Students in top 10 again for National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Steven Lawson’s poster presentation is an extension of research he conducted into the treatment of opioid patients during WCU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Western Carolina University students once again rank in the top 10 nationally in the number of research projects accepted for presentation at the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

The 2018 event takes place at the University of Central Oklahoma from April 4-7.

This makes 13 consecutive years that the university’s students have placed in the top 10 in projects accepted for the country’s most prestigious undergraduate research conference. WCU students tied for 10th place with another University of North Carolina System institution, and WCU and the other UNC school also led North Carolina colleges and universities in that category.

“The National Conference on Undergraduate Research is both a tremendous recognition of WCU academic capabilities in a variety of disciplines and an opportunity for participating students to have a higher level of involvement with their research,” said Jill Granger, dean of the Honors College. The college works with the Office of the Provost to help facilitate WCU students’ participation in the conference each year. “NCUR takes the student one step beyond participation in research to the point at which the student interacts with others in academic discourse and begins to see himself or herself as a practicing scholar,” Granger said.

Jill Granger

Funding to cover conference registration, transportation and accommodations is being provided through the Office of the Chancellor and provost’s office. NCUR provides a forum for undergraduate scholars to share results of their work through posters, presentations, performances and works of art, and is presented by the Council on Undergraduate Research, which supports and promotes high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.

Among the 46 accepted projects from WCU, 25 are oral presentations, 19 are posters and two are visual arts presentations, Granger said. There were 3,674 total accepted presentations from 472 American institutions and one international university for the conference.

Steven Lawson, a criminal justice major from King, is presenting on treatment and relapse of patients seeking treatment for opioid use. “Steven’s NCUR presentation is an extension of a project we started as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program sponsored by the Honors College,” said Al Kopak, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, and mentor for Lawson’s research. “He is interested in indicators of post-treatment drug use among adults seeking treatment for opiate use, especially related to how post-treatment use may be influenced by arrest.

Al Kopak

“What we found was pretty interesting. Post-treatment substance use was not associated with an increased likelihood of arrest, but being arrested was associated with a higher probability of subsequent drug use,” Kopak said. “In other words, being arrested increased the risk of drug use among adults recovering from opiate use disorder, but drug use did not increase the risk for arrest. This evidence supports the use of diversion programs, which do not formally arrest adults, but direct them toward drug use recovery services instead.”

Lawson said he dealt with data on opiate drug use and abuse, particularly within North Carolina. He said developing the project was a great experience and being able to present it at a national conference alongside peers is equally rewarding.

“It was interesting to learn about the current drug trends and how quickly they progressed,” he said. “After interpreting the results, it was intriguing to find that there is a significant impact on drug use resulting from arrest. Prior to this study, there weren’t many that placed a link between the two factors. There were studies about drug users being arrested and individuals who were arrested being drug users, but were lacking in the overlap, where we saw a need for further research. In the end, I am truly honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to conduct research through the Honors College. I’m also grateful to professor Kopak for being my mentor and continuing to work with me.”

For more information about WCU’s participation in NCUR, contact the Honors College at 828-227-7383.