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Research Week celebrates students’ academic curiosity, creativity

During Liberty University’s third annual Research Week, graduate and undergraduate students are showcasing the fruits of months of rigorous inquiry and analysis.

More than 120 students from various departments and programs participated in poster and oral presentations, with research topics ranging from the prevalence of fungal pathogens in newts to the implementation of unmanned aircraft in wilderness rescue missions. A new performing arts category was introduced this year.

Research Week is coordinated by Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship (CRS) and held every year to champion the curiosity, creativity, and intellectual pursuits of students across academic fields. Cash prizes are awarded to the top three graduate and top three undergraduate presentations, as evaluated by faculty judges, in 11 presentation categories.

The event kicked off with poster presentations on Monday as more than 50 students gathered in the Jerry Falwell Library to exhibit their work and engage with fellow students and professors.

“Some of my friends came up to see my research, and I think it really sparked a lot of curiosity,” said Jesse Hughes, a senior who researched a local salamander species. “The research itself was fun but being able to make a poster and present your findings allows you to educate a lot of the student body as well.”

Hughes was one of four students who collaborated with Dr. Paul Sattler, a biology professor, to discover the genetic differences in species of salamander found in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Using the amphibians’ tail clippings, students found that an isolated population of salamanders is almost genetically identical to the region’s main population.

“The Department of Biology & Chemistry has always been really dedicated to research, so it was cool to be able to have this experience,” Hughes said. “It’s really important for undergraduate students like us to have, because a lot of graduate students are required to do research.”

On Tuesday, students began presenting oral and PowerPoint presentations. One group of students — Calista-Kern Lyons, Emma Mauer, Jessica Grove, and Kyler Keeley — discussed the effectiveness of drama therapy in treating the disenfranchised and those with mental illness.

Through a CRS Research-Intensive Award, the four travelled to South Carolina in February to participate in drama therapy workshops conducted through the Applied Theatre Center. They experienced firsthand different types of drama therapy, including playback theater with people who are homeless, applied theater with children in juvenile detention, and Bibliodrama — a form of improvisational theater using Bible stories.

“Seeing in person what we were learning and researching made it far more engaging,” Grove said. “We read some books on drama therapy … but getting the award and being able to experience (drama therapy) ourselves helped us tremendously in understanding the topic.”

The Research-Intensive Award is just one of many ways that the CRS assists students financially in their academic endeavors to bolster the research culture on campus. The center also offers faculty professional development awards and student research presentation awards, and oversees the Provost Research Initiative, which supports all Liberty faculty and students in the areas of research and scholarship.

Research Week also promotes Liberty’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a five-year strategic initiative to strengthen the culture of research and scholarship at Liberty.

Oral presentations continue through Thursday. Also on Thursday, graduate students will participate in the inaugural Three-Minute Thesis Competition, organized and hosted by The Graduate School, wherein they will concisely summarize and clearly communicate a well-conceived thesis or dissertation project.

Liberty will host the 2018 Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium (BigSURS) for the first time Friday-Saturday. BigSURS invites undergraduate students from universities in the Big South Conference to present research through posters, presentations, performances, and works of art.

Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, an associate professor and associate director of the Faculty Development Fellowship at the UNC School of Medicine, will give a special Research Week/BigSURS presentation in Liberty’s Center for Music and the Worship Arts Concert Hall on Saturday. Zakrajsek studies effective institutional strategies in regard to student learning.

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