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UNCP students put their research, passion on display


Their research topics varied from zombies to hard science, but the one thing the student-researchers had in common is passion for their work.

Welcome to UNC Pembroke’s 6th annual Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) Symposium on April 20. The 6th edition of the symposium, sponsored by Progress Energy, had the most entries ever with 98 submissions from 107 students. The posters represented 18 academic disciplines and 46 faculty mentors.

PURC's mission is to promote research skills among undergraduates, and the symposium in the University Center Annex was an opportunity for students to display all they have learned.

The skill to conduct research and ability to present are critical to the academic experience, explained associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Liz Normandy in her welcoming remarks. “Research contributes to the enhancement and dissemination of knowledge,” she said.

PURC allows the students flexibility to conduct research on whatever captures their interest, so students could be creative and could look backward or forward when choosing a topic. Some presented their studies of the psychological and cultural causes and effects of World War II, while another recreated illuminations in the mode of an 11th-century scribe, and one conducted hands-on study of the process of bookmaking. Still others looked to current issues in pedagogy and service learning as subjects of study.

“This is very, very impressive,” said Dr. Lee Phillips, coordinator of the event. “This is a critical piece of the education process.”

Dr. Phillips described the PURC mission and noted some of its incentives, such as nine scholarships, 40 travel grants and prizes for the best research posters. The symposium also featured presentations on graduate school and keynote speaker Thurston Briscoe, an executive with New York’s WBGO jazz radio station and a former National Public Radio producer.

“What would happen if you made a really good video of your research project and it went viral?” Briscoe asked. “Think about using new technology to share your work. Social media is sharing; take it to the next level.”

Briscoe urged the students to merge old school skills, like reading and writing, with new media. “Technology is not just for social media; do it as a means of sharing your academic work,” he said.

The inspired work of the PURC participants extended beyond routine academics, though, and seemed to become personal campaigns to understand their subject intimately. 

Two students, working independently, investigated different aspects of World War II. One focused on the results of war in the European theater as recorded in literature; the other looked into the cultural forces that led up to the war in the Pacific.           

Amelia Philbrook explored a historical phenomenon through her personal experience and in Sherman Alexie’s short story “The Sin Readers” and Cynthia Ozick’s work  “The Shawl.”

“I was born in Germany at the end of the Cold War, and it seemed to me like the Holocaust happened so long ago,” she said. “As children, we wondered why there were so many memorials and so many pilgrimages to these historic sites. I studied the personal apocalypse of the authors.”

Lonnie Cox, on the other hand, read multiple primary and secondary sources for more than a year to understand how elements of Japanese and American culture instigated the war between the U.S. and Japan.

“My research is about Japanese spiritualism and American exceptionalism,” Cox said. “I studied how these driving forces manifested themselves in leaders of both nations leading up to war.” Although his research started as a class project, he hopes to continue his research in graduate school.

While some students’ work required looking back into history, several of the projects focused on finding solutions to current problems.

A group of five students collaborated on a project on civic engagement. “We did our project on how to build a mentoring program for at-risk youth” said Ashley Lowery.

“We did leadership projects on teen life by mentoring students at Lumberton Junior High School on life skills at Pembroke Housing Authority, reading parties for elementary school children, and we collected food and clothing for distribution,” said Shelby Newsom.

“Then we built a website so others can do it themselves,” added team member Chaqulla Woods.

Caroline Register is studying to be an elementary school teacher, and her research focused on the value of group work. “I did a survey of 20 classmates about their feelings on face-to-face teamwork verses online teamwork,” she said. “Approximately 40 percent said they preferred teamwork online. About half said they wanted to be graded individually on their teamwork.”

Patricia Taylor’s inspiration is grammar. “Yes, I am a grammar fanatic,” she said. Taylor works as a tutor at the University Writing Center. “I taught a section on grammar in the Summer Bridge program for kids whose skills need improvement to get into college.

“We tracked their results on a standardized test, and 25 of 39 showed improvement,” Taylor continued.

Then, in the spirit of a true researcher, Taylor explained, “We’re going to do it again this summer to see if we get the same results. This program needs a longitudinal study to validate the results.”

Student research is made possible through the mentorship of faculty. Dr. Phillips thanked the PURC Faculty Council including Dr. Ryan Anderson, Dr. Anthony Curtis, Hal Davis, Tulla Lightfoot, Dr. Jesse Peters, Dr. Robert Poage and Dr. Meredith Storms.

For more information about the symposium or PURC, please contact them at 910.521.6195 or email