BYU-Idaho aims to expand research opportunities

The university recently received an achievement in that direction.

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTERMay 11, 2014 

REXBURG - One of Brigham Young University-Idaho's students attended a selective undergraduate research exhibit in Washington, D.C., for the first time in the university's history.

Senior Paul Powell, accompanied by faculty adviser David Collins, was one of about 60 students chosen nationwide to present his research project before lawmakers at the national event called "Posters on the Hill." The conference is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research, with a goal each year to advocate for federal funding of undergraduate research.

"The fact that we went to Washington, D.C., is really a feather in the cap of the university," Collins said. "It is very meaningful to (BYU-Idaho) because we're not known as a research institution - we don't have a graduate program and usually it's the graduate program that supports research. ... But, there is starting to be a push here."

Powell was selected from a pool of more than 600 applicants, Collins said. Powell also was the only Idaho applicant to attend this year.

His attendance follows a series of steps the university has taken recently in an effort to expand its undergraduate research opportunities.

In October, BYU-Idaho President Kim B. Clark created the College of Faculty Development and Mentored Research. Part of the new college's goal is to better promote mentored student research projects such as Powell's, said Sid Palmer, dean of the new college.

University officials in recent years also have encouraged faculty members to adopt a slightly reduced teaching credit load to allow for more professional development time, which can include mentored research, Palmer said. So far, about 50 percent of faculty members have done so.

Palmer also pointed out that the university's Research and Creative Works Conference - an event held every semester with students from nearly every university department showcasing research projects - has steadily grown each semester.

The benefits of mentored research projects are twofold, he said.

"For faculty, we're hoping they'll use them as an opportunity to grow professionally - it certainly makes them much more current in their discipline if they do so," Palmer said. "For students, we're finding employers really value a student's capacity to apply what they've learned in the classroom, and mentored research activities are a great way of applying knowledge that makes them valuable in graduate school or for simply entering the workforce."

While Powell presented the research at the nation's capitol, he's actually one of five students currently working on the project. The work was published recently in a peer-reviewed journal called "Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry" - and Paul was its co-author.

The project, Powell said, focuses on developing a technique to simultaneously separate chemical compounds in two dimensions. Eventually, the technique could be used in thin-layer chromatography for a number of purposes including the quick-screening of drugs, Powell said.

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