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March 27, 2019
This paid piece is sponsored by Dakota State University.
For years, Dakota State University has dedicated a day to students, faculty and their research. This year, because of the popularity and importance of research, the school is lifting up research in the form of a three-day event that started Tuesday. The symposium is filled with presentations, ceremonies and speakers.
Among those speakers is Dr. Diane Souvaine, a theoretical computer scientist, professor of computer science at Tufts University and chair of the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation.
Her research contributions range from solving challenging problems in computational geometry to practical application across disciplines and has led to consulting work with corporations such as ExxonMobil, IBM and Pfizer.
Souvaine shared her perspective on research, academia and business ahead of her appearance Thursday at DSU.
What are the most important things to keep in mind when conducting research?
There are so many aspects to keep in mind when conducting research. That’s the most important and fascinating question; you can see it from many different perspectives. I think that, as we conduct research, as my students conduct research and as I talk to other researchers, we have to have a passion for what we’re doing. We have to have a passion for discovery and for conducting the research with rigor. At the same time, we should do it ethically and responsibly.
What should students strive to look for in their research? What are important steps?
It’s always important to understand the context in which the research is done. So it’s imperative to spend time understanding the research results that have already been obtained, understanding the culture of science and the culture of good work that precedes it — at the same time, also being able to think boldly and outside the box about new ways and approaches. Consider that one’s research doesn’t just lie within a single field but reaches across and draws from the expertise and the achievements of other fields.
How would you motivate students to look outside the box? What are good tactics for them to use?
Under the leadership of José-Marie Griffiths, many exciting new research projects are underway at DSU. There’s a good culture of faculty as well as partners in industry and in government. They’re working together to create an environment in which students can explore research and work on projects. These both will develop student abilities but also have a lasting impact on them.
As DSU is discovering all these new research initiatives, what advice would you offer to students who are thinking about conducting research but haven’t yet started?
Start off through exploration. Certainly, as I’ve work with students in the past, I strongly urge people to take courses that are of interest, with faculty members whose research is interesting. Spend time with current research groups, whether in their university or neighboring universities or places they can visit. Be immersed in the culture of research, but also bring an inquiring mind. Be free to ask questions; ask a lot of questions. Not being afraid to ask questions is key.
So, from your perspective, how are DSU students ready to take on the world after graduation?
I’m excited to be coming to Dakota State University and to meet DSU students for the first time. I’m very excited from everything I’ve learned. I think that the projects that they’re undertaking are projects of good significance, which allow students to develop good skills that they’ll be bringing with them post-graduation. They’ll also obtain a platform in which they can take off with their careers or future studies.
Many of these skills and platforms are giving students an advantage in the workforce, even where jobs still have to be created. What is the importance of a college degree in a world where so many fields haven’t yet been envisioned?
It’s fascinating that, historically, we sometimes thought of K-16 education as being one contiguous bit of education in which we start off and continue right through, finishing with college. In this world, we need to think of lifelong learning and consider that our careers will change multiple times over the course of our lifetime. We will need to keep learning over and over again. That means there’s also a huge need for people to join the workforce without completing a four-year college at the outset but to also do two years of really good technical training that’s well linked with the needs of the country, in an applied and a theoretical sense, for technical workers to support research infrastructure.
We also need people who will complete a four-year degree and come out and staff the science and technology workforce. We need people who have a master’s degree. We need people who go onto a Ph.D. There’s a fabric that we need across this country, one of skilled people who can help drive innovation forward.
With that need for all those different types of people, how do you think businesses are going to benefit by hiring a student or several students who have those varied degrees but also conduct research?
We have a long and rich history and we can see that STEM “know-how” contributed to economic development and innovation. As I think about DSU’s growing research footprint, it is vital, especially in this era where we truly need all hands on-deck working together, to contribute to the fabric of knowledge and innovation that fuels our nation’s economy, security and competitiveness. It will empower successive generations to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
I’m truly excited to be visiting later this week and taking part in DSU’s Research Symposium while celebrating all the advances DSU is making at the current time.
While DSU is preparing for Souvaine’s visit, students and faculty are anxious to showcase their findings.
“Research takes a lot of time and commitment. There is never enough time in the day to get it all done,” said Michael Gaylor, a member of DSU’s faculty.
“As I tell my students, Mother Nature doesn’t give up her secrets too easily, so one has to work really hard to tease them out. It’s thrilling to discover new things with students every day that no one else knows about.”
Like Gaylor, DSU student Sammy Drummond dug into those secrets. Drummond has been working hard on a project that detects the trajectories of baseballs.
“In my physics class, I learned about computer programs for computational models and, since I love baseball and physics, I was able to create a model for a field I am interested in,” Drummond said.
Because of his high interest, Drummond was able to keep himself motivated throughout his research process, with help from his family, friends and mentor.
“Dr. James Maloney was also a big supporter, especially on the computational side. It was my first model I ever created at this level of complexity. He helped break it down into manageable parts,” he said.
Student Mariah Fixen also has conducted research pertaining to the athletic world.
“My research project involves looking at two vertical jump devices (Vertec and G-Vert), which measure an individual’s vertical jump. For us to gather all our data, we were able to test this with individuals who were willing to take time out of their day to perform five jumps,” she said.
Those individuals kept Fixen motivated, as did DSU faculty member Dr. Scott Staiger.
“Dr. Staiger kept me motivated throughout this process. He helped me meet deadlines, gather data, crunch numbers and provided examples that helped me document our research properly,” Fixen said.
Overall, Fixen and Drummond hope to impact those who may find research or athletics interesting.
“I hope to impact coaches from all different perspectives,” Fixen said. “This could help them notice the reliability of each device and pick which one better suits their programs.”
Drummond wants his research to create enjoyment and inspiration for those who love baseball or physics.
“I also want to demonstrate how versatile science is and how it can be used to illustrate the real world,” he said.
The annual Research Symposium kicked off Tuesday, but has events going through Thursday on the DSU campus. The events are open to the public.
Research Symposium schedule
11 a.m. – 1 p.m. | Research projects poster session, Trojan Center Lounge.
3:30 p.m. | Reception welcoming regional research leaders and members of the National Science Board, Beacom Collaboration Center.
10 a.m. | Students’ library session, Kennedy Center Core Classroom.
1 p.m. | Keynote address by Dr. Diane Souvaine, chair of the National Science Board and professor of computer science at Tufts University, Beacom Collaboration Center.
2 p.m. | Poster and business plan competition winners announced, Beacom Collaboration Center. Reception to follow.
3:30 p.m. | Broadening Participation in Research: a student-centered forum with Dr. Diane Souvaine, Regents Room.
She’s the head of the National Science Board and has worked with ExxonMobil, IBM and Pfizer. Hear from her Thursday at Dakota State University while taking a look at impressive research from students.