Symposium provides undergrads a showcase for research, communication skills


By Matthew Carroll

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the last two semesters, undergraduate students across Penn State’s STEM fields joined research groups and conducted hands-on work, part of programs aimed at getting women, first-year students and other students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM their first exposure to research.

Last month, more than 40 of those students gathered virtually for the WISER/MURE/FURP Undergraduate Research Symposium. The event is a chance to share their work with faculty, staff and others outside their fields, through two-minute lightning talks.

“It was a challenge to summarize a year’s worth of research into two minutes to a large audience,” said Marabelle DeLaurentis, a second-year civil and environmental engineering student, who studied electric vehicle infrastructure access in disadvantaged communities with Elizabeth Traut, an assistant research professor in the Larson Transportation Institute.

“But with lots of encouragement and help from my mentor and a lightning talk workshop, I felt ready to overcome my fears,” DeLaurentis said. “Having the symposium and presenting, I felt very proud of what I had done and was amazed to see what my peers have been doing,”

The symposium, now in its fourth year, began as an avenue for students to showcase research they conducted as part of WISER/MURE/FURP (which stands for Women in Science and Engineering Research, Minority Undergraduate Research Experience or First-year Undergraduate Research Program), said Allison Beese, associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering.

Beese developed the symposium, which is funded through her NSF CAREER grant and NASA’s Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium. Erin DiMaggio, assistant research professor of geosciences, manages the WISER/MURE/FURP programs.

“We have these fantastic programs that expose students from underrepresented groups in STEM to research, often for the first time,” Beese said. “But it’s also important that students learn how to tell the story of their research, and to share what they’ve worked so hard on with others, and the symposium provides them with that opportunity.”

Zoe Goldblum, a second-year student studying immunology and infectious disease, conducted research on heavy metal resistance in different strains of Salmonella isolated from wild migratory birds. She said preparing for the symposium allowed her to practice explaining scientific concepts in a way that is understandable for those outside her field while maintaining the integrity of her research.

“The research symposium was a wonderful experience for me,” she said. “When I first learned that we would only have two minutes to effectively communicate two whole semesters of research, I was a bit wary. However, being forced to condense my findings into two minutes for an audience with very diverse scientific backgrounds was very educational.”

Allie Lister, a second-year student studying geography, worked with Roman DiBiase, associate professor of geosciences, and his geomorphology lab to more accurately and quickly map bedrock, which could be a valuable tool for ongoing work in understanding what drives the transition from soil mantled landscapes to bedrock. Lister said the symposium was particularly valuable this year, as students transitioned back from remote learning.

“The symposium was interesting because I got to see what other students in many different disciplines had been working on for the past year,” she said. “COVID made it hard for me to interact with my peers last year, so I didn’t know about many of the research groups on campus.”

Jacob Ian Santos, a second-year student studying in biobehavioral health, worked with Joan Richtsmeier, distinguished professor of anthropology, and her research group studying molar development in embryonic mice that have a genetic disorder called Crouzon syndrome. He said the WISER/MURE/FURP program allowed him to step outside his comfort zone and fulfill his ambition to conduct research.

“The program was extremely beneficial as it opened my eyes to the field of research and scientific discovery,” he said. “Coming into Penn State, I immediately knew I wanted to do research and the WISER/MURE/FURP program gave me the opportunity to do so.”


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations