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Undergraduate Researchers Share Their Work with Utah Legislators

On Tuesday, undergraduates from Utah State University had the opportunity to present their research to the Utah legislature on topics ranging from synthetic spider silk to using mathematics to convict repeat sex offenders. For university research departments, this is good publicity, but it’s also a valuable opportunity for young researchers.

“It’s just messaging aligned that there is just this way that undergraduate students can talk to legislators, and that demonstrates authentically what they do," said Dr. Scott Bates, Associate Vice President and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at Utah State University.  

When asked whether undergraduates presenting their research to Utah lawmakers is anything more than lobbying, Bates said that the primary benefit is to the students, emphasizing the value of communicating research to a diverse public.

This is a working legislature, right? There’s farmers and doctors, and there’s accountants, and there are homemakers in the legislature here. And so to be able to talk about deep science projects, or deep history projects, or deep chemistry projects, with people that aren’t your contemporaries, that’s quite a skill set.

One of the undergraduates honing her communications skills is Heather Shipp, who studies Arctic Wolves. Under the advisement of Dr. Daniel MacNulty in the Quinney College of Natural Resources, Heather is examining the behavior of wolves that live thousands of miles away through the use of specially designed research collars. “By using the data from GPS collars, and the accelerometers, we’re able to look at the behaviors of the Arctic Wolves -- which are in such a remote location -- and we can do it at our own homes,” she said.

I asked what she thought about speaking to the legislature.

I think it’ll be interesting. I think it’ll be really good for them to see just how important research is at an undergraduate level. Because you’ve got a whole range; from people in Wildlife Science [and] Natural Resources to people in English or Political Science, and I think undergraduate research can be beneficial for any student, just because it helps increase their learning and kind of take it outside the classroom.

This week marks the fifteenth year of undergraduates from Utah State University and the University of Utah presenting their work to the legislature while it is in session.