CURO Symposium on undergraduate research set for April 11-12

Athens, Ga. ֖ More than 150 undergraduate research presentations will be made by students from the University of Georgia and other state universities at the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium on April 11-12 at UGA’s Tate Student Center. Poster sessions and a student exhibition of performing and visual arts also will be featured during the two-day event, which is free and open to the public.

As an integral part of UGA’s Honors Program, CURO participants explore research topics with faculty through one-on-one mentoring relationships. Since 2000, the symposium has been an outlet for these students to share their projects with the wider community. The symposium has grown to include student presenters from other Georgia institutions.

“Having CURO, which is not limited to Honors students, housed in the Honors Program allows a wide range of UGA students and faculty the opportunity to share in multigenerational research, forging a true community of scholarship,” said David Williams, director of the Honors Program. “The fact that other Georgia universities, such as Emory and the Medical College of Georgia, also participate raises the bar for undergraduate research in the state.”

Sue Wessler, Distinguished Research Professor of Plant Biology, will give the keynote address, “Transposable Elements: Teaching Old Genomes New Tricks,” on April 11 at 4 p.m. in Georgia Hall. She has spent her entire academic career at UGA and has received the Creative Research Medal and the Lamar Dodd Award, two of UGA’s most prestigious research awards, for her contributions to gene and genome evolution. Wessler has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1998 and was elected Councilor of the Academy in 2004.

Wessler believes graduate researchers and postdoctoral fellows also should receive credit for mentoring undergraduates, especially those studying the life sciences. “Preparing my graduate students and postdoctoral associates for jobs in the real world is the most important thing I do,” said Wessler. “Because part of their training involves teaching others, as they will do in future academic or industry careers, I try to provide guidance and support as they interact with undergraduates in the lab settings. These experiences often become a prominent feature of my letters of recommendation when they apply for jobs.”

Similar recommendation letters will become important for undergraduates like Josef Broder II,
a third-year mathematics major, who has been working on bioinformatics research, using statistical methods to analyze biological imaging data with Andrew Sornborger, a mathemics and engineering professor. “My research experience at UGA has increased the rigor of my undergraduate education and prepared me for graduate school and a career in mathematics,” he said.

The CURO symposium will not be the only venue for Broder to present his poster, since he was chosen for the $500 Karen A. Holbrook Academic Support Award. Holbrook, former UGA provost and current president of The Ohio State University, started the award last year to fund conference travel expenses for a CURO undergraduate researcher in the biomedical sciences.

Caelin Cubenas, a second-year biochemistry major who is involved in CURO’s apprenticeship program, also will give a poster presentation on her project, involving abnormal protein accumulations found in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. “It is easy to get caught up in the protocols of experiments and to forget to ask why they work,” said Cubenas, who has been mentored by Marcus Fechheimer and Ruth Furukawa in cellular biology. “To do a poster presentation, you have to truly understand why you are completing the various lab tasks and learn the scientific concepts behind the experiments so that you can teach it to someone else.”

The symposium includes the presentation of artwork at the Tate Student Center Gallery. Faith Ploener, a senior photography major, and Lauren Domenick, a senior Romance languages and studio art major, will be among those giving gallery talks on their works on April 11 at 7 p.m. One of Ploener’s color photographs was chosen for the cover of the symposium’s book of abstracts.

“Undergraduate research has provided me with the opportunity to explore a very specific area of personal interest in more depth,” said Domenick, whose artwork, The Artist in Cuba, emphasizes the social role of the Cuban artist from the perspective of U.S. artists.

An awards ceremony will be held on April 12 at 4:30 p.m. in Georgia Hall. Awards will be presented for best papers in various disciplines and the Joshua Laerm Undergraduate Award will be given by the Georgia Museum of Art. UGA’s Graduate School also will recognize their students with graduate assistant awards for their efforts in helping to organize the symposium.

Two professors, Sidney Kushner in genetics and Gary Barrett in ecology, will be recognized for their outstanding efforts in encouraging undergraduate student scholarship at UGA. Former students of both professors sent letters of support as part of the nomination process.

Cori Bargmann, a well-known neurobiologist with The Rockefeller University, praised Kushner’s efforts: “He created the best possible world for a student to find and explore that love of science. Sidney treated me as a serious scientist, even as an undergraduate.”

UGA alum Michelle Williams, who works at the Discovery Channel as a production coordinator, had similar praise for Barrett: “I am lucky to pursue a career that I am extremely excited about. I have been interested in wildlife filmmaking since middle school, but participating in research with Dr. Barrett made me realize that my true passion is ecology.”

“CURO is about giving undergraduates the opportunity to learn and study outside the traditional classroom environment,” said Pamela Kleiber, CURO coordinator and associate director of the Honors Program. “The faculty mentors and graduate students who guide these undergraduates through the research process not only provide the necessary support, but allow the students to explore their own ideas and contribute to their respective fields.”

Sponsors for the 2005 symposium include the UGA Honors Program, the UGA Research Foundation, the local chapter of the Association for Women in Science and the local chapter of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Corporate sponsorships include longtime sponsor Noramco, Inc., VWR International, Thermo Electron Corporation, Agilent Technologies and Beckman Coulter. Several UGA colleges provided technological support for the symposium.

For more information on the 2005 CURO Symposium, visit