Southeast Missouri State University senior Mareea Gaines of Edwardsville, Illinois, plans to illustrate the global effects of coral bleaching at the annual Student Research Conference April 17-18 in the University Center Ballroom.
Gaines, a psychology major, says the conference is an excellent way to gain research experience and to build her public speaking skills.
She says she hopes her project and presentation will also be informative about what coral bleaching is, why coral reefs are important, and how it will affect marine life and human life.
Coral bleaching occurs when coral is stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, and they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.
“A decline in coral reefs will negatively impact the fishing industry, a major food source for humans,” said Gaines, whose research project was inspired by the BBC’s Blue Planet TV documentary series. “I got more intrigued by marine life and how important it is to preserve it. Coral bleaching is a topic that interests me since I hope to, one day, visit the Great Barrier Reef in the future. However, if coral bleaching continues to be a problem, there may not be many reefs tourists can visit and see firsthand the beauty of marine life.”
Gaines is among more than 136 students who will present 92 research projects at the annual Student Research Conference. The event runs 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on April 17 and 18.
The conference encourages research by undergraduate and graduate students in all academic disciplines and provides a setting to present their work in a professional manner. Research can be independent, part of a course or as a team collaboration.
The conference aligns with the University’s goal to promote a culture that values research and scholarly and creative activity, said Dr. Jim McGill, conference faculty advisor, professor of chemistry and director of Southeast’s Jane Stephens Honors Program.
The conference will feature 15-17-minute oral presentations, poster presentations, and new this year, a Senior Capstone Symposium and four roundtable discussion sessions. The symposium will feature presentations by students who have completed senior-level capstone research experiences such as HN499 Honors Research, Academic Distinction in the Department of the Major, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) seminar, and the McNair Scholars Program.
“These culminating experiences typically integrate and apply learning across multiple topics, subjects or disciplines,” McGill said. “The roundtable discussions will feature community, faculty and student panelists, and will cover four topics, including entrepreneurship, mental health, research and sustainability.”
Also new to the conference this year, professionally printed hanging posters will be displayed at the poster sessions.
“Professionally printed 36-inch-by 48-inch posters create a more authentic professional conference experience, and they can be taken to external professional conferences to present as well,” McGill said.
Randi Spiker, a junior psychology major with a minor in family studies from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is participating in the conference to learn and gain new experiences in her career-field and hone her presentation skills.
“I am hoping to attend graduate school after completing my degree at Southeast, and participating in the conference makes a great addition to my resume, as well as gives me real-life experience in research and presentation within my field,” Spiker said. “I think any experience can be good if you learn something from it, so I am hoping to gain more confidence in my research and presentation skills.”
Spiker will present her research reviewing the psychosocial outcomes for children adopted into LGBTQ+ families.
She says her research was about focusing on the facts.
“I hope others will take the time to review the findings for themselves, even if those results do not support their personal opinions. It is very easy to choose to never examine or challenge our own beliefs, but I also think that kind of self-introspection is a necessary component of critical thinking,” she said. “The biggest challenge I faced was maintaining an objective position while reading some of the source material. Social science topics require researchers to acknowledge and give equal attention to all aspects of an issue, including attitudes and ideas, but without allowing them to dictate or direct our studies and findings.”
To provide transparency and support for their research, student participants and their faculty mentors were provided a Participant Guide, a judging rubric for presentations, and enhanced website content, structure and resources.
“The Participant Guide and website provided step-by-step instructions and resources to help students prepare for a successful conference experience, and the actual rubric that will be used by the judges to evaluate presentations is provided to participants to guide them in preparing their presentations,” McGill said.
The conference is foremost an opportunity to recognize excellence and celebrate student success, added McGill.
“Every student who presents at the Student Research Conference this year is eligible to win an award in his or her respective category, and all students will receive feedback on their presentations, whether they win an award or not,” he said.
Cash prizes will be awarded for first-, second- and third-place presenters in each category, totaling 15 between undergraduate- and graduate-level research. A multidisciplinary group of faculty judges have been recruited and trained to ensure diverse, fair judging and useful feedback for students. Additionally, faculty mentors whose student presenters win first place in their division will receive a faculty mentor recognition award; and all participants and volunteers will receive recognition certificates and conference T-shirts.
This year’s keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Jennifer Ohs, associate professor and graduate program coordinator in the Department of Communication at Saint Louis University, on Wednesday, April 17, at noon in the University Center Ballroom A.