It starts with an interesting question and you go from there, says Dr. Aaron Wong, Associate Professor of Mathematics. Such a mode of thought is befitting for the undergraduate research students are taking advantage of in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at NSC.
NSC students Krystal-Lynn Martinez, Velanie Williams and Carey Breymann carefully page through stacks of biology textbooks. Inspired by the work of Dr. Emily Martin, they investigate the effects of socially constructed gender roles on the language used to describe the relationship between the egg and sperm in reproduction.
Dr. Gwen Sharp, Department Chair of Social Sciences, introduced the students to Dr. Martin's research, which revealed that our notions of the damsel in distress hold influence over how reproduction is explained.
In textbooks, the egg is portrayed as being very passive in the process of reproduction; they are described as simply sitting there waiting for the sperm. This portrays the sperm as being the party getting the job done, says Velanie.
Carey explains in reality, it is actually the egg that plays a much more active role. As soon as the sperm enter, the egg has to send a signal out and the sperm follow that signal to get to the egg. If that signal were not there, the sperm would never find the egg.
Through their research, Krystal-Lynn, Velanie and Carey sought to find if the language describing reproduction has changed since Dr. Martin conducted her research in 1991. At the Pacific Sociological Association Conference in April, they put their findings on display in a poster presentation.
Undergraduate research opportunities are a powerful complement to classroom learning because they allow students to answer many of the questions that they will face throughout their lives, says Nevada State Provost Erika Beck.
She adds, Debates that range from climate change to the use of psychotropic medication all require an understanding of research methodology and appropriate interpretation of data.
With regard to mathematics, NSC students have had the distinction of presenting research at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Washington D.C. Dr. Wong explains, most student research begins with a mathematical question or interesting observation. From there, you can find patterns and try to figure out why they happen, he says. These mathematical problems exist everywhere from video games to traffic lights, juggling and even card tricks.
Dr. Edwin Price, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, closely mentors students studying environmental science as they conduct their undergraduate research. Last year, Several environmental science students developed and worked on a landslide project, which resulted in a poster presentation. Currently, students are researching the origins of the new springs that are near the Henderson entrance of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
The methodology of the students under Dr. Price's tutelage is to approach the research as if it were a real world project, as they create a health and safety plan as well as a sampling and analysis plan. Students then utilize the equipment to measure and then critically analyze the findings. Dr. Price points out these types of research projects enable students to practice techniques and possibly give them a competitive edge as they seek jobs or apply to graduate school.
NSC's undergraduate research affords students the unique opportunity to make their own academic discoveries, while setting them on a path of life-long learning. It's all about being willing to have fun with what interests you, says Dr. Wong.