National conference recognizes students' research


Eight students recently traveled with professors Dr. Ann Billetz and Dr. Graziana Ramsden to present their research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), hosted by the University of Kentucky.

In total, 13 MCLA students were screened and selected for this year's national conference by NCUR's faculty panel.

"It's very prestigious," said Billetz, chair of the biology department. "Many of the schools that present there are actually research institutes. For 13 of our students to be selected was highly impressive."

She continued, "It lets them know just how good their work actually is. It's one thing when your mentor tells you, 'This is really great work,' but the fact they were selected for NCUR, and had people in attendance who were impressed with the work they did, was outside validation of the quality of their research."

According to Berkshire County native Michael McCormick '14, who plans to pursue graduate school, the opportunity to have his work accepted to a national conference was "incredibly valuable."

"Educational research is something I plan to continue, and MCLA's commitment to undergraduate research will most certainly give me a leg up in that pursuit. Being accepted is one thing, but having the support of MCLA and the Undergraduate Research Program that afforded me the opportunity to travel is truly wonderful," McCormick said. "At MCLA, it really is the students who drive the research, and that's what makes it special. The same can't be said of all the presentations at NCUR."

In addition to presenting his senior thesis project, "How to Do College: Reflective Judgment in Academia," McCormick presented a poster with Bentley Munsell '15 of Grand Blanc, Mich., based on their survey of MCLA students as to their motivation in the core curriculum and how it relates to academic performance.

"Some of the best parts of the trip included attending the oral and poster presentations, and getting exposed to all of the different types of undergraduate research being conducted," said Munsell, who majors in biology and psychology.

Environmental studies major Macy Fredricksen '15 of Ballston Spa, N.Y., presented a poster on the habitat preferences of red-backed salamanders. In addition to the experience of presenting her work, she loved talking to students and faculty from across the country.

"There was so much to learn every single second we were there," said Ashley White '14, a psychology major from Westminster, Mass., who presented her senior thesis research project on "The Importance of Parental Communication and Sexual Education in Adolescence on Predicting College Students' Sexual Activity."

"I just tried to be like a sponge and absorb everything I could. I enjoyed meeting students from all over the country and learning from them," White said.

Psychology major Jessica Baglione '14 of Albany, N.Y., who presented "College Therapists' Experiences of Shortened Session Lengths," agreed: "The best part of the trip was networking with all the students and professors at the conference." In addition, "I got to see all the current research going on in the psychology field."

According to McCormick and Munsell, the trip also provided opportunities to spend time with MCLA faculty and students, and to share "lots of jokes and laughter."

"Sometimes we forget faculty are people," McCormick said. "As someone who wants very much to be a college professor, it was a great experience to be able to talk candidly with Dr. Billetz and Dr. Ramsden. Throughout the trip, we spent a lot of time on planes, in cars, and eating in restaurants. It was a special opportunity to ask lots of questions to learn how to balance academics and life."

Munsell added, "We had a great time, we learned a lot, had some misadventures, and overall had a great time in Kentucky!"