By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Tick-borne illnesses. Misinformation and memory. The Russia-Ukraine war’s impact on the global food supply. Post-concussion syndrome. Gender roles and their influence on career choices.
University of Nebraska at Kearney students discussed these topics and many more Thursday during the 25th annual Research Day celebration, a campuswide event that highlights the creative and scholarly work produced by Lopers from all grade levels.
More than 180 undergraduate and graduate students showcased their projects through oral and poster presentations, along with a musical performance and written works, giving faculty, peers and other attendees a chance to ask questions and provide feedback. Numerous awards were also up for grabs.
“Our students work really hard all year and this is an opportunity for them to share that work with the university community,” said biology professor Dawn Simon, director of undergraduate research and creative activity at UNK. “We have some students who just started conducting research and are ready to share their plans or proposals, and there are others who have worked on a project for several years, producing publication-level results. That’s one of the great things about this event, everyone who works on research is able to present and get that experience.”
Austie Kreikemeier, a wildlife biology major from Lincoln, presented the project she’s working on through the Undergraduate Research Fellows (URF) program, which provides a $1,200 annual stipend to participating students. Under the mentorship of associate biology professor Gregory Pec, she’s studying redroot pigweed and its impact on corn production.
“It’s a big problem in Nebraska,” said Kreikemeier, who comes from a farming family. “My grandpa deals with pigweed all the time and he’s always complaining about it. We want to try to stop it, but below the ground.”
To better understand how this invasive weed affects agricultural land, Kreikemeier and Pec used a growth chamber to raise corn in three different types of dirt – regular potting soil, a field soil that hadn’t been touched by redroot pigweed and another that had.
The results were surprising, with the pigweed-conditioned soil producing slightly better crops than the native field. However, that data might be misleading.
Kreikemeier plans to move the experiment out of the lab and into an agricultural setting. With more space available, she can test the corn at a later growing stage, which could impact the results.
“As it gets bigger, the corn is going to need more nitrogen, and the pigweed is also going to need nitrogen, so they’re going to be competing with each other,” she said.
The UNK junior plans to present her research at professional conferences in the future.
“In my field, if you don’t get started with research early on, then you’re not going to be able to meet people and make those connections,” Kreikemeier said. “I wanted to start getting my hands in the dirt – literally. The classes here are great, but research allows you to actually do the work and see the results. I’m learning about a whole new side of science.”
With encouragement from her professors in the Department of Political Science, Macy Bryant joined the URF program this semester and quickly discovered it’s “actually really fun.”
“You meet a lot of people and you get to take a more in-depth look at a topic you’re interested in,” she said. “It’s really valuable for me to deepen my research skills, especially since I want to go to law school.”
The freshman from Fremont is researching human trafficking with assistance from political science professor Chuck Rowling.
According to the International Labour Organization, approximately 27 million people were in forced labor at any given time during 2021. It’s an issue that extends across the globe and into Nebraska.
“People think Nebraska is immune from it, but we’re not,” said Bryant, identifying Interstate 80 as a “hub” for human trafficking.
She plans to study various aspects of human trafficking in an effort to combat the problem. The next step is a survey of UNK students to determine how much they know and understand.
“There’s little to no data or statistics about the public’s awareness of human trafficking, and that’s really scary to me,” Bryant said. “It’s such a clandestine crime, it’s so hidden, and a lot of victims don’t say anything because they’re scared or threatened. My goal is to raise awareness and tell people it’s a real thing that’s happening right under our noses.”
A double major in political science and Spanish, Bryant sees a direct connection between her research and her future career as an attorney.
“I can definitely be an advocate for those victims and help them get out of that situation,” she said.
Simon believes undergraduate research is beneficial for any student, no matter what profession they choose.
“I think research is for everyone,” the UNK faculty member said. “The skills you learn during research translate to your whole life – critical thinking, problem-solving, developing curiosity, attention to detail and learning how to communicate with a wide variety of audiences. Those are things that are important for anybody.”
So proud of Miranda Niemeyer today!! A most brilliant student colleague! Miranda gave an amazing presentation on the history of HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness in Nebraska for @UNKearney Student Research Day. @UNKHistory @cas_unk pic.twitter.com/ezzba4bSlA
— David Vail ⛰️ 🌾☕️🤘 (@DavidVailPhD) April 13, 2023