Making Ideas into Realities

By Sara Albertson

Bees and the biodiversity of the planet, improving the efficiency and quality of dairy producers and providing analysis into the political and historic hypocrisy surrounding Utah’s immigration policy. These are only a few of the research projects going on here at Utah State University, giving opportunities to many students and providing experience.

“Our university is certainly recognized on a national scale. We have a huge college that has a lot of diversified research. We have a lot of collaboration with many different institutions, both federal and state. So part of doing research is networking and connecting with other people,” said Jonathan Koch.

Koch is a graduate student in the science department studying the biodiversity of our planet and its correlation with bees.

“Most of what I do is studying the evolution and ecology of insects, and I just happened to study a bumble bee,” Koch said.

Koch’s Ignite presentation discussed the importance of bee’s pollination and their effect on the environment. Specifically the decline of some of the more predominant pollinators that produce up to one-third of the food that people eat.

“Many of our monocultures are not suitable for bees, and if they are, we spray them with chemicals which are found to be very toxic,” Koch said in his Ignite presentation during Research Week.

Ignite is a program that gives eight graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to present their research and analysis during a five-minute time period.

“I think one of the fundamental difficulties in research is being able to take your research — which is very analytical; it is also ideally written in a scientific language — and translating it into a presentation that would be approachable for anyone walking through the library that day,” said Grant Holyoak.

Holyoak is an undergraduate research fellow in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. His current research focuses on Utah’s immigration policies, history and the hypocrisy that exists within the system.

“It actually became clear pretty quickly that Utah is not actually as open or accepting of the immigrant population as it would appear to be, given the Utah Compact and that very compassionate statement they released in 2010,” Holyoak said.

Holyoak understands the core of the laws and how they affect immigrants, through his research.

“The basic idea is there is a law called SB 81 that makes it so all social services agencies are not allowed to provide any public funds directly to the immigrant population … Also, they need to prove that all of their client base that is receiving public funds is legal,” Holyoak said.

Thanks to the USU research program, Holyoak has had the opportunity to present his research seven times across the country, from Long Beach, California to Washington, D.C. Some presentations can be more difficult to prepare, however, due to the language involved with the research.

“It was very different because it was almost like a performance. Giving a scientific presentation — I’ve done quite a bit of that, and it doesn’t bother me to get up in front of people, so that’s one thing. But this, you’re trying to tell a story,” said Justine Britten, a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.

Britten was also chosen to present at Ignite. Her research included finding a beneficial solution for cows with chronic mastitis, or inflammation of the udders.

“This was actually a project I started working on before I came here, but I have a way better understanding of it now,” Britten said.

Britten also pointed out not all graduate students are given the same exact opportunities.

“One thing I feel like is a little bit lacking — and again, I think it is different for everyone — I thought I’d be a little more involved in going to conferences and things like that. I am going to one this fall, but that’s the first one that’s come up,” she said.

While travel and presentations are some of the largely known benefits of the research program, there are many other experiences the USU programs offer that are a huge help to students.

“Through the school of research and graduate studies, I’ve been able to do a grant-writing workshop, which was an incredible workshop that provided me with all sorts of tools and training,” said Maureen Frank, a presidential doctoral research fellow at USU. Frank’s research focused on the conservation of ecosystems, specifically focusing on the Great Salt Lake.

“The point of my talk was kind of to build off of my research. To share, not really the technical side of it but more what I find amazing about what I get to do in my field work,” Frank said.

USU has hosted three successful Ignite events and sent several students across the continent to speak and give presentations.

“If you’re an undergraduate student at all interested in going to graduate school, get research experience as an undergraduate because doing research is very different from going to class or working a job,” Frank said.

The Ignite research presentations can be found at