Merced County Times Newspaper
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UC Merced Research Week highlights opportunities for undergrads

UC Merced Research Week, March 1 through 5, consisted of five days of virtual presentations featuring some of UC Merced’s ground-breaking research and work.

Highlights of the all-virtual Research Week included campus experts talking about COVID-19, wildfires and collaborative studies with communities, virtual tours of UC Merced’s eight core labs or facilities, ranging from the vernal pools on the nature reserve to the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Lab, and a showcase of research by undergraduate and graduate students.

Subjects ran the gamut from a study of immigration patterns to Shakespearean performances.

There were numerous opportunities for those online to direct questions to students, faculty and research staff.

One of the entities presenting during the event was UC Merced’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC).

Jorge Arroyo, director of UROC, told the Times, “UROC was established at UC Merced in Spring of 2014.  Its mission is to give undergraduate students access to research opportunities with structured support, including faculty member mentors.

“UC Merced Undergraduate Research Week is an annual series of events, and we are one office that participates in this.  It’s intended to allow research to be shared with the community.  Its purpose is to help community members  understand we’re not researching about the community, but rather we’re researching with the community.  So we’re trying to find ways and avenues to share what’s going on.

“UROC had a reception via Zoom on March 2 with eight presenters and one keynote speaker.  There were faculty members involved as presenters at that event.  “The keynote speaker spoke about community engaged research and its importance in involving the community itself.

“The presenter is a researcher who works with the Medical Education office on campus which collaborates with UCSF.  The two campuses, UCM and UCSF, are working together so more connections will happen, and they are the ones who will be spearheading the anticipated, much needed medical school.

“On the morning of March 3, UROC had its showcase.  There were 45 different presenters, who were mostly undergraduate students, and 60 people participating.  Previously, we’ve had faculty and graduate students participate as well.

“UROC had a keynote speaker and presenters and breakout rooms so participants could have intentional conversations with presenters, and we had topics listed on the website.  So whether the topic was health care or almond engineering, those participating could pick which room they wanted to go into.

“The unique thing with UC Merced is that undergraduates are doing research typically set aside as graduate level work, and that is because we don’t have a lot of graduate students.

“Particularly with our faculty, the professors want to engage with our students.  So another unique thing is that UC Merced is still pretty small and the students get to interact with faculty on a more connected, close level, and I think this also helps them with their research development.

 

Many topics addressed

“When the university started, its goal was to bring better resources to the community, and research is just one of the ways we’re trying to do that.

“The overall work the campus is doing in providing research opportunities is particularly important for the Central Valley.

“The students covered all disciplines, and some of the many topics they addressed were how they are using engineering practices in the ag business, discovering carbon emissions with COVID, and understanding health disparities.

“With respect to engineering practices in ag, they’re trying to find better ways to harvest almonds which will produce less dust and be more efficient.

“With the topic of understanding health disparities, students are exploring communities’ access to health care in their research.  They have conducted interviews with community members, public health officials and medical practitioners to determine where the disconnects are happenings.  Some of the disconnect is in communication, particularly around COVID.  For example, people may not be understanding their access to testing, and this may be especially true in communities where people have language barriers.  If they’re being told they should be tested, they might have questions like, ‘Am I eligible?’ and not have access to information.

“One of the other studies students are conducting is on Valley Fever, and the topic being researched is how does that information get shared with different communities.  This aspect revolves around how we can better understand the issues and communicate with the public about the issues.

“Some other research is looking at Shakespeare and how plays can help us understand politics and social issues.  Students have been working at Shakespeare Yosemite and exploring the public’s perception of the performances.

“During the our presentation, there was a description of research on understanding stress and the impacts on your health and that category was psychology based research, and in that subgroup, there was a presentation about pregnancy and the impacts of stress on both the mother to be and the baby.  They looked at cortisone levels for the mother and the fetal development.

“More specifically for Merced, students looked at the oral histories of the City of Merced as being the Gateway to Yosemite, and also tried to uncover how Merced is its own place, not just the gateway to somewhere. They’re introducing the unknown stories and histories of Merced, and one of those topics is how the City of Merced has changed based on politics and immigration over decades, and one thing they looked at was Chinese immigration and they tried to uncover how districts were set up to keep certain populations in certain areas.

“Sarah Lim at the Merced Courthouse has been a community partner for a number of years. She helped created a story map with archival research.

“The amount of work these students are doing is incredible. The research they are conducting as an undergraduate wouldn’t normally happen until they were in the second or third year of a Ph.D program.

“The presentations have the intention to help students feel more confident. For some of them, it is the first time they have presented in a public forum. When you get community members and faculty members and professionals coming to these presentations, it changes the presenter’s attitude so they can see themselves as someone who would attend graduate school in the future.

“For those undergraduates who are either first generation college students or from under-represented minority populations, through Research Week, we help prepare them to be competitive for acceptance to graduate school programs and we help them see the importance to their future of broadening that pipeline.”

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