Sunday, April 18, 2010

National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Also subtitled, "Trip to another world, Missoula, Montana." Two groups of us came from East Carolina University to this land of the big - big land, but also big personalities and hearts. This is a place like no other. I've met more friendly and interesting people here in such a short time. From Cliff and his genuine interest in every student that climbed aboard his bus to Leann, Sue, and Delores, who treated us like family in the hotel, it has been a fantastic experience. The weather has been great, almost spring-ish even though we arrived on the tail end of a snow storm (saw patches of it still in many places. The daily temperatures easily compare to those we left in Eastern NC.

Speaking of buses, another group from North Carolina, from Western Carolina University, had 70 students accepted at NCUR and had to take a bus to Montana (cost of air travel prohibitive). They spent 45 hours on the bus to get here! That's a trip to remember, I'm sure.

Of course, the presentations were all excellent and I'm amazed at what human beings can learn in such a short time. It may not seem that short to them, however. :) They worked hard to get here and deserve the opportunity. I have to say that it is an opportunity quite rare. Our undergraduate conference even drew the governor of Montana! He seemed like a really cool guy, wearing casual attire and followed by a little dog that stuck to his heels all the way. But, what he said about renewable energy and taking it easier on Mother Earth meant a lot more to me. Alternative sources of energy are well within our grasp as we speak. The task is really to convince millions of Americans of another way to accomplish their travel objectives. Oil is not necessary. We've only just begun this debate and it will consume a great deal of time before we can all agree on the solution. But, at least, it's beginning.

Of the presentations that I saw in our group, I spoke about Brunswick Town and Wilmington (not a surprise, I know) and Sarah spoke about microbiology (a very knowledgeable treatise on bacteria on smoker vents in the inner space, benthic world of submarine spreading zones). Ellen gave her presentation on iron supplements to countereffect the loss of learning ability from the effects of alcohol-using mothers. Megan and Jacqueline told us about the shoe company Nike and their effect on the global market from their base in China. A bit of recent Chinese history came to light in this presentation - the recent trend to enter the world market and increased westernization. What effect the largest country in the world will have in the world market is somewhat worrisome, although it could be positive. Hopefully, they won't make the same mistakes that we did. Tiffany and Parteek work in the same lab and so, had different angles on the same topic. While Parteek studied the effects of Poxvirus on specific organs, Tiffany looked at "studying viral replication in organs of mice that were infected with either a 'wild type' or our deletion mutant...." This is how it was explained to me. See what I mean about learning so much in so little time? I did not get a chance to hear Deepak's presentation because he went first thing on Thursday. I will say this about Deepak, I hear him speaking to family in his native language, then to us in English, and to a waiter at Rowdy's in Spanish. He's quite the linguist. If he weren't headed for a medical career, I'd say "go linguistics!" Learning about all cultures is the best part of a trip like this, from exploring genetics, medicine, inner-space and deep-sea environments to history, astronomy and protecting the environment. Truly, the planet is in the care of these terrific guys. I'd joked with Ellen (who plans to be a Clinical psychologist) about what discounts she plans to offer (may need those one day). She is currently working as a crisis counselor to have an immediate influence on our world.

Last, but not least, I'd like to thank Dr. Mary Farwell for all her diligent efforts to get us here. She has driven us all over Montana and guided treks across the campus and even up a mountain and out to see Bison in the wild. Thank goodness she didn't have to resort to a bus across the country! Two food places I should mention are Rowdy's (the really cool Mexican restaurant with animals in the lobby) and the Big Dipper, a very popular ice cream shop with lines of customers across the parking lot on both nights that we went. For myself, I'd like to thank Dr. Wade G. Dudley for his very important contribution to my own historical exploratory talents. Without the occasional "kick in the pants," I may have floundered from time to time. He's been a guiding influence to many of us. Thank you, Dr. "D."

Well, time to hop on the plane to return to the "Old North State" and my pretty wife, Julie. We must say so long to the wide open spaces, the very roomy interstates (seriously, no fighting or crowding of cars or jammed traffic), and the friendliest and most laid back state I've ever been to. But, it will be good to get back home. See ya there!

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