UROC Showcases Student Research

rainbow of science


At first glance, a research conference may sound like an event reserved for professors or graduate students.  However, conducting research is a crucial skill for undergraduate students.  For students planning to go to graduate school, undergraduate research can make them more competitive for selective degree programs, and can help them feel more confident in launching their graduate research projects.  For students planning to go immediately into their profession, undergraduate research experiences will help them learn more independently and quickly in their new jobs. So where can undergraduate students share the processes and results of their research, while also strengthening their presentation skills?

Enter UROC!  The UNM Undergraduate Research Opportunity Conference (UROC) is a professional research conference reserved solely for undergraduates to spotlight their research, explain their ideas, and display what they have to offer in their respective fields and majors. Students are the experts at UROC.

At UROC, students showcase the value of their research, whether it’s an Art student’s multi-media project, or an Environmental Science student’s research on fracking. UROC is open to students from all departments, majors, campuses, and fields. All undergrads are encouraged to share and explore any project or research idea, at any point in the research process. In return, they gain feedback and experience in a safe and supportive space.

UROC coordinator Jennifer Payne, from the UNM Undergraduate Research, Arts & Design Network, describes UROC as a low-stakes, low-stress environment where student researchers become the experts.  According to Payne, students are excited at taking agency in their own research and enjoy showcasing their original work.

The first step in participating in UROC is to submit an abstract, which is a written summary of their research project.  After sharing their research at UROC, students receive additional feedback on their research and presentations from faculty, staff and graduate students. 

Kiyoko Simmons, a UROC co-founder from the Honors College, tells students, “UROC is a great place to start.  It’s a great place to not only present your research ideas, but also to get feedback so you can improve your research project.”  Students also have the opportunity to meet other researchers, graduate students and faculty members, “providing eye-opening opportunities.” Simmons says that these interactions serve as networking opportunities, where students meet like minds and even experts in various fields and interests. Students can mingle with other undergrads, graduate students, and faculty that they otherwise might never have had the chance to meet. At UROC, you might see an “engineering poster next to an education poster” indicative of the “cross-discipline” nature of the conference.

Sarita Cargas, professor in the Honors College and UROC co-founder, has encouraged many students to participate and share their original ideas and research, no matter the topic. Cargas explains that presenting at the conference strengthens students’ public speaking skills, and enhances their resumes and graduate school applications.  According to Cargas, many students have been asked about their UROC experience in interviews for graduate and medical schools.

The UROC conference will be held on Thursday, April 7, from 9am-4pm.  Students have a variety of ways they can present their research and work at UROC. Students can participate in the UROC 180 Competition, where they deliver a 3-minute pitch of their research.  Students can also opt to deliver a 10-minute oral presentation, or they can showcase their research via a poster presentation. Students also have the option of creating and submitting a research story, which is an online video, webpage, or essay that describes their research journey. 

Students can present on any research project they have conducted at UNM.  For instance, in Cargas’s honors class, "Why People Believe Weird Things,” students explore and analyze a controversial topic for their research. She then encourages them to create a poster, compete in the 180, or develop a 10-minute presentation for UROC, in whatever form they prefer.  Simmons recalls a dance major who, for her 10-minute presentation, performed a dance she perfected at UNM.  Simmons emphasizes that any majors can share their work, and display it either as an exhibit or performance.

UROC has come a long way since its creation in 2018. The conference was originally combined with graduate students, but the founders, including Simmons and Cargas, wanted to give underrepresented undergraduate students the chance to be the sole focus of the event.

Payne mentions that before UROC, research conferences at UNM were often perceived to be only for students in specialized programs, such as McNair or Honors scholars. UROC, however, was created in to give visibility to all undergraduate students, giving them the chance to present their work and gain invaluable conference experience. Simmons explains how the conference was created with the goal of being inclusive to all research types, majors, and fields of interest. Cargas especially wanted to dispel the myth that research is only done in the sciences.  “Research exists across disciplines,” she says, and this “includes the humanities.” Cargas wants us to “think big about the definition of research.” She also hopes to convey the idea that research exists on a continuum, from the spark of an idea to the production of novel research; no research is less valid because it is in an earlier stage in the research process.

UROC was originally designed to be entirely in-person, but only a couple years after the initial conference, COVID disrupted the 2020 event. Simmons was quick to adapt, and reformatted the conference to be pre-recorded and online. In 2021, UROC remained virtual, but utilized Zoom to allow for real-time presentations and feedback.  UROC organizers realized that, though there were drawbacks of an exclusively online format, it did allow for participation for online and branch campus students.  In 2022, UROC will be hybrid, with in-person and online options, providing both the valuable face to face interactions and presentation experience, and also giving the opportunity to students from outside of Albuquerque to participate.

UROC is sponsored by many UNM departments and divisions, including: Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Student Affairs, Engineering Student Services, ECURE, Honors College, McNair Scholars/ROP, Office of the Vice President for Research, School of Engineering, University College, and URAD.

Throughout the past few pandemic years, UROC has not only persisted, but has grown stronger.  UROC continues to give students a valuable experience in a supportive environment that will serve them well in whatever future they choose. The committee and sponsors of UROC hope to reach as many undergraduate students as possible, and show them that the work they do is important. They hope to see a wide variety of research at the 2022 conference, and are looking forward to learning from the students, who are after all, the experts.