Student adjusting plants

Celebrating Student Research at the 25th Annual RaCAS

May 12, 2022

This story was written by University Communications’ student content writer, Diddiery Santana. Photos were taken by student Hayley Black, who is also a peer advocate leader (PAL) at CU Denver.  

Chatter, excitement, and some nerves radiated through a maze of presentations at the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center for the 25th annual RaCAS (Research and Creative Activities Symposium). This year’s event drew more than 380 people and marked the first in-person research celebration since the pandemic.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be here with our students and for the show of support from our CU Denver community,” said Erin Golden, director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities. “The event is called RaCAS because it’s meant to be a boisterous and raucous celebration of scholarship and creativity. We are certainly feeling that today.”

Dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing Martin Dunn kicked off the event with opening remarks. Dunn has received international recognitions for his research accomplishments, as well as awards for products designed with the methods and tools developed from his research, according to his bio. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Pam Jansma delivered closing remarks and Dale Stahl, assistant professor of history, received the Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year award, presented by AVC of Academic Achievement and Student Success Margaret Wood.

Read More: 25th Annual RaCAS Will Celebrate Student Research and Creative Achievements 

CEDC dean Martin Dunn stands at a podium
CEDC Dean Martin Dunn

Dunn said research and creative activities are an important ingredient to a student’s success, helping build skills that employers are increasingly seeking. “The ability to think critically, to deal with ambiguity and open-ended problems, to be creative and innovative … That’s something important to recognize,” Dunn said. “Another important thing is that it’s not just about doing research. It’s about doing the work and creating the knowledge, in whatever form that might take. You need to present them. Disseminate them. Whether that’s writing, talking, or creating posters, you’re doing that today.” 

RaCAS supports CU Denver’s 2030 Strategic Plan Goal 3, to become internationally known for its research and creative work. Students and their talents and skills are integral to CU Denver’s research enterprise, Dunn said.  “We’re redesigning our research enterprise to make a bigger impact on the world and make a bigger impact on our students through our work,” he added. 

This cross-disciplinary event is a combination of celebrating and showcasing students’ challenging work. With presentation types ranging from in-person posters, media exhibits, and oral presentations to a virtual showcase and HyFlex talks, RaCAS is dedicated to supporting the work of students from all schools and colleges at CU Denver.  A few of this year’s presentations include: “Filmmaking through Digital Puppetry,” “Gender Differences in Emotional Reactivity,” “Detecting Malicious Social Bots on LinkedIn,” “Biliterate Writing Development,” and more. 

Hydroponic Project: Play with Your Food  

Inspired by the theme of food justice, University Honors Leadership Program and fourth-year students Julianna Wright, Jamie Young, Ryan Lavalle, and Dennis Mills came up with a concept of growing their own hydroponic produce, which is grown in water versus soil. Their mindset going into this project was to help underserved individuals and make this process affordable for all. 

After applying for and receiving a grant from the College of Arts & Media, they were awarded the Dean’s Future of Creativity Student Award. This allowed them to purchase and start building the necessary system for their plants. 

“We only have 50 to 60 years of topsoil left until it’s completely depleted,” shared Julianna Wright, fourth-year biology major. “By using hydroponic plant farming to take on the burden of growing leafy greens and other items you can grow, we’ll be able to extend the life of our topsoil.” This team also won the Emphasis on Interdisciplinary Collaboration Award at this year’s RaCAS.

The Power of Research Coming Together  

From start to finish, students participating in RaCAS are given an opportunity able to sharpen their skills, share their knowledge, and celebrate their work.

“The students have put in so much effort to share their research and creative activities today” shared Liz Evans, undergraduate research advisor in the Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities. “I have met with a lot of these students individually as they have navigated the last few years. I am consistently impressed. Our students and faculty are so creative and resilient to keep pursuing research in all its different forms.” 

While the last few years have been filled with countless twists and turns, students were thrilled to share their research in person with mentors, peers, professors, and community members. These projects represent hundreds of hours of work, time, and energy. For some students, their research is a continuation of their thesis. Keira Richards, fourth-year history major and winner of this year’s People’s Choice Award, said, “RaCAS is like the graduation for research.” 

As a hybrid event, student presentations can still be viewed in the virtual showcase. RaCAS demonstrates CU Denver’s commitment to supporting and highlighting student research to the broader community. “We’re here to encourage students as they navigate their research journeys from initial inquiry to independent scholarship. If you have a research idea, put in a proposal, take a shot, and present it,” added Evans. 

To learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at CU Denver, including paid opportunities through the EUReCA! Program, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities website or visit Handshake to book an appointment with an Undergraduate Research Advisor.