PURC symposium sets new record for student presentations

Left to right: Dr. Maria Pereira, Connor Chessick, and Dr. Maria Santisteban
Left to right: Dr. Maria Pereira, Connor Chessick, and Dr. Maria Santisteban

As promised, the 18th Annual Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) Symposium was a “campus-wide celebration of undergraduate research and creativity.” Indeed, it was the largest event in the symposium’s history – 130 presentations from 18 different departments, toppling last year’s record of 90 presentations. The symposium hosted a wide swath of topics in the arts, humanities, and sciences. 

Keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Gerz-Escandon (Associate Vice President for Academic Programs & Research of the UNC System) underscored the importance of research opportunities and programming in fostering career success. The PURC Center is surely at the forefront of these efforts. In the 2023-2024 academic year alone, the center supported research and creative activities through 17 student fellowships and by way of travel grants for nearly three dozen conferences. 

Scores of people from across campus attended the PURC symposium in the Livermore Library, where rows of posters and art exhibits were proudly displayed (see photo gallery below). Chancellor Robin Cummings made the rounds, talking with many students and posing for photos. Several of the 67 faculty who mentored student works were also present. Kudos go to Prof. Brandon Sanderson (PURC Director), who not only mentored multiple students in creative works, but also recruited presenters, helping drive this year’s record number. 

Connor Chessick -- one of nearly 40 Biology students who presented posters -- shared his reflections. “I have not attended many conferences, but PURC was amazing. The poster symposium helped me learn a lot, not just what to do on my next poster, but spark ideas for future projects I might work on.” Striking was the prevalence of students who presented multiple posters. Connor had two posters: "The Effects of Stocking Density using Blue Tilapia on Survivorship, Growth Rates, and Water Quality" and "Genome Annotation of the CNP gene in Drosophila subobscura." When asked if he had any advice for students who might want to do research, Connor responded, “You will learn so much not only about what you are researching but about yourself and what you want to do after you graduate!” He also added, “I enjoyed everything the symposium had. It was great!”

Lillian ("Luca") Matthews (Biology) offered another perspective. “This was my second time presenting at PURC, and I was also presenting two semi-related posters. Presenting at PURC vs at other conferences each have their own pros and cons. At PURC, you are more likely to know the background of the person you are talking to so you can aim your spiel to their background, but at outside conferences you must have a general rundown that could be understandable to anyone. I really recommend taking every opportunity to present, give yourself a basic guideline of what to talk to, and adapt. As you continue presenting at the same conference, you get more comfortable conversing with the people you are presenting to. It makes it feel less like throwing words at an audience.”

The afternoon session was filled with poetry recitations, lively musical performances, and awards. Former long-time Chemistry professor Dr. Timothy Ritter spoke briefly before the endowed research scholarship, which he and his wife Marie established, was presented to undergraduate student MyKayla Greene. Six students were recognized as recipients of the Dr. Charles Humphrey Undergraduate Conference Travel Award: Daniel Henry, Julian Locklear, Kai Anderson, Brett Sasser, Rachal Davis, and Tiffani Roberts. Both recipients of the distinguished PURC Undergraduate Research and Creativity Mentoring Award – Drs. Amber Rock (Assistant Professor in Biology) and Haitao Zhao (Assistant Professor in Computer Science) – addressed the audience. Provost Diane Prusank closed the ceremony by sharing a glimpse of her own early research experiences while applauding and encouraging student works.

Thanks go to Dr. John O'Dell for providing photos of Chancellor Robin Cummings with students