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Undergraduate Research at UMD


Madiha Mirza  

In every discipline, UMD supports undergraduate students who work with a faculty member on research.

Madiha Mirza | Allison Severson | William

Madiha Mirza — College of Liberal Arts

Madiha Mirza, is a senior international studies major and journalism minor at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). She is conducting a Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project (UROP) on the role the bilingual ethnic media plays in the identity construction of the immigrant population in the Twin Cities.  

Mirza, an international student from Pakistan, said that the idea for the project came from her own experience. She said that living in a community different from her own changed her worldview significantly. “I want to learn more about how recent immigrants in Minnesota have adapted to their new environment,” she said.

The Twin Cities metropolitan area is home to the largest community of Hmong and Somali immigrants in the U.S. The majority are refugees from war-torn countries. Mirza wants to learn how the different cultural settings have impacted the assimilation of these immigrants.  “I was interested in researching about the challenges faced by these groups to maintain their cultural identity, the clash between cultural traditions and American values, problems faced by the youth in schools, home, and community, and their engagement in the political and social affairs in their country of origins,” Mirza said.

“John Hatcher, an assistant professor in the Department of Writing Studies and the recipient of the 2012 CLA Research Award, is my advisor. I feel privileged to work with him,” she said.

Mirza, a University Honors student, said the UROP, which examines issues of two bilingual news publications and interviews with editors and journalists, allowed her to integrate her academics with her cultural interests. “The project helps us learn more about the cultural, political and cosmopolitan impacts of immigration in the “changing” face of the Twin Cities metropolitan area,” she said. “The project strongly benefits the community.”

Allison Severson — Swenson College of Science and Engineering

Allison Severson  
Severson on a UMD field camp trip to the San Rafael Swell. She is shown here at the Mini Grand Canyon.  

Allison Severson, a senior in the Department of Geological Sciences and student research assistant at the UMD Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), is working on a geology Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project.

She is working to determine the isostatic rebound - the rate of rise of land masses- which were depressed by the weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period. She is using the new LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data to find out the path of drainage of Lake Agassiz, the largest glacial lake which was once the largest body of freshwater on earth. It covered the region which is now Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan in Canada, and North Dakota and Minnesota in the U.S.

“There’s debate about where Lake Agassiz drained. It could have drained north-east, south, or in Thunder Bay through an outlet,” she said. "It isn't known exactly which way it drained because there are no key indications and there are no big outlets running through till or bedrock."

LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that uses a laser range finder in an aircraft to scan and provide high-resolution images of the earth’s surface.

“By using LiDAR to collect data in order to recreate the isostatic rebound curve, I can potentially see which part of it drained first, and then from it, potentially determine which way it drained.”

Severson, a University Honors student, is a mathematics minor and a geological sciences major with an exploration and mining focus. She wanted to do a UROP about glacial geology because she wasn’t able to take a class about it. “I discussed my research interests with Howard Mooers, professor of the Department of Geological Sciences at UMD. We bounced some ideas around, and because one of his students is also using the LiDAR data for his UROP, Mooers suggested that it would be a good thing for me to use.”

Her research involves studying  till by observing the presence and composition of clay, pebbles, boulders, glacial erratics, as well as glaciolacustrine deposits. The till texture can indicate the time period and initial location of the material  deposited and the boundaries of the lake.

Severson said that Mooers gave her the opportunity to do research any way she wanted, while guiding and answering her questions. “As a research assistant for NRRI, I just did the background work. I didn’t get the chance to write a paper about my work or interpret my results,” she said. “UROP gave me the firsthand experience of research.”

She said that for any major or academic field, specifically science, it is good to have research experience and UROPs give research opportunities to undergraduates. “It’s fun, you get paid to do something you want to do, and you pick your own topic,” she said.


William — College of Education and Human Service Professions


William, a 2012 psychology graduate, is from Indonesia and he has only one name, William. In his UROP project which was completed in fall 2012, his final semester at UMD, he researched how incentives at work affect the performance of employees.

Thousands of U.S. companies offer incentives to their employees, however the effectiveness of these incentive programs is not conclusively proven. Awards fall into several categories: awards of money, awards of goods, awards for meeting a goal, awards for a team competing with other teams, and others. William's project examined the awards of money and goods categories.

William’s advisor on this project was Robert Lloyd, associate professor in the Department of Psychology. The research involved dividing volunteers into three groups, where each group was assigned a task. One group was given no reward for completing the task, the second group was given a chocolate bar, and the third group was given money.

William said that predictably, the group who received no incentive showed the worst performance, because they knew they weren't getting any reward for their work. While his research was inconclusive, "The success of the group who was offered the money reward verses the group who was offered the chocolate reward seemed to be about equal," William said.

William said that he faced some challenges during the project, such as not enough sufficiently attractive incentives. "The UROP was valuable because it raised good questions," he said. "What motivates people? Do employees want financial gain? Do they want to choose their own rewards? Does simple recognition of the work they do serve as a strong enough reward for completing a task."

This is part two of a two-part story. Read part one.

Written by Cheryl Reitan. January, 2013

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