University of New Mexico undergraduate students work closely with faculty mentors to conduct innovative and exciting research. Each spring, this research is celebrated at the annual Undergraduate Research Opportunity Conference (UROC). UROC is a professional research conference reserved solely for undergraduates to spotlight their research, explain their ideas, and display what they have to offer in their respective fields and majors. Students are the experts at UROC. At UROC 2022, UNM hosted two exciting competitions.
The UROC 180 Competition, like an elevator pitch, challenges students to present their research in just 180 seconds to the general audience with no background in your research area. The top 3 winners receive scholarships ($500 1st prize, $300 2nd prize, & $200 3rd prize). During the conference, UROC 180 presenters are assigned to one of two heats. The judges then select the top presenters from each heat to compete at the UROC 180 FINAL. UROC 180 presentations must be made in 3 minutes or less. Students do use PowerPoint, video, or other media.
Sixteen students participated in the 2022 UROC 180 competition.
The first place winner in the 2022 UROC 180 competition was Ryla Cantergiani. Cantergiani presented her research project Fluorescent Monitoring of Gcn4, Autophagy, and Age in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, explaining, “The goal of aging research is to identify the mechanisms of aging in the body and find ways to delay them.”
Cantergiani received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry during the Spring 2022 commencement ceremonies. This fall she will start a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at the New York University Vilcek Institute. After completing her Ph.D., she hopes to continue researching and work at a university.
“I was so incredibly grateful to have won first place in the 2022 UROC 180 competition. This achievement feels like the culmination of four years of hard work at UNM. I was supported by my PI and lab members throughout this process and am thankful for all of their help,” she said.
Second place winner, Raven Delfina Otero-Symphony presented her research project The relationship between cancer incidence and survival outcomes with neighborhood characteristics across New Mexico counties. Third place winner Samantha Morowski presented her project Dysphagia Unhinged.
UROC Research Story
The UROC Research Story competition encourages students to communicate the story behind their research projects to the general public. Students describe the context of their research and show their journeys surrounding their projects. Research stories can be presented through any online format, such as videos, essays, or podcasts. This competition was judged by communications professionals, with the winning story receiving $250 cash prizes. Eleven students participated in the 2022 Research Story competition.
Samantha Morowski won the 2022 UROC Research Story competition. In her prize-winning essay Discovering My Path, Morowski describes her journey from being a child with a communication disorder, her efforts to overcome it, and her decision to pursue a degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences. “The results of my project could help improve the quality of treatment each person receives after the diagnosis… we can help thousands of people with swallowing disorders receive a more accurate diagnosis. We could change and improve so many people’s lives!”
In her essay, she urges other students to get involved in research. “If there are other students that are contemplating doing research – just go for it! Reach out to as many people as you can and get involved. You have the ability to meet so many people professionally and personally who share similar interests as you, which is crucial when moving from out of state. This opportunity is also a great resumé builder and can show that you’re committed to your field of study. My research has given me so much that I am beyond grateful for, and it’s something that has shifted my perception on life in general.” Morowski received her BA in Speech and Hearing Sciences in the Spring 2022 commencement.
Kyla Fugate and April Vihilidal received honorable mentions and $100 awards. Fugate presented My Path to Researching Basic Needs Insecurity at UNM, and Vihilidal’s presentation was Two possible dates of solar eclipses encoded into the Odyssey by Homer: Orion and Boötes in the Night Sky.
More about UROC
UROC coordinator Jennifer Payne describes UROC as a low-stakes, low-stress environment where student researchers become the experts and are excited at taking agency in their research and showcasing their original work.
Kiyoko Simmons, a UROC co-founder from the Honors College, tells students, “UROC is a great place to start. It’s a great place to not only present your research ideas but also to get feedback so you can improve your research project.”
UROC was created to give visibility to all undergraduate students, giving them the chance to present their work and gain invaluable conference experience. The conference was created to be inclusive of all research types, majors, and fields of interest. Sarita Cargas, professor in the Honors College and UROC co-founder, has encouraged many students to participate and share their original ideas and research, no matter the topic, and especially wanted to dispel the myth that research is only done in the sciences.
“Research exists across disciplines,” she said, “and this includes the humanities.”
UROC is sponsored by the UNM Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Student Affairs, Engineering Student Success Center, ECURE, Honors College, McNair Scholars/ROP, Office of the Vice President for Research, School of Engineering, University College, and URAD.