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Undergraduate Research: Where Deep Learning Occurs

From research on how DNA “unzips” to the study of a new multidisciplinary approach to a medical treatment, about 50 undergraduate research projects conducted by students in the UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will be presented at a symposium on Saturday, April 29 from 1-4:30 p.m. in the Biochemistry Annex”s atrium. The public is invited.

“The symposium gives students who have done creative and interesting work a chance to show off what they”ve done,” says Robert Ray, the College”s assistant dean of academic student affairs. “Students who participate in undergraduate research are getting an education they can”t get any other way. Research is where deep learning occurs.”

This year”s symposium will feature original works by students majoring in biochemistry, genetics, biology, landscape architecture, horticulture, food science and agricultural journalism. Some will summarize their projects in posters, while others will show PowerPoint presentations. All are products of collaboration between UW-Madison faculty and students.

“From the time students arrive on campus, we encourage them to get involved outside of the classroom. It is important for students to deepen their experience on campus by interacting with faculty,” says Ray.

These projects require individual initiative. Students must find a faculty member willing to serve as a mentor as they develop and execute their project.

The overall experience, says Ray, is invaluable. “Students learn that new knowledge is not easy to come by. They learn critical analysis. They learn how to learn.”

Meghan Furlong of Two Rivers, Wis. will be at the symposium to describe her efforts to develop a model of immune suppression in cancer patients. “We want to be able to mimic a cancer patient”s immune system [in the lab] and then test potential treatments.”

A pre-med student majoring in biology, Furlong has spent two years working on this project under the guidance of Paul Sondel, a professor of human oncology at the UW-Madison medical school. Furlong hopes her efforts may one day help cancer patients, although her project represents very early-stage research towards this goal. Josh Langham, a landscape architecture major from Clayton, Wis., designed an urban redevelopment plan for Parmenter Street in Middleton. The area includes an old section of Highway 12 that was abandoned in 2003 when a nearby bypass opened. He was guided by Sue Thering and Sean Kelley, professors of landscape architecture.

“The plan is a vision for the next 50 years. It shows how this area can become more cohesive,” says Langham, who based his recommendations on architecture”s new urbanism movement, which promotes sustainability, a tight-knit sense of community, alternative transportation and connections to green spaces.

Langham worked closely with the City of Middleton on the project, and will present his recommendations to the city”s planning commission in the next few weeks. “It was a good experience to work with a real client. It was very different than the projects I did for classes,” says Langham. “This project gave me a good indication of what will happen in the real world.”