to participate in the SD EPSCoR program’s third annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The symposium showcased summer research projects from more than 151 undergraduate students representing South Dakota’s public, private and tribal universities who participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) summer research programs. The symposium was first established in 2014 to bring together undergraduate students across the state to gain real-life research experience, strengthen their skill-sets, network and learn more about South Dakota graduate programs.

The event kicked off Sunday evening with a panel discussion on STEM-based workforce opportunities, the benefits for pursuing graduate education and employment opportunities for a STEM major in the private sector with special emphasis on the jobs available in South Dakota. Keynote speakers included Laurie Gill, mayor of Pierre, Jay Perry, assistant vice president for academic affairs for the South Dakota Board of Regents, and Christian Phancao, project center operations manager at Eagle Creek Software.

“Students should consider the vast number of opportunities a graduate degree can present,” said Perry. “Not only is it an insurance policy during an unstable economy, but students can expect to see a 10 to 1 ROI for masters and 14 to 1 ROI for a doctoral degree.”

Other speakers during the symposium included Dr. Joerg Schlatterer, program director for the Division of Graduate Education’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Camille Griffith, graduate student at Black Hills State University and recipient of a GRFP fellowship from NSF. “From 2010 to 2016, NSF has awarded 2,000 fellowships each year, providing students with the flexibility to chose their own projects in a broad field of STEM eligibility,” said Shlatterer. Both spoke on the benefits of receiving a fellowship and answered questions on the application process, provided advice and encouraged students interested in pursing a graduate degree in STEM to apply.

Poster sessions showcased summer STEM research conducted by students at 12 public and private institutions across South Dakota. Poster presentations were reviewed and evaluated on technical content, poster appearance and oral presentation by a panel of judges consisting of faculty mentors from each of the universities represented.

Cash prizes were awarded for both morning and afternoon poster sessions. James May, University of South Dakota received the first place award in the morning session for his poster titled “Aromatic Molecules with Perfluoroalkyl Substituents as N-type Organic Semiconductors.” The first place award in the afternoon session went to Abigail McBride, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT REU), for her poster titled “Copper Oxide Loaded Porous-Wall Hollow Glass Microspheres for Security Printing Applications.” Other award recipients included Gabrielle Martin (SDSMT REU), Kingsley Chow (Black Hills State University REU), Zoey Glenn (South Dakota State University REU) and Lucas Bartl and Joshua Reider (Augustana BRIN).

“Undergraduate research is the culminating experience in an undergraduate STEM major’s education,” said Dr. Jim Rice, project director for the SD EPSCoR program. “It’s where they learn to apply what they know from their studies to solve a real-world problem. These problem-solving experiences are also important because they help prepare the students for entering the STEM workforce. The demonstrated ability to apply what a student knows to solving a problem and then communicating that solution is a highly sought-after ability by STEM employers.”

To learn more about the SD EPSCoR program, the Undergraduate Research Symposium or NSF’s GRFP program, visit www.sdepscor.org. SD EPSCoR is supported by the National Science Foundation/EPSCoR Award IIA-1355423 and by the State of South Dakota.

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