Cultivating Curiosity - Undergrads explore passion for research

Michigan State University is committed to providing undergraduate students with opportunities to explore their passions and develop their curiosities through research.

October 8, 2014

Elizabeth Brajevich

Michigan State University is committed to providing undergraduate students with opportunities to explore their passions and develop their curiosities through research. With access to vast campus resources, there’s almost no limit to the type of research in which students can get involved. Bolstered by faculty dedicated to their development, students are tackling some of the toughest questions in fields from agriculture to particle science and transforming their interests into noteworthy scholarly activity.

“There are so many academic, cognitive and professional benefits that a student can gain by participating in undergraduate research,” says Korine Wawrzynski, MSU’s director of undergraduate research. “Students develop better communication skills through writing and presenting their work and improve their problem-solving abilities by working on questions that don’t always have a right or wrong answer.”

In April, more than 600 undergraduate students from 13 colleges participated in the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) at the MSU Union. This annual event is an opportunity for students to present their research to the university community and learn more about the work of their peers.

The Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences, which was held at the Breslin Student Events Center in the summer, drew nearly 300 students—157 MSU students and 137 visiting students working with MSU faculty—to share their research with the public. The visiting students represented 87 institutions, including seven historically black colleges and universities. While each student researcher’s story is unique, all share the benefits of participation in undergraduate research.

Thanks to their research experience, the following two CANR students and thousands more like them are better prepared to do what Spartans all around the world do best: seek solutions that make life better. To read about other MSU students who participated in the UURAF, visit http://msutoday.msu.edu/feature/2014/cultivating-curiosity/

Larissa:

Larissa Fedoroff didn’t know what she had signed up for when she agreed to be Young-Sook Lee’s research assistant. She only knew it was related to her major and would involve conducting literature reviews. Fedoroff, a recent MSU graduate from Utica, Michigan, majored in interior design with specializations in health promotion and bioethics, humanities and society. After meeting with Lee, assistant professor in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, Fedoroff understood the significance of what she was getting involved in: creating effective workspaces.

''Her project would revolve around innovative entrepreneurs and how the design of their workspace influences their work. Fedoroff committed herself to the project and became a vital part of Lee’s team. During the course of her work, she realized that she could explore the interior design portion of the research on a level that was close to home. Fedoroff started focusing on the attributes of MSU as a workplace and how its work environment compares to others around Michigan. She started looking specifically at “disengage spaces” where employees can take a break from their desks, spend time with coworkers and relax.

A former president of the MSU Interior Design Student Organization, Fedoroff presented a project at the 2014 UURAF. Titled “Cultivating Creativity and Innovation in MSU Employees: Engaging through Disengage Spaces,” her presentation suggested designs for future renovations to improve MSU spaces. By conducting this research, Fedoroff says she gained a greater appreciation for the workplace and how the designed environment can affect employee productivity, noting the importance of creating an environment where employees will want to go to work and participate in productive activities. Fedoroff’s experience paid dividends.

She now applies concepts she learned as an undergraduate researcher in her role as an interior designer at a Greater Detroit-area firm, where her design work focuses on high-end hotels.

 

Elizabeth:

During her first semester at MSU, Elizabeth Brajevich, now a junior in the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment program, read an article about marginalized communities affected by the removal of a dam in their region. The Los Angeles native, who is pursuing a degree in environmental economics and policy, soon learned that 90 percent of Michigan’s dams either need to be repaired or removed in the next 20 years, which will cause many local governments and communities to face the consequences of dam removal in their regions in the future.

Brajevich decided to delve deeper into the issue of how Michigan dams create a positive impact on the numerous local communities that would be affected. She began her research project with the help of Mark Axelrod, a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and James Madison College. With funding from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Brajevich conducted research in four Michigan counties regarding how community opinions could be better incorporated into future dam removal decisions.

She analyzed whether dam ownership affected the political process of its removal by interviewing both stakeholders and decision makers in each community. Brajevich’s research has resulted in an increased understanding of how citizens can be unaware of their ability to influence dam removal decisions. Through her work, she has opened doors to the possibility of improving community-government communications.

This past summer, she worked as a fellow for Coca-Cola’s environmental assessment team, working remotely from Los Angeles as a volunteer with the Angeles National Forest campfire program.

At this year’s UURAF, Brajevich was awarded the Schoenl Grant for Dire Needs Overseas and is using the funds to set up two community swine farming programs in rural Cambodia.

Brajevich says her experience has further affirmed her commitment to a career in environmental education through which she hopes to empower citizens to add their voices to natural resource management issues. 

 

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