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SU Undergraduate Research Symposium winners announced

By Nikayla Goddard, December 10 2020—

The 2020 Students’ Union Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) welcomed 48 undergrad students to present their labour of love research projects. The opportunity to showcase their research came with the opportunity to win awards and cash for their hard work over the past year. 

The 15th annual URS was held online due to COVID-19, but that made the symposium more accessible to a wider audience. Participants made five-minute video presentations on YouTube that could be shared with friends, family and the public. A total of 17 different categories for prizes were available, with a total of $23,000 in cash prizes given to participants. Some of the categories included faculty awards, Future Alumni Community Impact Award, Office of the Vice-Provost (Libraries and Cultural Research),The Consent Awareness & Sexual Education Club Award, Office of the President, The GSA Future Innovator award, Office of the Vice-President (Research) and more.

Avrille Aiello won the SU Sustainability Fund, which is given to a student who has focused their research on a sustainability-related topic. She said that she was thrilled to receive the award. Her project examined microfossils from Bukwa, Uganda, a 19 million-year-old fossil locality near the Kenyan-Ugandan border, and how through identifying the types of animals living at Bukwa in the early Miocene, they can recreate the paleoenvironment. Her presentation is available to watch here.

“The fossil assemblage from my study contained only small and/or young fish and reptiles,” she said. “The absence of adult organisms indicates a seasonal shallow pond and a space where baby fish could grow and develop away from large organisms. Results from my study support the dominant hypothesis that Bukwa was a seasonal pond ecosystem surrounded by forested terrestrial vegetation. This contradicts the image of tropical forests that you might think of when contemplating ancient Eastern Africa. This is important to consider in future research when interpreting the adaptive environments of ancient primates.”

Aiello was excited to be able to present her fascinating project at the URS, adding that the online nature of the URS was great to share her project with family and friends, as well as makes scientific research more accessible in general.

“I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in research safely during a global pandemic when so much has been put on hold or cancelled altogether,” she stated. “I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Susanne Cote, for all her help and support during my Independent Study and for providing this research opportunity after all my summer research plans abroad were cancelled due to COVID-19.”

Emily Wang took home the Future Alumni Community Impact Award, sponsored by UCalgary Alumni, for her project Advancing ii’taa’poh’to’p: A Quantitative Comparison of Post-Secondary Indigenous Studies Programs. This award is shaped around the Community Building pillar in Wherever Life Takes You, a progressive plan to engage UCalgary alumni. 

Wang’s project looked at the core attributes and practices within the Indigenous Studies discipline, which she says she “hope[s] can inform program design at U of C and other institutions […] I was so grateful to have my presentation recognized, and for my experience working in the Indigenous Communities and Organizations lab.”

Roshanne Sihota was the winner of the Program in Undergraduate Research (PURE) Award, which is awarded to a student whose presentation demonstrates excellence in research conducted as a PURE project. Her video is available to watch here.

“My research project was about the social implications of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR,” she explained. “More specifically, I was looking at how critical reflection is being used to address some of the social challenges that come with the advancements in gene editing.”

Sihota said that she thinks the URS is a great opportunity to exemplify and promote undergrad research.

“This was my very first time presenting research so the process of putting together a presentation in kind of an ‘elevator pitch’ style was a valuable learning experience for me,” she said. “I didn’t really go into the URS with any expectations, I was more so just looking to gain some presentation experience, so I was honestly really surprised when I won an award, but of course excited. Mostly I was just happy because it made me feel like I got the ‘story’ of my research to resonate with somebody.”

Sihota added that she was “super impressed” by everyone’s presentations, saying “there’s some truly special undergraduate research here at U of C. Also, huge props to the SU for being able to accommodate the URS virtually. Even though things looked a bit different this year it was still an amazing learning experience and I’m grateful to have been able to participate.”

The URS winners are listed on the SU’s website, and URS presentations are available on the SU’s YouTube channel to watch.

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