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Why Undergraduate Research Really Matters...

2017 NAMS Top Paper Award

[Written by Ashley Neese, Diverse Student Scholar for 7 Semesters]

As I near graduation, I am entering a time of reflection on my past four years in higher education. One of the biggest questions people ask me about my time at UCO is, “what was your favorite thing about college?”

There are many ways to answer this question, whether it is the friends I’ve made, the wisdom passed on to me from my professors or the professional growth I have experienced, particularly in my last two years. All of these things culminate in one experience: Diverse Student Scholars.

It has been an honor to participate in Diverse Student Scholars alongside other students that value hard work and academic curiosity. We all started at the same point, knowing

relatively nothing about undergraduate research, and yet we have all supported and encouraged each other to push our boundaries and learn more every day. Teamwork is essential to our group and each person adds value and thought to each project.

Even if students are able to participate in a team like ours, most do not get to work closely with professor for more than one semester, if at all. For all of the DSS students, Dr. Sims invests in each of us, personally and professionally, with her time, guidance and resources. She creates an environment that fosters growth and allows each of us to exceed expectations.

These qualities carry over into our professional lives, impacting each student far beyond their time in the Diverse Student Scholars program. I have learned how to present to intimidating audiences, seek out reputable information and create an entire research project, from ideation and publication. My experience as a research assistant gave me the opportunity to travel to incredible places, become an independent scholar and gain confidence in my own abilities as a student and professional.

Undergraduate research is far more than just an item on a vita or an extracurricular activity, but an investment in the lives of students that impacts and transforms them for years to come.

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