Sun, 04/24/2016

Nearly 1,200 students from the Commonwealth’s public community colleges and state colleges and universities presented at the 22nd Annual Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference on April 22. Cosponsored by Commonwealth Honors College, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and the Massachusetts State University Council of Presidents, this conference supports undergraduate student research across the state.

As part of the keynote session, leaders from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts welcomed students, faculty, and visitors.

Commonwealth Honors College Dean Gretchen Gerzina  thanked the faculty members who supported student researchers as well as UMass Amherst administrators. "The opportunity that you have had to participate in research as an undergraduate is a special one,” she said. “This is your time.”

Provost Katherine Newman said that the student researchers are resources for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "You contribute to what makes Massachusetts such a special place,” she said. She praised the diversity of research topics presented at the conference, including urban agriculture, public health approaches to gun violence, and assistive devices for the elderly. Newman added that student research contributes to critical conversations around the world.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy welcomed everyone to the Commonwealth’s flagship campus and introduced Marty Meehan, president of the University of Massachusetts. "It’s great," Meehan said, "to see how this conference continues to grow."  He added that research enhances undergraduate education, providing opportunities for students to explore their prospective fields and learn to overcome obstacles. He also spoke about the history of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was founded by a land grant signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

“This university’s been doing remarkable things ever since, “ Meehan said.

Dr. Patricia Marshall, deputy commissioner for academic affairs and student success at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, elaborated on the benefits of undergraduate research. She explained that students who engage in undergraduate research are more likely to graduate and enroll in graduate education, and she also emphasized the importance of faculty mentorship in student research. “These students will make significant contributions to the Commonwealth’s knowledge and innovation-based economy,” Marshall said.

Keynote speaker Sydney Finkelstein of Dartmouth College shared his experience conducting research for his new book Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. In addition to describing the 10 years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted for the book, he explained how the strengths that “superbosses” possess apply to student researchers as well.

Finkelstein defines a superboss as an exceptional leader who helps other people accomplish more than they ever thought possible, and he noted chef Alice Waters, NFL coach Bill Walsh, and television producer Lorne Michaels as well-known examples. All superbosses are visionary, trailblazing leaders that energize their workers. Though they are innovative and encourage new ideas, they never compromise on their vision, according to Finkelstein. Superbosses are also experts at finding exceptional talent that others may not notice. Finkelstein compared this idea to public education, where students from many backgrounds find opportunities to excel.  

“If you can find some of the best talent and unleash their creativity...then, really, the sky's the limit,” he told students. He concluded by explaining that superbosses create collaborative yet competitive teams.The end result is an environment that creates some of the world’s best talent, Finkelstein said.

The Undergraduate Research Conference included seven sessions during which student-researchers delivered oral and poster presentations.