REACH provides students with platform to share research

Julie Sisler

WKU’s Research Experiences and Creative Heights, or REACH, celebrated its 48th anniversary this year.

REACH is an interdisciplinary conference that focuses on both scholarly research and creative works.

From 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today, March 24, 355 WKU students gathered in Downing Student Union to share their research in various fields.

Like any academic conference, the day began with a keynote speaker. Kendra Cherry-Allen from Johns Hopkins Medical Institute spoke about the brain’s neuroplasticity and how her undergraduate research led her to her postdoctoral clinical research. She encouraged students to get involved in research early and find, then stick with, their passions.

Leila Watkins, the main organizer of the conference, said REACH provides students of all levels an opportunity to gain experience in research and professional presentations.

“This gives students valuable experience in what it’s like to prepare and give a professional presentation in a scholarly setting,” Watkins said. “It’s something not everyone has the opportunity to do but is important experience to have in many fields.”

Students submitted their project abstracts by early February to be considered for the conference. Projects were put into one of five groups: natural sciences, social sciences and education, arts and humanities, business and interdisciplinary studies. The only requirements were that the student projects had a mentor to approve the project and that the project was then approved by members of the conference’s committee.

Once the projects are approved, students work on their presentations, which could be in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, poster display, verbal presentation or theatrical presentation.

“There are a lot of different presentation styles and subject areas, so the conference is full of diverse sessions,” Watkins said. “For example, we have the traditional poster presentations in some of the natural science sessions, PowerPoint presentations in the social sciences and education, but we also have presentations featuring things like puppetry.”

Each session has five to six students who put on a 10-minute presentation. The only difference is with the natural sciences, who have posters set up in a traditional science fair manner, where participants stand at their display and others walk around while asking questions and listening to presentations.

Though students don’t know until February if their project has been selected, some have been working on their research for months or even years.

Graduate student Robert Twidwell has been working on his project about linguistics variables since last fall.

“Our REACH project is an exploratory examination of linguistic variables in a text message-based alcohol-impaired driving intervention,” Twidwell said. “We took the text messages from the participants in the study and the messages from the researcher conducting the study and analyzed the messages with a linguistic analysis program.”

Junior Logan Taylor has been researching in the fields of philosophy and language since last semester but didn’t really hone in on his presentation topic until this semester.

Taylor’s research, which delves into the use of slurs and their offensiveness and appropriation, is an example of the research projects that students present. Most students take a relevant topic that is of interest to their field and dive deeper into it by conducting extensive research.

This gives students experience in various fields associated with research and presentations.

“I have gained valuable knowledge concerning research, the process of research, developing and revising a thesis, as well as the presentation of research,” Taylor said. “The research process was not completely clear until my experience with REACH last year. It really gave me a better idea of what academic research is like.”

Graduate student Akash Doshi, whose project focuses on the impacts of activity on sleep disorders, found the event beneficial as both a presenter and attendant. He said as a presenter, he was able to get out of his comfort zone, improve his presention skills and answer a range of questions while preparing himself for future conferences.

“As an attendee, it provides an opportunity for networking, sparking new ideas of research in our own field and getting vast knowledge of all fields at one place,” Doshi said.

Watkins said REACH provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students by giving them early experience that can help them get into graduate school programs and laying a foundation for the research they’ll be doing once in graduate school.

Watkins hopes REACH will encourage students to discover their passions and get more involved in their field of study. She said students can start small simply by networking with their professors or reaching out to a professor doing research of interest. Watkins hopes students who participate and attend will see the value in research and the benefits of getting involved early on.

Doshi said he appreciated the platform REACH provided.

“REACH is a great platform to showcase new research projects, and I am glad to be a part of this conference,” Doshi said.

More information about REACH and how to get involved next year can be found at https://www.wku.edu/studentresearch/.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to Akash Doshi as “she,” but this was incorrect. The article has been fixed accordingly. The Herald apologizes for the error. 

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Julie on Twitter at @julie_sisler.