Science students win awards at STEM

October 10, 2012

PLAINVIEW – The Wayland Baptist University School of Mathematics and Sciences participated in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) conference at Midland College on Oct. 5-6 in Midland. Two presentations from Wayland students were awarded second place in their categories.

Rick Ross, a senior from Muncy, Ind., received second place for his mathematics talk concerning a graph theory problem on which he is preparing an honors thesis. Hailey Budnick, a senior from Missouri City, and Jessica Kenneson, a junior from Wiggins, Colo., presented a poster on their research project identifying an alternative and more cost effective way to identify and analyze enzymes. Dr. Robert Moore, assistant professor of chemistry, said their specific research deals with analyzing an enzyme that plays a role in the tuberculosis organism’s ability to adapt and mutate. However, he feels their discovery of an alternative method could be hugely beneficial to small schools with tight research budgets.

“What is currently available is way outside of the price range and capabilities of what a small school can afford,” Moore said. “Their alternate way is much cheaper and we expect it to be just as good as what is already out there. It could end up saving universities tens of thousands of dollars.”
Moore said participation in these types of conferences continues to display the outstanding undergraduate research that is being conducted by Wayland students. Among the 12 schools represented, Wayland was recognized as having the largest contingent of students at the conference, prompting conference organizers to take note of the school’s participation.
“The organizer of the conference spoke with me about the research being done at Wayland,” Moore said. “That we would have such a showing must indicate that we are doing some good research.”

Other schools participating in the conference included Texas Tech, UT-El Paso, UT-Permian Basin, West Texas A&M and Sul Ross. Moore said there is a large amount of support for these types of conferences focusing on STEM fields of study. He said STEM emphasis grew in the late 1950s and early 60s after the Russian satellite Sputnik was launched into space, and while some interest died out over the years, he has seen and increased emphasis on the STEM fields in recent years with “pretty big incentives” for teachers and schools specializing in those fields of study.

The Midland conference was specifically for undergraduate research, giving students the opportunity to present research findings in their specific field. Moore said they saw presentations on everything from biochemistry, water purification and abstract algebra to using mathematical modeling to predict zombie outbreaks.

Wayland took nine students to the conference with all three who presented winning award recognition. Moore said the introduction to these conferences is good for students in that it gets them interested in possible research projects.

“For us to have everyone who presented win prizes, it really shows that among all these other universities, we are doing some good stuff,” Moore said.

He also said these conferences provide an opportunity to network with other research supervisors with the possibility of future collaboration between schools. Wayland students will next attend the Texas Academy of Science meeting scheduled for Feb. 28 – March 2, 2013.