Engaging Students Key to Successful Undergraduate Work

Glennis Nagel

Craig Smith remembers the game well. It was the third game of the season, and he had just been given a starting position as wide receiver with the Loper football team. It was going well.He had just made his first touchdown. Then it happened.He fractured his fibula.While it seemed like a disaster at the time, today Smith considers it to be his “lucky break.”

“If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have had a chance to do all of the things I’ve done,” he said, referring to research he’s conducted with Samuel Lopez and Dr. Greg Brown, both associate professors in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Smith, who is from North Platte, is an exercise science/biology major in the pre-physical therapy program. In high school, he was active in basketball and track.He switched to football his senior year, he said, because he knew he couldn’t continue to play basketball on his damaged ankle.

The fracture to his fibula was the result of repeated injuries to his ankle, which, over time, had caused the muscles in the ankle to atrophy.His first research with Lopez focused on ankle injuries and ways to support the ankle to prevent such injuries. Now, as Smith looks to the future, he wants to do clinical or laboratory research as part of his career.

Lopez and Smith were one of several mentor/mentee pairs who spoke at a panel discussion on Engaging Students Through Undergraduate Research that took place last week in the Nebraskan Student Union. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence.

“We (speaking of research done in his department) kind of follow the biology model,” Lopez said. “We pair students with faculty who can give them direction. Students can do four-hour internships or participate in research or both.” Smith has done both.He took part in the Summer Student Research Program and is currently carrying an internship.

This spring, Smith will be presenting findings of his research with Dr. Brown at meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine. Research he did with Lopez has been accepted for presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

“I was going to apply to physical therapy school after my junior year, but I decided to stay and finish my degree here,” Smith said. Staying and finishing his degree at UNK has made it possible for him to do additional projects. Currently, he is working with the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department carrying out health assessments– checking endurance, strength and body fat.

Based on his findings, he then develops exercise programs for the firemen. Every Monday and Wednesday from 5 – 7 p.m., Smith is at the fire hall where the firemen are carrying out their exercise programs. Smith answers any questions that the firemen have and helps them get the most out of their exercise program.

“I’m supposed to spend 10 hours a week on the project, but it’s definitely taking a lot more,” he said, “but I am enjoying doing it. I want to continue working on techniques in rehabilitation and conditioning, and the different ways to help get people back in shape.”