Twenty years ago, the first student research conference at Southeast Missouri State University consisted of the presentation of eight papers. Research projects were created by students independently of coursework. Participation back then was good for including on a resume, organizers of this year's annual event say, but now the conference serves a much larger purpose for many students.
Researching a topic, writing a paper and presenting findings before a panel of professional judges helps prepare undergraduates for graduate school experiences and graduates for real-world experience, said Christina Gonzales, a student organizer of the conference.
The 20th annual Student Research Conference was held Wednesday and Thursday in the University Center, and Gonzales said between 300 and 400 students who didn't enter projects visited for class credit or personal interest.
A keynote speaker, Dr. Holly Brand of Missouri Baptist University's Psychology Department, talked to students and university faculty and staff about research Wednesday.
"Research is just doing what you love," Brand said. "It's an extension of what you are already interested in."
Brand participated in the conference when she was a student at Southeast. She stayed connected with her professors over the years, like former Southeast psychology professor Dr. Martha Zlokovich.
Zlokovich helped organize the conference while at Southeast and said benefits for students going on to graduate school lie in their professors being able to provide extensive detail in letters of recommendation when a student is going through the application process.
"I can tell someone what they did because I saw them progress while doing research for projects for this," she said.
Students chose subjects for research often from their area of study. Awards were given for best empirical paper, best theoretical paper and best poster. Monetary prizes from Phi Kappa Phi, a sponsor of the conference, accompanied the awards.
Jana Gass, a graduate student, won the award for best empirical paper for a research project she conducted for the Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Gass' project, "JumpStart to Entrepreneurial Success in Southern Missouri," covered the effect of Operation JumpStart on program participants who started small businesses. Her work helped prompt the Delta Regional Authority to grant the center funds to expand the program into more communities earlier this year.
"I had to travel to a lot of businesses, and it did take a lot of time, but it was definitely worth it," Gass said.
She hopes one day to start a business in fashion and retail, and conducting the research made her see how difficult it really can be to start a business, she said.
Around 110 students entered 50 projects in this year's conference.
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