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ASU awards 1st undergrad research scholarships

March 08, 2011

The voice Ray Kinsella heard in the film “Field of Dreams” wasn’t dreaming big enough. “Build it and he will come,” whispers a voice as Kinsella walks through his cornfield. Last year, when ASU's Elizabeth Langland, vice president and dean of New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and professor Todd Sandrin dreamed of a scholarship program that would pay undergraduate students a stipend for research, they expanded on the movie line, turning it into: “Build it and they will come.”

Come, they did, from all three New College divisions. In the end, 19 students have been chosen to represent the first class of NCUIRE (New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences) scholars at ASU’s West campus. The scholars and their mentors were recognized at halftime of the ASU-Oregon State University basketball game March 5 during “New College Day” at Wells Fargo Arena.

“From the start, there was tremendous enthusiasm from prospective NCUIRE participants, as well as from prospective faculty mentors,” said program coordinator Sandrin, who is the associate director of the New College Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

“I was delighted, but not surprised, to see all three New College divisions represented in our first class of scholars,” Sandrin said. “Research, inquiry and creative endeavor are essential facets of each of the disciplines found in each of the divisions. These activities allow students, regardless of discipline, to learn – in new and exciting, practical ways – more about the subjects they’ve studied in the classroom. The opportunity to do this alongside a renowned faculty member who is an expert in the field is clearly appealing to students, whether they are majors in psychology, history or computer science, for example.”

The students, from freshmen to seniors, will work on individual research projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Subjects range from the study of early radical feminism to body-based thinking, and from teenage motherhood to rotavirus epidemiology.

Amanda Piltz graduated from Olathe (Kan.) South High School in 2009 with honors and a Professional Careers Academy endorsement. A Barrett, the Honors College student, she expects to graduate in May 2013 and is studying in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences where she will explore and report on impulsivity among current and past heroin-dependent individuals. She will be mentored by Associate Professor Elias Robles, director of the Health-Behavior Research Laboratory at ASU’s West campus.

“This program will provide me with amazing opportunities to conduct research and share my findings with the community,” noted Piltz, who hopes to pursue a dual MD/Ph.D. program that will allow her to research the effectiveness of different medical treatments on psychiatric disorders.

“I was always interested in medicine, and I realized there are a lot of things scientists still do not know about the human brain,” she said, adding, “Through my NCUIRE participation, I hope to learn all the steps that go into conducting research with human subjects and about the reliability of different tests and measurements in psychology research.”

Sandrin, whose research interests are at the interface of microbial physiology – how microorganisms work – and microbial ecology – how microorganisms work together – says there are a number of advantages NCUIRE students will realize with their participation.

“Perhaps the most obvious advantage or benefit the program provides is the stipend that allows them to focus their energy and time on their projects,” he said in reference to the two-semester, $2,500 scholarship. “For many NCUIRE scholars, though, the NCUIRE award will also allow them to have an ‘Aha!’ moment in which they realize that research is something they want to pursue as they move forward in their education and as they graduate.

“Another ‘Aha!’ moment I anticipate they will experience is when they discover something no one has ever known, find an answer to a question once thought unanswerable, or create something that previously only existed in their imagination.”

Daniel Giebink, who graduated in the top 3 percent of his 2009 Peoria (Ariz.) Centennial High School class, is an NCUIRE scholar who has always been known as “the computer guy,” so his “ASU Internet Performance and Health Measurement System” project is well-suited for his talents and interests.

“I’ve always enjoyed working on computers,” he said. “Combine that with the growing number of job opportunities for that type of work, and it became a real encouragement to me to continue to pursue further knowledge and experience in the area.”

Giebink, who, like Piltz, expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in 2013, is under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Kuai Xu, whose research interests include network security, network behavior profiling, network measurement and analysis, multi-homing and overlay networks, Internet routing, and cloud computing.

Giebink said the NCUIRE scholarship will help him complement his classroom lessons.

“This program is going to be a great asset to me throughout the rest of my education and beyond because it provides me with something to actually apply my knowledge to – something significant in the real world,” he said. “I believe I will get to learn more than I may have typically learned in class, and with that, I hope that I will be able to gain a deeper knowledge of the things I have learned in class through hands-on experience.”

The NCUIRE program has garnered so much attention since its October (2010) launch, three types of awards are now available to applicants registering for the Summer 2011 or the 2011-2012 academic year –  NCUIRE Research Assistantships, NCUIRE Scholarships, and NCUIRE Fellowships. The application deadline is April 4, and only New College students and faculty are eligible to apply. For academic year awards, students must be enrolled in at least 6 credits during each semester of the award. For summer awards, students must be enrolled in at least 6 credits in the fall following the summer award.

“Given the level of enthusiasm expressed by students, I anticipate that interest in the program will continue to grow considerably,” Sandrin said. “NCUIRE provides practical experience, and that practical experience will prove to be invaluable as our scholars apply to graduate schools and professional programs, as well as compete for jobs.

“Just as important, the scholars are afforded the opportunity to establish lasting and meaningful relationships with their faculty mentors and with other NCUIRE scholars,” added the professor.

For Oklahoma-native Piltz, the NCUIRE opportunity is the perfect complement to her choice to enroll at New College.

“These are the types of opprtunities I hoped for when I chose New College,” she said. “I was attracted to New College and the West campus because of the smaller class sizes, the opportunities for research, and the integration of the honors college and New College.”