Dordt College News

NCUR: Time to learn weird new things

June 23, 2014

For the Dordt students who presented their work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Kentucky between April 3 and 5, the best part of the experience was being exposed to the work and ideas of so many other students.

The group sat down at breakfast on the first morning and looked through all of the projects at NCUR, laughing at odd titles and intrigued by the broad range of topics being addressed.

“We came up with a plan for where to go,” said Katie Tazelaar. “I got a reputation for finding the most interesting titles.”

Tazelaar’s presentation was scheduled for early in the conference, giving her plenty of time to sit in on as many different presentations as she could. 

Chemistry Professor Carl Fictorie, who accompanied the group to NCUR, had warned the students that they would find many different ideas and topics, and Tazelaar made it her mission to go to the “weirdest” sessions she could find. Her favorite was a feminist critique of milk.

Tazelaar’s own presentation was unique in itself. She spent last summer working for Biology Professor James Mahaffy. For four hours each day, she looked through newspaper archives for accounts of rattlesnakes in Missouri.

Based on accounts of size, where the snakes were found, and whether or not their venom was lethal, Tazelaar and Mahaffy were able to trace and map occurrences of Massassauga rattlesnakes.  Today the snakes are endangered in most states and are only found in three counties in Missouri. 

Tazelaar was eager to present her work and her findings, but she expected pushback from the audience about her unorthodox research methods. She didn’t receive as many questions or as much criticism as she expected, though. She said that presenting was a good experience and that audience members seemed interested. She would go again, given the opportunity.

Junior Bridget Rowe agreed that NCUR was a valuable experience.

“There is something exciting about being around a large group of people who are sharing their creative ideas,” Rowe said.

Rowe presented a painting at NCUR. The piece hung in a gallery at the University of Kentucky along with works by other presenters. Each artist gave a 15-minute presentation about the work on display. 

Rowe talked about her painting as well as some sculptures she is currently working on, all of which are part of a series about land, sea, and space. She also discussed her exploration of various painting techniques.

Rowe eagerly took in other presentations, too, including dance and music. And, she enjoyed hearing about subjects she was less familiar with, such as history, literature, and Middle Eastern studies.

“I love learning new things,” Rowe said.  “NCUR was a great place to do that.”

Junior Engineering Major Ben DeVries presented a model of the spread of cholera in Haiti and South Africa and also enjoyed hearing about subjects he is less familiar with.

“Engineers don’t always get to branch out,” DeVries said.

DeVries completed his project as part of a Kuyper Scholars Program (KSP) contract in his Calculus III class. He had presented the project in Dordt’s Ideafest last year, but NCUR was the first time he had done a presentation at an event of this scale.

The size and scope of the conference is one reason why Fictorie encourages KSP students to apply for NCUR. He has been taking groups of students to the conference since 2008.

“It’s eye-opening,” said Fictorie. It offers a way to get students’ ideas “out into the world,” and it gives them an opportunity to defend their positions to a broader audience and to be exposed to different ideas or beliefs from their own.

Anna Visser ('14)

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