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By Jennifer Sterba
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 27, 1997

Program turns undergrads into researchers


Robert Henry Becker
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Cynthia Gentry demonstrates to Maziar Maveddat (right) and Justin Gazard, both biochemistry students, how the Olfactory Epithelium, the cellular tissue that lines the nose, of the African Clawed Frog metamorphoses as tadpoles grow to frogs. Gentry's presentation was part of the eighth annual Undergraduate Biology Research Program conference held Saturday in Life Sciences South. Gentry received her bachelor of science degree in microbiology from the UA in December.

More than 50 students presented a variety of research at the eighth annual Undergraduate Biology Research Program conference Saturday.

Over 200 students, faculty and family walked the halls of Life Sciences South between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Carol Bender, director of UBRP, said the goal of the conference was to encourage undergraduates to apply to UBRP or get involved in research in other departments on campus by exhibiting what their peers were accomplishing.

Students participating in UBRP had the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from other faculty, Bender said.

"The conference provides an endpoint to draw information together and present it in a coherent manner," Bender said.

The conference also provided an environment for undergraduates to possibly be asked to present their research at other professional conferences as well.

The majority of attendees seemed to be other undergraduates interested in learning what their peers were working on and see what opportunities existed for them with UBRP.

Students who presented their work received $25 certificates to the UA Associated Students Bookstore for participating. The certificates were courtesy of UBRP.

Michael Wells, a biochemistry professor, began UBRP in 1988 with only 19 students. As of last semester, there are about 120 undergraduates involved.

"He wanted to teach student science by involving them in research," Bender said.

She added that Wells was dismayed to find few students graduating with bachelor of science degrees were continuing on to graduate school. Most were choosing medical school over possible careers in research.

Bender said the goal is for an undergraduate to eventually have a research project of his or her own design.

"The faculty members are very responsive to the program," she said. "We don't think it's a failure to enter a research project and discover what it's all about."

Students also get paid for their research, Bender added. Half the students' wages come from faculty members' research grants while the other half comes from UBRP itself.

Cynthia Gentry, a participant of UBRP since 1994, presented her research on the changes in the African Clawed frog's sense of smell during metamorphosis, the transition of growth from larva to adult.

Gentry received her bachelor of science degree in microbiology from the UA in December.

Gentry said there are many benefits to undergraduate research.

"The close relationships developed with faculty, sponsors, post-doctorates and graduate students who provide advice career-wise," she said were a big benefit.

Gentry added that there is no better way to learn techniques than by actually doing them in a lab setting.

"There's the cultural experience as well as the research experience," Gentry said, referring to the funding UBRP provided for her research in the Netherlands.

The program provides travel funds for students to present their research at professional conferences as well.

Paul Gause, molecular and cellular biology senior, had the opportunity to present his research on a model for researching possible skin cancer treatments in Bastrop, Texas last semester.

He also did some research in Scotland last summer.

"Getting into research is the best way to learn," Gause said.

"You get a better understanding of how research is done."

Dave and Betty Hunt, Gause's parents, said it is nice there is an organization that gives young people the avenues they need to experience real life situations.

Other benefits Gentry mentioned were field trips, seminars and guest speakers.

Bender added that 546 of past program participants have received bachelor's degrees.

Bender said students interested in participating in UBRP can pick up an application in her office, Life Sciences South Room 527A. Applications are due Feb. 3.

The program is open to any major of any class standing, as long as the student is an undergraduate.

Bender will be giving a presentation on UBRP today at 5 p.m. in Economics Room 110. She said the presentation is open to everyone interested in UBRP.