UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On April 25, 11 undergraduate students representing Penn State campuses throughout Pennsylvania presented their research to an audience of legislators at the Undergraduate Research at the Capitol—Pennsylvania (URC-PA) conference.
Now in its 15th year, the poster conference offers students from colleges and universities across the Commonwealth the unique opportunity to present their research findings directly to policymakers and their staffs, allowing them to convey their passion for ideas that could ultimately benefit both the people of Pennsylvania and the world.
“Allowing students to participate in authentic research engages their intellectual curiosity, promotes their critical thinking, gives them an outlet for their creativity, and connects them with the realities and challenges of our time," said Jackie McLaughlin, associate professor of biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
“Research also helps shape students into the STEAM professionals, creative minds, and artistically talented individuals that enrich our society through their accomplishments, be it now or in their future," she continued. "Our state legislators need to appreciate that undergraduate research benefits both students and our society."
“Allowing students to participate in authentic research engages their intellectual curiosity, promotes their critical thinking, gives them an outlet for their creativity, and connects them with the realities and challenges of our time."
— Jackie McLaughlin, associate professor of biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley
McLaughlin helped to recruit students from across the Commonwealth to participate in the event and secured the 2017 keynote speaker, Jim Tartaglia.
Tartaglia is the global vice president of global vaccines research and development at the Swiftwater, Pennsylvania-based company, Sanofi Pasteur. In his speech, Tartaglia reflected on his career that began in Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in biology from Bucknell University, before completing a doctorate from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Albany Medical College. He highlighted the current inter-dependence of different fields to address science and how it has brought on a convergence of technologies.
“We now work in global, multi-disciplinary teams," said Tartaglia. "The old idea of a scientist working independently is no longer the case. Science is not done in isolation.”
An inventor on over 20 patents relating to recombinant vaccines, Tartaglia has been involved in the licensure of several vaccines in the human and veterinary fields and was a key figure in the HIV Thai trial, RV144, which led to the first demonstration that a vaccine regimen can reduce the risk of acquisition of HIV infection. Speaking from experience, he concluded by encouraging students to "be passionate about your research, be bold, and most importantly, allow yourself to be human, and do expect to develop a few scars along the way.”
“Be passionate about your research, be bold, and most importantly, allow yourself to be human, and do expect to develop a few scars along the way.”
— Jim Tartaglia, global vice president of global vaccines research and development at Sanofi Pasteur
Held in the State Capitol Building’s East Wing Rotunda, students spent the remainder of the day discussing their research with event attendees, including peers, higher education faculty, and state legislators. Many students had the opportunity to meet with legislators from their home district.
Penn State senior Nathan Larkin, a communication arts and sciences and economics double major, said, "Public policy formation should be based on sound research. It's important for legislators to know what's going on in the research community so they can both support it and be supported by it.
"It was exciting to discuss my research with elected officials," he added, "especially since my research focuses on making our democracy more deliberative.”
A Scholar in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, Larkin stated, “The opportunity to write a senior honors thesis that contains original research is unique. There are few institutions in the country that would afford an undergraduate the ability to design and execute an original experiment on as large a scale as mine was. My entire research experience has given me the confidence to pursue further education after graduation.” Larkin plans to pursue a career in government and politics and will be attending law school this fall.
Penn State senior and psychology major Savannah Nassar added, “Having multiple opportunities to conduct and present research has had nothing but positive benefits on my academic career, as well as my personal life. It makes me feel as though I am a productive member in the field of psychology and the opportunity to present research at conferences is a great way to grow one's professionalism and confidence.” Currently a student at Penn State Fayette, Nassar will continue her studies at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, in the Master of Arts program in applied clinical psychology this fall.
Alan Rieck, assistant vice president and assistant dean for undergraduate education, facilitates a variety of research opportunities for undergraduates at Penn State. “A goal of my office is to create and support a culture of undergraduate inquiry,” said Rieck. “It is our hope that Penn State students in all disciplines will come to know and appreciate the process of being curious, asking questions, finding answers, sharing those answers, and return to ask more questions."
“It is our hope that Penn State students in all disciplines will come to know and appreciate the process of being curious, asking questions, finding answers, sharing those answers, and return to ask more questions.”
— Alan Rieck, assistant vice president and assistant dean for undergraduate education
“Within every college at University Park and on every Penn State campus that serves undergraduate students, including World Campus, there are dynamic opportunities for students to partner with faculty in their research, propose and conduct their own research under the supervision and mentorship of world-class researchers, or pursue projects that are connected to local corporations or businesses,” continued Rieck. “As a result, Penn State undergraduate students regularly have the privilege of not just attending significant professional and scholarly conferences and conventions, but to present their research at high-profile events like Research at the Capitol.”
Click here for a full list of Penn State students who presented their research at the Capitol.
The Office of Undergraduate Education at Penn State is responsible for the coordination and selection process for students attending URC-PA and administers the University’s Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.
Beth Kocher Gormley
Director of Communications, Undergraduate Education