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Research Symposium Celebrates 20th Year

Maury Harris and Kelli SchieldsWith a dedication to undergraduate research, the University of St. Thomas will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Research Symposium on April 10-12, 2014. During the Symposium, undergraduates and graduates from all disciplines can present oral and poster presentations about their research to their peers, faculty, staff and professionals in their field.

Dr. William Maury Harris, who was appointed director of student research in August and has served as chair of the Committee on Student Research for five years, said the symposium is one of the signature programs of the University.

“It has been something UST has recognized for 20 years now,” Harris said. “It allows students to practice the kind of things they’ll do in grad school or the workplace.”

The theme of this year’s symposium will be active learning, based on a quotation from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Students have a variety of research opportunities at St. Thomas, ranging from lab coursework and independent study with a faculty mentor, to a major thesis or a group research project through the Honors Program.

According to the 2013 National Survey of Student Engagement, more UST students participated in undergraduate research compared to peer and aspirant institutions. Of the freshmen and seniors surveyed, 25 percent had participated in undergraduate research, compared with 18 percent of students at other selected private universities. 

Harris said that while other schools may have undergraduate research programs, the chance of the average student participating at St. Thomas is much higher because of the low faculty-to-student ratio.

Freshmen through seniors and graduate students may present posters or oral presentations. And it’s not just the sciences such as biology, chemistry and environmental science that participate. Departments active in research also include humanities and social sciences like history, political science, psychology, English and international studies, as well as education and business.

Students often have opportunities to present their research at conferences like Southwestern Psychological Association Annual Meeting, Southwest International Studies Association and the American Chemical Society.

As director of student research, Harris said his role is to help attract students and help raise funds to support student research for proposals. He also works with departments to institute more student research opportunities and show faculty how they can use student research for promotion and tenure.

Harris said he chose Franklin’s quotation for the theme because hands-on learning was how he learned best as an undergrad, and writing a bachelor’s thesis prepared him for graduate school. 

“You become an owner of some of that knowledge, whereas, if someone throws that information at you, you don’t own it; it’s not yours,” Harris said. “With hard-earned knowledge, you know and trust the information. You then become passionate about it.”

For more information about research and the Research Symposium, visit the Student Research page or contact Dr. Harris at or 713-525-3805.

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