Student Research Showcased at Inaugural Summer Symposium

More than three dozen student researchers packed the ballroom at East Carolina University’s Main Student Center on Friday for the university’s inaugural Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium.

Nearly 40 students, including high schoolers from across the state participating in ECU’s Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics program and undergraduates from various universities taking part in the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates, shared their work at the symposium.

The event offered students an opportunity to present their current research interests while providing a new platform to test their pitches to audiences.

“There are a lot of students on campus over the summer conducting research, but we’ve never had an undergraduate summer symposium before,” said ECU Director of Undergraduate Research Mary Farwell. “Our REU programs in Chemistry and Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering in Simulations Imaging and Modeling (BME-SIM), were having their symposiums on the same day, so we thought ‘Hey, why don’t we open it up to all students?’ We had a great turnout for our first event.”

Student research projects ranged from new optimization processes for biodiesel production to a new type electric current converter.

Students Abdulrhamn Majdi, from left, and Abdulrahman Elsharkawy discuss their research project for a novel electric current converter with ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach.

However, one project stood out amongst the rest. Davidson College’s Andrea Robinson was named the People’s Choice Award winner for her research into a novel virtual reality eye-tracking test for those who have experienced mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Robinson’s proposed tests lets doctors to check for mTBI using portable equipment, allowing concussion assessments to be conducted on the spot instead of in an office or hospital.

The rising senior was on campus as part of the BME-SIM REU and said ECU offered her an opportunity to use research resources that she previously was unable to access.

“The BME-SIM REU caught my eye because of the modeling and computer science aspects of the program,” Robinson said. “I’m a physics major at Davidson, but we don’t have an engineering program. The REU gave me a chance to put to use the applications of research. As an athlete, I’ve had experience with those that have suffered injuries. I want my research to be able to help them.”

Department of Engineering undergrad Samantha Augustine said that the symposium gave ECU researchers a chance to show that they’re making an impact in the community.

“There is a diverse amount of research going on at ECU,” Augustine said. “Most people do not know that we’re doing this level of research here on campus. The symposium is a great chance to showcase the intelligence of our student body and let others know that the research we’re doing at ECU is contributing to society.”

Augustine had advice for students that haven’t started their journeys into research.

“Talk to the students and professors in your department,” she said. “Start doing research in whatever interests you. It’s not only a great learning experience, but you do a lot of networking, get a chance to practice your public speaking skills, and it looks fantastic on your resume.”

ECU offers multiple research presentation opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars throughout the year. The university’s Capture 180 Research Challenge is open to all undergraduate students, while the Three Minute Thesis Challenge is open to graduate and Ph.D. level students. Each spring, ECU offers presentation opportunities at its annual Research and Creative Achievement Week for students and postdocs.