Students to team with faculty in UNC System-sponsored research

Three Western Carolina University students will pair up with faculty members to take part in a new undergraduate research initiative sponsored by the University of North Carolina General Administration.

The duos chosen to participate in the UNC Undergraduate Research Opportunity Expansion Initiative are Carmen Batchelor, a sophomore from Cornelius who will team up with Lori Seischab, assistant professor of biology; Kimberly Wepasnick, a senior from Charlotte who will work with Cheryl Waters-Tormey, assistant professor of geology; and Elizabeth Vinson, a senior from Leicester who will conduct research with Beth Wilson, assistant professor of sociology.

WCU and nine other UNC institutions were picked as sites for the program because of their traditional undergraduate teaching focus. The students taking part were selected by faculty members based on the students’ academic achievements and potential for performing independent research. The students will receive stipends for the work they perform.

Batchelor will assist Seischab in research this coming summer and during the upcoming fall and spring 2007 semesters. Their research will focus on the molecular mechanisms that control the enzyme matrix metalloprotease, which could provide opportunities for new therapeutics for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

Wepasnick will work with Waters-Tormey this summer and during the spring 2007 semester in geological research that will test new analytical techniques for measuring rock deformation fabric by using samples from an exposed fault zone in central Australia. Wepasnick and Waters-Tormey will travel to Australia this summer to collect samples.

Vinson will work with Wilson this summer in an examination of repeat migration patterns among different ethnic groups, looking in particular at whether there are differences in the overall rates of repeat migration, once other factors are controlled. Vinson’s duties will include assisting in the preparation of manuscripts for submission to a scholarly journal.

All three students are expected to exhibit their work at the Undergraduate Expo, the university’s annual spring research exhibition, and at an academic conference.

The WCU administrative team that will support the researchers includes Scott Higgins, interim dean of research and graduate studies; Brian Railsback, dean of the Honors College; and David Butcher, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Railsback said the administrative team faced a tight deadline in responding to the UNC system’s call for research proposals at the end of the spring semester, but the team still received a healthy number of proposals from WCU faculty members.

“Undergraduate research is building momentum at WCU, and this is yet another example,” said Railsback, noting WCU students’ strong showing at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April.

For more information about WCU’s participation in the undergraduate research initiative, contact David Butcher at (828) 227-7646.