Krista Rasmussen ’15 made it look so easy. She stood by her poster display at Chapman University’s Student Research Day, smiling and radiating calm amid the energetic and bustling event that filled the Sandhu Conference Center with hundreds of students buzzing about their research projects.

But then keeping cool in a storm is not a new gig for Rasmussen.  The Chapman University integrated education studies major is conducting research on the monstrous dust storms known as haboobs that blanket her hometown of Tucson in monsoon season. She’s lived through them. She’s driven in them. Now she’s part of a team gathering satellite data from NASA to see if changing rainfall patterns are resulting in bigger dust storms.

“It’s important to study this because rainstorms in Tucson and the Southwest have been variable over the past 20 years. It’s important to understand all the different impacts on rainfall issues,” she said.

Profound questions and the research and scholarly activities they fuel were the focus of the annual Student Research Day, which grew this year to a record number of 200 student participants. Undergraduate research has long been a mainstay at Chapman, but the showcase event has grown in part because of stepped-up efforts encouraging students from all disciplines to participate, said Christopher S. Kim, Ph.D., director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

With a constant supply of food and raffle drawings and a special luncheon, the day is not just fun for students, but a good way to underscore the value of the research experience, Kim said.

“It’s a little different from taking a class because you’re exploring questions that people don’t really know the answer to. You’re creating new knowledge in that you’re developing new ideas and you’re putting new material out into the world,” Kim said.

Such new ideas and scholarly activity were in strong evidence at the research day. While Rasmussen explained how she was working with Hesham El-Askary, Ph.D., associate professor, to gather and analyze NASA satellite data that could hold clues to the rise of dust storms, other students presented on topics ranging from the culture of female artists in the tattoo community to the effects of rising tides on salt marsh life.

Political science major Bryce Anderson ’13 presented findings on a survey he did looking at who could most accurately state unemployment rates – newspaper readers, online news readers or television news consumers. Readers won the day, with no difference between online and print.

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Alyssa Martens ’14 discusses her research with history Professor Leland Estes, Ph.D., at Student Research Day 2013.

Biological sciences major Elizabeth Malcolm ’13 showed how she found a new quest when one of the lab rats she observed in another project wouldn’t run on an exercise wheel, choosing instead to stand outside the wheel and paddle it with its front paws. She studied how many wheel turns “the cheater” mouse got away with compared with mice that spin along in the more conventional fashion. The difference was significant, and Malcom suggests likely enough to compromise a variety of studies using mice with that wheel style.

History major Alyssa Martens ’14 displayed research using declassified documents chronicling Switzerland’s collaboration with Hitler’s Third Reich to loot art collections from Jewish families and museums during World War II.

And there were nice surprises.

Environmental science and policy major Chris Romanowski ’13 presented results of a campus energy audit he conducted as part of his senior capstone course. It turns out that even as the campus has expanded its population and building use, its use of kilowatt hours began a decline in 2009. Now there’s some research to take to the bank.

To see abstract summaries of all the research projects, visit the
Office of Undergraduate Research
website.