Research requires time, energy, focus and discipline. For undergraduates, the process of discovery can seem even more rigorous as they encounter new learning environments and different methods of academic exploration.
Still, the rewards associated with undergraduate research far outweigh any challenges.
More than 250 University of Houston students can attest to this. These Cougars will share their experiences as researchers during UH’s 18th annual Undergraduate Research Day on April 13.
The event is among the University’s most anticipated rites of spring with hundreds of students sharing their discoveries and showcasing posters throughout the day in the M.D. Anderson Library.
“Undergraduate Research Day celebrates the work of undergraduate researchers who have completed faculty-mentored research in the last year,” said Rikki Bettinger, director of UH’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards. “On the day of the event, visitors can expect to see a sea of students wearing Cougar red, standing by their displayed research posters, excited and engaged in conversation with visitors about their research.”
Caitlyn Foret will be among those students in red on Undergraduate Research Day. She will present her project “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Magic of Meaning Theory in Major Corporations LGTBQ+ Pride Advertisements.”
Foret’s project offers a case study exploring corporate LGBTQ+ pride advertisements that ran between 2009 and 2022. Her research (overseen by associate professor of communication Lindita Camaj) analyzes corporate social responsibility and the magic of meaning theory (or how ads influence consumers’ personal values and other beliefs).
Foret, a senior strategic communication major in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, eagerly anticipates presenting this project and celebrating her peers' academic achievements.
“Undergraduate Research Day allows students to showcase their hard work and find a sense of community amongst other researchers,” Foret said. “Conducting research can sometimes feel isolating, and being able to share your findings with others and learn about different projects can help students feel more supported.”
“Learning how to distill their in-depth research into a poster format that invites the passerby into conversation can be a challenge. Students gain presentation experience and confidence through the process of sharing their research.”
Rikki Bettinger, Director of UH’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards.
Joining Foret on Undergraduate Research Day is Ritu Sampige, who will share her findings from her yearlong Senior Honors Thesis Project.
“My project is centered on exploring parental perceptions of infant vulnerability, which refer to parents’ beliefs about their infants’ likelihood of experiencing future medical illnesses,” she said. “During Undergraduate Research Day, I will present my longitudinal exploration of factors that contribute to a gap, or misalignment, between parental perceptions of infant vulnerability and infants’ objective vulnerability status.”
Sampige, a senior biomedical sciences major, has participated in previous Undergraduate Research Day events and looks forward to yet another opportunity to present her work. She also appreciates learning from mentors such as Leslie Frankel, associate professor in the College of Education’s department of psychological, health and learning sciences.
“Dr. Frankel has been an inspiring mentor to me throughout my journey in undergraduate research,” Sampige said. “Any time I ran into a challenge or roadblock in my Senior Honors Thesis research project, Dr. Frankel always motivated me to think outside of the box and to see the challenge as an opportunity to further enhance my project.”
Academic leaders have long lauded the importance of undergraduate research for students. Many agree that it helps clarify their career paths and supports the development of key skills to be applied in graduate school or in professional settings.
Bettinger concurs and adds that one of the most important skills developed during the research process is communication and more importantly, confidence.
“I always tell students that their posters should be an invitation into conversation about their research,” she said. “Learning how to distill their in-depth research into a poster format that invites the passerby into conversation can be a challenge. Students gain presentation experience and confidence through the process of sharing their research.”
Undergraduate Research Day is presented annually by UH’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards (OURMA), the Office of the Provost, the Division of Research, UH Libraries and the Honors College. Many of the participants are supported through awards such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship and the Mellon Research Scholars Program. During the past academic year, OURMA awarded over $590,000 in student scholarships.
“These scholarships would not be possible without the generous support of the Office of the Provost, the Division of Research, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” Bettinger said.
Undergraduate Research Day will include 256 presenters, a 35% increase from last year’s event. Students represent 15 colleges, one school and a range of departments, centers and programs from throughout the University.
“Seeing the sheer volume of students presenting posters in our library will be inspiring on many levels,” said Diane Z. Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “This event truly speaks to the commitment of both our students and their faculty mentors. It is a great example of what students learn from their faculty mentors in a research university and is one great example of how UH supports student success.