ENMU students and faculty at the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium.
ENMU students and faculty at the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium.

Three students from Eastern New Mexico University received awards at the New Mexico Academy of Science (NMAS) Research Symposium in Albuquerque on Nov. 2.

The NMAS Research Symposium is an annual conference with oral presentations, a poster competition and a keynote address geared to undergraduate and graduate students from New Mexico's colleges and universities. Presentations and poster abstracts from the conference are published in the New Mexico Journal of Science.

Vinicius Ortega-Berno, a Master of Science candidate studying herpetology, received first place in the graduate student category for his poster, titled "A Comparison of Stable Isotope and Fecal Sample Analysis to Study Diet of a Freshwater Turtle."

Xiaochan Zhang, who is working toward a master's degree in chemistry, placed third in the same category, with a poster titled "Electrochemical Characterization of Olio(p-phenylene)s for Organic Solar Cells."

In the undergraduate category, Haily Galindo took third place for her poster "Synthesis and Characterization of Ladder-type Penta(p-phenylene) for Organic Solar Cells."

Dr. Juchao Yan, chemistry graduate coordinator and chair of Physical Sciences at ENMU, said, "ENMU crew, both faculty and students, represented the university very well at the 2019 New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium. In particular, our students did an outstanding job in presenting their research posters. They were available, engaging and were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the projects.

He continued, "There were a total of six cash awards for outstanding poster presentations in the undergraduate and graduate categories at the symposium, and three awards including the first place in the graduate category went to three ENMU students. Such an accomplishment reflects recognition of ENMU's research and research training at the state level, and attributes in part to the success and growth of our Annual Student Research and Creativity Conferences."

The students shared what receiving these awards meant to them:

Describe your experience at the NMAS Research Symposium.

Vinicius: I really enjoyed the conference. It was well organized, the location was excellent and the staff organizing the event was really prepared. I attended to sessions related to wildlife such as "Fire and Submerged Aquatic Plants: Are Changes To Key Nutrients Lurking Below the Surface?" by Virginia Thompson, and "Wolves, Coyotes, Dogs, and Dingoes: The Evolution and Subspeciation of Canis lupus" by Samuel Burke. I love to know more about different subjects in biology; you never know what part of the world you will be working five years from now.

Xiaochan: I attended in the graduate student category. Except for the three judges, I was introduced to anyone who is interested in our research.

Haily: The NMAS Research Symposium served as an excellent platform for professional development and was also a great opportunity to learn about the very diverse and new fields of research. I enjoyed the variety of oral presentations, meeting others who have similar research interests and getting a glimpse of what other universities are researching.

Discuss your research topic and how you prepared your research for the symposium.

Vinicius: I presented a poster comparing two ways of assessing the diets of freshwater turtles: fecal sample and stable isotope analyses. My main objective for this research was to understand how stable isotope analysis can supplement the information provided by fecal content analyses, improving the accuracy of the conclusions we make about what these extremely important animals are eating in the wild.

Xiaochan: My research topic is "Electrochemical Characterization of Oligo(p-phenylene)s for Organic Solar Cells." In preparation, I was thinking about how to make my research understandable to different audiences. I started with these three questions:

Why I do my research? & why this research is significant?

What method and instrument do I use in this research?

What are the conclusions?

Since my audience is probably unfamiliar with the field of my study, I need to explain it in an understandable way.

Haily: I gave a poster presentation on my work with Dr. Yan, towards synthesizing oligo(p-phenylene)s for organic solar cells. To prepare for my presentation, I spent time making sure I understood the big picture of the project, the unique details that set apart this research from others in the field and, most importantly, how to clearly describe my research in ways that can cater to the audience I am presenting to.

What does it mean to you to be recognized for your research?

Vinicius: It means a lot to me. I am an international student from Brazil; coming to the United States was a challenge, and I try to do my best when it comes to my research. I studied and practiced several times with my advisor (Dr. Ivana Mali); she always helps me a lot when it comes to preparing to important events in order to deliver good results.

Xiaochan: The recognition for my research gave me a lot of self-confidence to continue some future work, because during the research, what I faced most was failure. Doing research takes persistence.

For example, when we did the same experiment 100 times, maybe the first 99 times all failed, but as long as we keep doing it for the hundredth time, success will come. Many people lose confidence in themselves during the first 99 trials and give up. So, self-confidence and persistence are important. The recognition for the research can give us courage to carry on.

Haily: When I heard I was recognized at the conference, I felt proud of my work and grateful for the guidance and advice I received during my preparation.

Which lessons did you learn at the symposium? How will you take those lessons back to ENMU and use them in your career in the future?

Vinicius: I learned a lot from the symposium. Not only about the research being done in our state, but also about how students really play a role on changing the future by understanding more about science and our environment. I believe that this symposium will really help me in the future due to the expansion of my knowledge in areas that I am not directly studying or working on.

Xiaochan: What I learned from this symposium is that don't be nervous while speaking in the public. As my native language is not English, I feel nervous to express myself in the public. This symposium gave me a good chance to improve my ability of speaking.

Haily: From this conference, I learned that there is always room for improvement in presentation skills and the importance of networking with other students and experts in the fields to start forming my professional circle.

See abstracts for all poster and oral sessions at the NMAS Research Symposium.