MARSHALL - When many people hear the phrase "research conference," they tend to think of scientific studies. But while many of the student presenters at Southwest Minnesota State University's eighth annual Undergraduate Research Conference were talking about science, the event has continued to branch out. On Wednesday, more than 200 SMSU students gave presentations on topics ranging from biology to history and even creative writing.
"This piece is called 'Sound,' and it's my favorite one. It took a long time to get it to this point," said SMSU senior Katie Schwarz, as she began reading to an audience gathered in the university's conference center. Schwarz was one of four students doing portfolio readings during the conference's noon hour. The readings included poems, short fiction and some creative non-fiction writings.
"I was actually the one who kind of said, 'We should do this,'" student Samantha Lemmerman said of taking part in the research conference. Students said doing their senior portfolio readings as part of the conference was one way to have a bigger audience. "There's usually a lot more people here. Last year, the whole place was packed."
Photo by Deb Gau
SMSU professor Marianne Zarzana and Kim Watkins, at left, spoke with student Steven McGeary about a historical research project he presented at the university’s Undergraduate Research Conference on Wednesday.
Later, Lemmerman was also doing a poster presentation for a research project, focused on the popular romance novels "Twilight" and "Fifty Shades of Grey." Lemmerman said she analyzed some of the unhealthy relationships portrayed in the books and their possible effects on teen readers.
While Wednesday's snowstorm cut down on the number of friends and family members visiting SMSU for the conference, there were still plenty of university students and faculty members attending presentations and studying poster displays. Display areas were set up in four different buildings around campus.
The Undergraduate Research Conference was founded in 2006, as a way to give SMSU students a chance to get experience conducting original research and presenting it to the public. In the past eight years, the event has continued to grow in size and scope.
Some of the newcomers at this year's conference included students in SMSU's political science program. Students shared the results of research projects examining issues in Minnesota government.
"It could be anything affecting greater Minnesota, but not the Twin Cities, so nothing on light rail or the new Vikings stadium,"said student Jon Kindschi. Kindschi's research project focused on the statewide costs and benefits of the Mayo Clinic's planned Destination Medical Center expansion project in Rochester. The Mayo Clinic has asked the state to issue multi-year bonds to help fund the expansion.
Kindschi's classmate Steven Halloran was analyzing a topic that definitely hits close to home in rural Minnesota: the new state sales tax on farm machinery repairs.
"It's more interview-based," Halloran said of his project. "I talked with farmers, legislators, the Minnesota Department of Revenue." Through his research, he hoped to give a clearer picture of the impact the tax would have on farmers and on state revenues.
Zhenya Ward, a Canby resident and political science student, said her research project grew out of an internship she completed with the city of Canby. She compared the municipal budget-making process in Canby to that of a larger city like Marshall. The process is basically the same in both cities, she said, but there were some notable differences.
"Marshall's (budget process) has more depth. There's a bigger population, and there's more money being spent," Ward said. But on the other hand, she noted, the smaller city had more direct communication between staff members. "In Canby, there's more of a connection between people."
Participants in the conference said the experience was beneficial both for students and their audience members.
"It's nice this way, because people who are interested in your topic are going to come look," instead of having a captive audience of classmates, said SMSU student Steven McGeary. McGeary was presenting historical research on the lives of women settlers in Swift County.
Ward agreed with McGeary on the opportunities that participating in the conference brought.
"I couldn't imagine not doing it," she said. "It's a really great experience."