Women enroll at Utah Valley University (UVU) at higher rates than the national average. They also drop out at higher rates than the national average.
Since January, UVU undergraduate students Alyssa Jensen, Elizabeht Hansen, Alexis Stallings, and Wendy Covington have been exploring why. They want to know what women are experiencing on campus, and figure out what the school can do to reverse the trend.
On Friday, April 12, they came to Indianapolis from Orem, Utah, to present their preliminary findings at Butler University’s 31st Undergraduate Research Conference (URC). The UVU contingent—four students and two faculty sponsors—were among the more than 100 people who came from out of state to present at the conference.
“We wanted to gain some experience as undergrad researchers to present, and Butler seemed like an ideal situation to portray our research, and express our ideas in a setting where people may not be familiar with the research that we’re doing,” UVU student Alyssa Jensen says.
URC participants came from as far as California and Florida, New York and Colorado. Though the majority of the presenters were from Indiana—and 356 of the 824 were Butler students—23 states were represented.
The UVU project came about when Dr. Stevie Munz, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, and Assistant Professor of Communication Dr. Jessica Pauly received a grant from the university to study women’s experiences on campus. Once they assembled the research team, they started looking for undergraduate research conferences where the students could present.
“This conference is one that’s really well respected, so we said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s present this,'” Munz says. “So that’s what brought us all the way from Utah to Indiana. Actually, there aren’t that many undergraduate research conferences that service all the disciplines, so it was a nice fit for us because our project does cross quite a few intersections of education, identity, religion, family life, home life. So we thought we’d be a really good fit for this conference.”
Colorado College student Naomi Tsai came to the URC from Colorado Springs. Her research came from a much greater distance—the Red Sea. She studied coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba to determine why they are better able than coral reefs elsewhere to withstand rising temperatures.
She decided to undertake a thesis as part of her degree, and that requires presenting at a conference. She researched conferences, and found the URC.
“I feel like it’s a very supportive group of people,” she said after her 15-minute presentation in Gallahue Hall. “I don’t think I’ve ever presented in a format like this, and it’s really nice to be surrounded mostly by your peers and people who are interested in your research.”
Dr. J.C. Blewitt, an Assistant Professor of Management in the School of Business at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was in the audience when one of his students, Rebecca Kinzinger, presented her research showing that millennials going to work at accounting firms want their employers to be active in promoting social entrepreneurship. That is, part of the companies’ mission should be to use their professional skills to make a large-scale difference in the world.
Blewitt says it’s vital for students planning to go to graduate school to get experience presenting their research at conferences.
“I think a lot of times research conferences can be terrifying,” he says. “This conference is a wonderful stepping stone for students to get some exposure, and feel confident, and get some constructive but overall pretty positive feedback from other students and faculty.”
Blewitt brought one student to the URC in 2018 and found it “so well run” that he brought two students this year.
“And next year,” he says, “maybe three.”