Georgia College undergraduates shine at 2nd Annual ‘Posters at the Capitol’

Six students—with majors in chemistry, music therapy, physics and psychology—represented themselves and Georgia College in February at the 2nd annual “Posters at the Georgia State Capitol.”

The undergraduates were among 54 students from 15 colleges and universities statewide, who participated at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta. University President Dr. Steve Dorman was there for support, along with other administrators and professors. Multiple members of the state House and Senate stopped by to see research posters, along with lobbyists and legislative staffers.

“The 2020 Posters at the Georgia State Capitol was a great success,”   said Dr. Doreen Sams, professor of marketing and coordinator of Georgia College MURACE (Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors).

Sams thanked her Capitol co-chair Robin Lewis, who is also director of Georgia College’s Office of Grants and Sponsored Projects. In 2018, she and Lewis came up with the idea for the state event, modeled after the popular “Posters on the Hill” held every year in Washington D.C. by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). The state event has been adopted by Georgia Undergraduate Research Collective (GURC) and included a wide range of projects from accounting, biomedical technology and environmental engineering to health communications, political science and education.

Johnny Grant, Georgia College Director of Economic Development and External Relations, is one of the project’s “greatest champions,” Sams said. He told House and Senate members about the exhibit and encourage them to stop by. She also applauded the work of the steering committee—which included members from Georgia Southern University, the University of North Georgia and University of West Georgia.

The six Georgia College undergraduates at the Capitol this year were:

  • Senior chemistry major Megan Andrews of Covington, Georgia, who is studying prostate cancer in men of African descent. This population is disproportionately affected by the disease. She’s working with three Georgia College Chemistry and Public Health professors, along with the state Department of Public Health, to determine how socioeconomic status affects onset of this particular cancer. The professors are Dr. Wathsala Medawala and Dr. Chavonda Mills, who helped with chemistry and hormonal data, and Dr. Ernest Kaninjing, who helped design the project.
  • Senior Ashley Newkirk of Woodstock, Georgia, who used music therapy to help a first-grade student with autism increase his ability to follow directions, communicate and be more social. Working with Katie Whipple in Creative Arts Therapies, Newkirk used various musical interventions, including instruments and dance, to promote social interaction between the boy and his peers.
  • Senior physics major Bo Cavender of Brooks, Georgia, who helped build a portable solar charging station that tracks the sun to generate energy as a power source for cell phones and laptops anywhere on campus. Cavender works with Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge in the Condensed Matter Research Group. As a mentor, he said Mahabaduge knows when to step back and when to offer advice.
  • Sophomore physics major Catherine Boyd of Columbus, Georgia, who determined whether solar panels could improve the battery performance of golf carts. This involved hooking solar panels up to golf cart batteries and measuring voltage and current. She worked with Mahabaduge too, learning how to analyze data and present research.
  • Senior psychology majors Madeline Drives of Johns Creek, Georgia, and Amelia DuBose of Thomasville, Georgia, who are studying aggression levels in children, perceived by parents and teachers, and how this connects to socioeconomic status. They are working with Dr. Tsu-Ming Chiang, who helped spark their interest in research.

Andrews said undergraduate research is “the most impactful experience” she’s had at Georgia College. Boyd said she didn’t expect to have so many research opportunities in college and feels “very blessed to have had the opportunity to present” at the Capitol. Drives, too, said if someone had told her she’d be doing so much research in college, she would’ve thought they were “crazy.” She feels her research time at Georgia College has been a “truly amazing experience.”

“Posters at the Georgia Capitol” is selective. Due to limited space, only 42 of 78 projects were accepted from private and public institutions throughout Georgia. Applications go through a blind-review process with faculty reviewers statewide.

“I’m so proud of our students,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for Transformative Learning Experiences. “This was an amazing opportunity for students to present their research to legislators, lobbyists, university administrators and members of the general public. We definitely saw an increase in foot traffic this year and, because of the stiff competition, I think the projects that were accepted were all very strong.”

Music therapy instructor Katie Whipple echoed that sentiment. The audience is what makes this event unique. Legislators get to “see the relevance of higher education in a time where student debt load and work readiness are big issues,” she said. The Capitol gives students a chance to communicate their ideas and findings in laymen terms. It’s a critical skill to be able to explain the importance and relevance of their work to people outside their field, Whipple said, especially to politicians who make decisions on funding and support.

“Legislators may not necessarily be part of the traditional academic community,” she said. “But they may be the ones helping us make governmental changes, based on what we and our students find though research.”

Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge also considers the Capitol a unique place for student research. It’s a more-relaxed setting than most conferences, he said, and allows students to focus on presentation skills, rather than be too technical with details. Students “were excited to see President Dorman at the event,” he added. “It was a validation for our students and their hard work.”

Perhaps Cavender summed it up best with his advice for underclassmen.

“Being involved with research here at Georgia College has given me opportunities that would not otherwise have been possible,” he said. “Students should be inclined to participate in research for the opportunities that it grants. There are many different research groups on campus, which all vary in their level of involvement and area of focus, allowing anyone to participate.”

“If undergraduate research seems like it requires students to have an excellent understanding of their area of study or that it’s going to take up a lot of time, you are mistaken,” Cavender said. “Many of the concepts I was taught in the classroom were solidified while doing research. Undergraduate research provides students with an excellent way to get introduced to research and also get to know your professors, which is why you should get involved.”

Please visit‘posters-capitol’&​nbsp;to view the orgininal article, as well as photos of the student’s posters.

Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.