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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The University of Wisconsin System's Research in the Rotunda event, photographed March 6.

Recycled plastics and cooler cows: Undergrads share their work at Research in the Rotunda

Over 160 undergraduate students from across the state showcased research at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

 The University of Wisconsin System hosted its annual Research in the Rotunda event on March 6, where undergraduate students from across Wisconsin showcased their research to members of the public, Wisconsin state legislators and UW administrators.    

The event, now in its 20th year, brought together undergraduate researchers to showcase their work. 

Many high-level UW administrators, including UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, were in attendance. 

“You just have to walk away feeling a sense of pride and what's happening at University of Wisconsin-Madison and all across our system,” Mnookin said. “And also, feeling hope about the ways our students are contributing to new and important knowledge that will make a difference. I'm so happy to be here and so proud of our students.” 

The event featured six UW-Madison students with research projects including Hmong Perinatal Experiences, public housing and vouchers in the classroom, and using chemical engineering to recycle plastics.  

Trey Standiford, a third-year UW-Madison student studying biological systems engineering, presented research on dairy cattle heat stress. 

“I think it’s really important to share our experiences. I’m really excited about the future of the dairy farm,” Standiford said. “I’m hoping we will be able to arrive at a closed loop system where we can monitor the health of cattle and apply different solutions automatically.”

Ellie Thoma, a senior undergraduate researcher in the Child Emotion Lab, lauded what she said were high-quality educational and research opportunities available at UW-Madison.

Research in the Rotunda Mnookin and Ellie Thoma
Ellie Thoma speaks with Chancellor Mnookin about her research on March 6, 2024.

“I've gotten a really great classroom experience. But to be able to participate in the research, it's honestly a really magical experience to see how cutting edge an R1 institution like UW-Madison is,” Thoma said.

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Several students who attended this event were supported through the Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship, and three told the Cardinal they received amazing faculty support and mentorship. 

Student presenter Sophia Schoenfeld said she got into research after a faculty mentor took a chance on her at CALS Quickstart, a summer program for first-year life sciences students at UW-Madison. 

Schenfeld said it was her gateway into a lab. 

“How I got here is definitely through mentorship and having a support system [in] which people are advocating for you, and for students to be involved in basic science and to take charge of their education and empower them to make discoveries on their own,” Schoenfeld said. 

Getting research funding as an undergraduate student can be difficult, she said, but the process is made easier through faculty mentorship.

“The very big hopes and dreams is that maternal health research can continue to be funded,” Schoenfeld added. “How undergrads are able to do research is through their mentors being supported, that's through funding and research fellowships”. 

Research in the Rotunda Sophia Schoenfeld and Rothman
Sophia Schoenfeld presents her research to UW System president Jay Rothman on March 21, 2024.

Thoma, who presented a project titled “The Effects of Social Connectedness,” said she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology after graduation.

“I want to be able to continue doing research, especially with vulnerable kids. I think it is important that we work to bridge the fields of neurobiology, psychology, but also education and policymaking,” Thoma said. 

Schoenfeld also shared her aspirations for future research.

“I hope to be a physician and go to medical school, but I don’t want to leave research behind. I want to take it with me and use that research in my practice,” Schoenfeld said. “Maybe that’s basic science or clinical medicine and bringing that into my career and for my patients”. 

The event also highlighted the critical need for research that addresses underrepresented populations. UW-Madison senior student Shoua Xiong’s work focused on the perinatal experiences of Hmong women in Wisconsin.

“It is so important that we do this research to limit the difference of outcomes for Hmong women,” Xiong said. “It’s so important that we continue to do research for underrepresented populations, especially the Hmong community, to create more culturally appropriate care.” 

State Rep. Francesca Hong, who attended the event, also emphasized the need for research benefiting  underrepresented populations.

“I want brilliant young minds to stay in our community. One of the things I worry most about is young people who don't feel as though they belong in Madison or having thoughts about leaving Wisconsin overall,” Hong said. “I think the best thing for our state is for young people not only to stay in urban areas but to go back to their hometowns and continue to build community here and expand their research.”

Thoma echoed Hong’s hopes for student research to have a statewide impact.

“I'm hoping that legislators can look at our research and hopefully can make it understandable to them because we know research isn't necessarily their expertise and policymaking isn't necessarily ours,” Thoma said. “To foster that kind of connection with them [and] make that working relationship, we can hopefully inspire real change that will help benefit child development of kids everywhere”. 

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