Monday, September 22, 2014

Vol State Students Show Lawmakers the Power of Undergrad Science Research

Scientific research isn’t just a passion for professors and graduate students. Increasingly, undergraduates are getting in on the action. Educators say it can be a creative hook to get students interested in the sciences. Two Vol State State students will show off their undergraduate research to lawmakers in Washington next week. It’s hoped that by seeing the work of undergrads from across the country, members of Congress will get a better idea of the importance of research in teaching science. Student Genna Batchelder of Gallatin will be presenting on water quality.

“I didn’t think I was going to enjoy my Environmental Geology class,” said Batchelder. “But the research helped me to understand how this is so important. It brought together my chemistry, physics and geology classes. It meant more to me when I had a practical application for what I was learning.”

Batchelder was one of hundreds of Vol State Math and Science students who have been studying water quality in local streams over the last two years. Students are taking samples, charting measurements and compiling the information in a database. That database will help environmental engineers determine area water quality. The research gets students out of the classroom and helps them apply science to the world.

“Research is the best teacher,” said Parris Powers, associate professor of Chemistry. “It allows students to think critically and problem solve with real world applications.”

Batchelder will be presenting her project in the form of a poster session across the street from the U.S. Capitol. The event is put together by the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative.

Professor Powers will be accompanying the students on the trip “It’s important for lawmakers to see what our students are doing. It will help them to understand that education happens in many different ways, not just in the classroom.”

Vol State student Phillip Martinez of Lebanon will be presenting on a tongue teasing topic: Proteo-Genomic Profiling of a Multi-Drug Resistant Acinetobacter baumanni Clinical Isolate. The paper stems from his work at Meharry Medical College, where he held an internship this summer, which then turned into a consultant role.

“The goal of this research is to find major multi-drug resistance indicators,” Martinez said. “This will help identify an appropriate treatment plan for patients in a matter of hours, instead of days.” That can help saves lives.

Martinez said that the excitement of medical research is consuming at times. “Every day that I go into Meharry, I love what I do. I’ve had to set the time on my phone to eat lunch, because I’m in the zone.”

“Gene sequencing, like Phillip is doing, is the future of molecular biology,” Powers said. “That’s the power of undergraduate research.”

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