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Research Opportunities for Undergrads: BYU ME Students present at UCUR


In a massive show of cougar pride, BYU students made up nearly a third of all presenters at the Utah Conference of Undergraduate Research (UCUR) this February. The conference—which allows undergraduates from all disciplines and across all colleges and universities in Utah to present their research to members of the community—is an annual event BYU is always excited to attend.

Of the 225 BYU presentations, 40 represented BYU Mechanical Engineering. Ranging in experience from freshman new to college life to seniors polishing their final projects, our engineers were enthusiastic to share their hard work with the world.

Those who attended UCUR can attest that it provides an incredible opportunity to practice presenting research and networking. “UCUR gave me the opportunity to synthesize my research findings and share it with others, which gave my work new meaning,” explained ME undergrad Kalani Brubaker. “It was great to get exposed to the mechanics of research conferences so that I can be better prepared for future opportunities.”

Several other students also commented on how UCUR was a safe space to learn to present research. “It's one thing to work on a research project alone in the lab,” stated Grant Ogilvie, a former UCUR student presenter, “But it's another to try to explain your research to somebody who might not have the same academic background, and I think UCUR is a great opportunity to start doing that.”

Another student, Aldo Chipana, added: “This serves as a stepping-stone for future presentations at any national or international conference that you may present at, which was my case. Presenting at UCUR really takes those nerves away.”

BYU’s emphasis on undergraduate education is one of the many things that makes our university unique. The BYU ME department in particular places special focus on involving undergraduates in research. 15 ME faculty members sponsored at least one UCUR submission, some overseeing as many as four or five students. The dedicated efforts of our faculty and students were particularly evident at UCUR: 6% of all student presenters at UCUR (across all schools and disciplines) were BYU Mechanical Engineering students.

Trevor Carter, a Pre-Mechanical Engineering student working for the BYU Compliant Mechanisms Research lab, reflected on his experience: “I had no idea so much research was going on with undergraduates before I went to UCUR! It’s inspiring to know that there are plenty of ways I can contribute to science right now, not just some day in the future.”

And yet, providing opportunities for students and connecting non-engineers to undergraduate research are only a few of the benefits of sending students to undergraduate conferences. “Going to UCUR is so meaningful to me because I get to grow my knowledge and share it with others,” claimed Lais Oliveria. “It is also so meaningful that I get to go and be an example of a Latina woman in STEM. I hope me being there can reassure the young girls who have considered going into a STEM field that they can definitely do it.” Oliveria wasn’t the only undergraduate proudly breaking the stereotype barrier-- a little less than 40% of BYU ME presenters were female.

The range of topics covered by our ME presenters was impressive as well. Students discussed everything from jumping robots to breast cancer ultrasounds to microfluidics to stalks of corn. Presentations like “A portable device for measuring Achilles tendon stresses in dancers” and “Surrogate Folds in Gossamer Satellites” covered only a fraction of the work BYU undergraduates are doing as research assistants in mechanical engineering labs.

UCUR isn’t solely attended by student presenters and faculty. Field specialists, high school classes, and curious members of the community all come to see the work that Utah undergraduates are doing. The ME department’s significant participation in this unique conference provides students with important exposure and allows the public a chance to connect with the work being done in our labs.

“Participating in UCUR was a wonderful experience and I am so happy that I get to be a part of it,” concluded Oliveria. Opportunities like this conference are central to the goals of the BYU ME program, providing experiences that develop independent, creative graduates who will become leaders in the field.

To everyone who participated, congratulations on a job well done.