Students Showcase Research, Engineering Prowess at End-of-Year Events

Mercer students wound down the spring semester on the Macon campus April 16 and 19 with a series of events that showcased their work – most of it done outside of the classroom –exploring everything from poetry to lung morphology, along with an engineering showcase and competition.

To watch a video on these events, go>.

More than 250 students participated in the three events, the Third Annual Engineering Expo, the Fourth Annual Mercer Undergraduate Research Symposium and the inaugural Mercer Undergraduate Research Conference. Families, students, faculty and administrators attended the events to cheer on fellow students and learn about the many subjects the undergraduates were exploring.

“Research is becoming more and more integral to the life experience at Mercer and students begin to engage in research early in their careers here,” said Dr. D. Scott Davis, senior vice provost for research and dean of graduate studies at Mercer. “We have a number of freshmen who participate in research, which is really unheard of when you compare us to larger universities. That faculty-student relationship means so much to ultimately where the student decides to go in terms of a career path – be it graduate school, medical school or into industry. So there are lots of great opportunities for our students and that faculty-student relationship really dictates it all.”

The events at the expo, symposium and conference ranged from the annual School of Engineering Introduction to Engineering Design Competition, featuring teams of first-year students matching robotic vehicles in a variety of exciting and colorful competitions, to poster presentations on research at the symposium, to presentations on topics from art to English to the social sciences at the conference.

Engineering students cheer on their vehicle during a heat of the off-road competition during the First-Year Design Competition of the Engineering Expo.
Engineering students cheer on their vehicle during a heat of the off-road competition during the First-Year Design Competition of the Engineering Expo.

“I really enjoyed today’s conference,” said Ashleigh Murphy, a senior biology major who presented at the research conference and sat in on several other presentations. “It was a rare opportunity to enjoy the research of other students in other disciplines. Even though Mercer is a small school, we rarely get to be exposed to the research done by departments outside of our own so the multidisciplinary talks were a real treat.”

Engineering students who matched their vehicles against each other for the Introduction to Engineering Design Competition came away with knowledge about the engineering process, and a taste for more.

“The biggest part of it is to learn that being an engineer is also fun,” said Dr. Michael Leonard, associate dean of engineering and head of the first-year program. “There’s a lot of sweat, a lot of toil, a lot of tears, but every once in a while there’s a chance to have fun. And that’s really the biggest part of engineering – helping people by coming up with projects and designs that meet people’s needs.”

The students had a great experience at the event, but also took away important lessons for the years ahead, when they will take the process they learn in the first-year design, and apply it to real-world situations, Dr. Leonard said.

“I think it really helped us,” said Eric Rice, a freshman mechanical engineering student. “It was like a real-life situation. We had a client, we had to write a PDR – without the parts. It was realistic and prepared us for the future.”

The Undergraduate Research Symposium featured 49 posters presented by 93 students from 12 departments across the University. The event has a big impact on the students who present their research, building confidence for future academic endeavors, said Dr. Kevin Bucholtz, assistant chemistry professor and the event’s organizer.

“From an educational standpoint, it is very important for them to have this opportunity and the undergraduate research that they are doing is really key in the development of students and their educational progress,” Dr. Bucholtz said. “Many of the people who presented in previous years are now in medical school, M.D.-Ph.D. programs, in Ph.D. programs and a lot of these students go on to do really great things.”

The Mercer Undergraduate Research Conference included 60 presentations by students, across 20 cross-disciplinary sessions. The presentations were arranged under such themes as Overcoming Inequality and Violence, Understanding Patterns in Society, and Economics and Society in the Modern World. The cross-disciplinary approach provided students with a chance to think about the interdisciplinary components of their work, said conference organizer Dr. John T. Scott, a professor of history

“The main thing we wanted to do was give our students – and particularly our best students – an opportunity to showcase the research they have done,” Dr. Scott said. “These students, in some cases, have worked on these projects for more than a year. We’d like to take them to regional and national conferences, but we don’t always the ability to do that, so those who have not had a chance to go away from Mercer to present their research, we wanted them to have a chance to present it here at Mercer.”

In addition to providing practical experience in presentations, the events gave students a chance to come together as an educational community.

“Mercer has always been a community of students – we do stuff together, we go to concerts together,” said Hannah Smith, a senior English major who presented at the research conference. “But now, just for today, I feel like suddenly Mercer is a community of scholars too, people who care about other’s research even if they’ve never read Christina Rossetti, which most people haven’t. So that’s been pretty cool to see the support I get from people from all disciplines.”

Introduction to Engineering Design Competition Honorees


Cable Car
Charles Agnew, Kristin Harripaul, Eric Rice, Alan Westbay
Kimberly Kettelhut, Awab Khan, Elliot Newnham
Will Grey, Gordan Rak, Brian Washington
Hill Climb
Vince Cooley, Jamie Duffy, Jacob Law
Off Road
Gayle Hendricks, Kevin Mosby, Kathryn Safford

Runners Up
Cable Car
Anna Fondren, Derek Munday, Patrick Vande Lune
Alejandro Aponte, Anthony Fratino, Isabel Robinson
Sarah Dewitt, Kerry Hicks, Sean Zaragoza
Hill Climb
Danielle Hesse, Sun Moon, Brian West
Off Road
Amber Fountain, Ryan O’Dell, Christina Vasquez

Fourth Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium Honorees

First Place – Humanities and Social Sciences
Rebecca Wells 
Impact of Social and Behavioral Factors in an African American Church-based Diabetes Prevention Program

First Place – Natural Sciences, Medicine and Engineering
Jason Ryans and Bennett Welch
“Variations in Tracheobronchial Airway Morphology of Patient-Specific Models”
Second Place Overall
Kathryn Doornbos, Erica Henderson and Sajal Patel
“Prevalence and Distribution of the Causative Agent of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Rickettsia rickettsii) in Field-Collected Dermacentor variabilis from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, N.C.”

Third Place Overall
Kassandra A. Knapper and Gordan Rak
“Detection of Bio-available Metals in Industrial Kaolin Samples Using Inductively-coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy”

Undergraduate Research Conference Honorees

First Place – Creative Writing (Tie)
Hannah Smith
Jennifer Smith
“Meteor Showers, Mafiosos, and Zombies:  A Trio of Poems from the Refined to the Reanimated”

First Place – Natural and Social Sciences Division
Rebecca Wells
“Impact of Social and Behavioral Factors in an African American Church-Based Diabetes Prevention Program”

First Place – Humanities and Fine Arts Division
Sajal Patel
“The British Civilizing Mission through Education and Language in 19th Century India

Second Place (tie)
Kara Brown
“Insoluble Borders:  Railroad Travels and the Mulatto Identity”
Ashleigh Murphy
“Sequencing the CHM Chloroplast-Mutator Locus of Arabidopsis Thaliana”

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