SMSU undergrads put planning, research, organizing on display
MARSHALL — Whether it was law enforcement use of body cameras, the zero tolerance policy for students of color, the history of the Dakota War of 1862 or a comparative bird study, Southwest Minnesota State University undergrads presented a wide variety of topics at the 12th annual SMSU Undergraduate Research Conference on Wednesday.
What started out as a research and communication boost within the environmental science program has morphed into a diverse and inclusive conference held in a variety of locations on the SMSU campus.
“This year, we have 22 different programs, so there’s a huge variety of topics,” said Dr. Emily Deaver, conference founder and environmental science professor. “We also have more faculty supervising research this semester than we’ve ever had. So we’ve gotten a bigger and bigger commitment by the faculty at the university.”
Having completed the process of planning, researching and organizing, the participating students used the opportunity to share their knowledge with others. Minneota native Nick Esping and Monticello native Zach Beaumaster presented their findings regarding law enforcement and the use of body cameras.
“It’s a hot topic,” Esping said. “With the body cameras, we kind of figured out, in our research, that they’re effective. There’s a study that was done in Rialto, California, where they followed them with the camera on and it went from 24 complaints with the cameras off to only three with the cameras on. That’s about an 8 percent decrease, so that’s pretty effective.”
Along with Esping and Beaumaster, Muna Mohamed, Dylan Beatty and Jacob Broberg were also part of the research group effort, though they presented at different times.
“We had a good group, so everything went pretty well, with working together,” Esping said.
The research project also shared information about the implementation of body cameras and the unintended consequences.
“It is very expensive,” Esping said. “The storage is the most expensive part of it. They did another study, like in New Orleans, and 5 years of the Cloud — it’s almost like an iPhone storage — was almost $1.2 million.”
With the high price tag, Esping said that body cameras would probably be cost-effective in bigger cities, but not for smaller and less-funded cities.
“I think Marshall even would struggle with it because that $1.2 million over five years for storage is expensive,” he said. “That’s not even including camera costs.”
Like Esping, who is thinking of being a parole officer or state trooper, Beaumaster is majoring in justice administration.
“I find this stuff to be very interesting since this is the field I’m going into,” Beaumaster said. “So I did enjoy the project.”
Beaumaster said one of the issues that stood out to him through the research process was regarding the privacy of the recordings.
“The public wants the cameras to be on, but they also don’t necessarily want to be recorded all the time,” he said. “So there’s a big controversy over that. And somehow, we have to figure out a way to deal with the financial cost. It’s going to be tough, but I feel like we’re headed in the right direction with the body-worn cameras because they have made a positive impact in society. I’m excited to see what the future brings.”
The conference participation of justice administration students has grown recently. At the first SMSU Undergraduate Research Conference in 2006, the only participants were science students — those in environmental science, biology, chemistry and physics — and they gave 21 oral and 27 poster presentations.
“Justice administration has had one or two here or there, but this year, they have a bunch,” Deaver said.
This year, 217 different undergrads gave 46 oral and 93 poster presentations.
“It’s going great,” Deaver said. “We’ve had a good turnout of people — lots of students and lots of parents coming. We’ve also had two College Now classes attend. They’re doing college classes in the high school. They get to come and see what it’s like to do possible research in college.”
After SMSU President Dr. Connie Gores gave opening remarks to kick-off the conference, SMSU alumnus Wokil Bam gave a keynote address called Active Learning — making the most of a college experience through research.
“It went really well,” Cottonwood native Garrett Wee said. “It was great seeing everyone come out and stuff.”
While it can be a learning experience for visitors, the one-day conference also serves as a celebration of the students’ intellectual achievements.
“It was fun just seeing the project develop from start to finish,” Wee said. “When you’re presented with it, you have all this stuff you have to do and prepare for and you’re like, ‘Where do I begin?’ It was awesome just being able to present and have it all just flow together. It was relieving, to say the least.”
Wee, who was among those who gave an oral presentation in the upper level conference room, said his intent was to do a bird survey of some kind in the natural area, but that a tidbit from Deaver helped pinpoint a more specific research project.
“I talked to Dr. Deaver and she’s like, ‘Well, there was a previous bird study conducted in 1981,'” he said. “She’s like, ‘How neat would be it be to compare the two studies?'”
The early 1980s study took place shortly after the SMSU nature area was created. Wee’s results showed that more than 2,500 birds were identified — 100 species of birds from 44 families — compared to 41 species from 24 families in the previous study.
“It was fun, actually, just going back and seeing how it’s changed,” Wee said. “You’re out there doing what you love, so it’s fun. It made the project that much more enjoyable.”
Under the leadership of English Professor Marianne Zarzana, three senior creative writing students shared their senior portfolio readings with audience members. Zarzana thanked Brittni Branch, Kaleigh Farrelly and Alexandra Krohn for their “hard work, courage and dedication” to the craft of writing. She also thanked other faculty members for their contributions.
“It’s an honor to serve with such outstanding professors,” Zarzana said.
Thirty-four faculty advisers helped guide the undergraduate students through this year’s research process. Like others who attended throughout the day, many of the professors seemed to enjoy walking around from poster to poster and to different sessions all over campus.
“This is one of the coolest things,” SMSU English Professor Lisa Lucas Hurst said. “It’s a neat event.”