Undergraduate Research – From the Lab to the Backyard

To celebrate UNC’s University Research Week and promote awareness of research opportunities at Carolina, we featured a variety of undergraduates doing great work. I spent the summer following students as they worked in the woods, labs, streams, and even the Smithsonian.

Climate change affects the timing of spring leaf growth, insect activity, bird migration, and breeding. Allen Hurlbert, associate professor in the Department of Biology, leads undergraduate students in surveying arthropods – like caterpillars, beetles and spiders – to see if plants, insects, and birds all respond to climate change to the same degree.

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Jared Richards recalls childhood memories walking through the halls of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and the awe of all that surrounded him. Now a research internship is making it possible for Richards to return to museum and contribute to the world-renowned institution.

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For the past year and a half, Jackson Richards has been working with Jason Franz, assistant professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, to investigate balance impairment and fall risks in adults due to aging and neurological disease or injury. Their goal is to introduce new rehabilitative approaches for preserving mobility and preventing falls.

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Gili Meno

Mark and I took a ferry from Bali to Gili Meno, one of three small islands off the coast of Lombok. While watching passengers board, I was noticing the sticker on their chests indicating their drop off point. Gili T and Gili Air kept popping up over and over, and I didn’t notice any Gili Meno stickers. “Sweet,” I thought, “We’ll get the whole place to ourselves.” At Gili Meno, we boarded the transfer boat and were the only tourists in a group of locals. When we checked into our room the woman behind the desk took a photo of us on her phone and excitedly said, “You’re our first customers back!” (Lombok had a big earthquake almost two months prior). As Mark and I gave each other glances out of the corner of our eyes, I started to doubt our decision. Maybe there was a reason no one else got off the boat here. It turns out our concerns weren’t necessary, and we had the time of our lives. We really were two of just a handful of tourists on the island and it was amazing.

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South Korea

After seven months apart, it was finally time to visit Mark in South Korea. We only spent a little bit of time there before heading to Indonesia but it was still great, with a couple days in Seoul, a tour to the DMZ, saw (from afar) North Korea, and visited Busan before heading off. I’m proud to say that I was way more adventurous with the food than the last time I visited Asia in fifth grade, but I have to admit that was limited to mostly chicken and vegetarian dishes. No octopus here.

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A History Suppressed

A dark time in our nation’s history, the period between Reconstruction and 1950 saw thousands of African Americans murdered via lynching – predominantly in the South. Two UNC professors hope to honor these individuals by uncovering injustices that, for decades, have been systematically erased from public memory.

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Seth Kotch talks to high school teachers about his research project, A Red Record. Kotch and students created an interactive map of lynchings in the South, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. In North Carolina alone, his class has found 181 lynchings, but Kotch suspects that is a conservative number – assuming many were either unreported or records have since been lost. “It was kind of shocking how widespread the phenomenon was,” he says. “If you look at the map itself and get rid of the cartesian lines it still looks like a map or North Carolina.”
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High school teachers listen as Seth Kotch talks about disseminating information about lynchings to their students. He is also developing free teaching materials that align with state standards and can be used as tools in the classroom. “We know that students aren’t learning about what’s called ‘hard history’ often in their high school classrooms,” he says. “Hard history is history of things like enslavement, lynching – difficult stuff.
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With the Descendants Project, Glenn Hinson and undergraduate students are tracing the family lineage of lynching victims and gathering oral histories of descendants. “Our goal is not to retell a gruesome history, but to speak to histories of resilience,” he says. He is also working with community members of Warrenton, NC, to erect an Equal Justice Initiative memorial in memory of local lynching victims .
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Jereann King Johnson, a community activist working to preserve African American legacies in Warren County, says the area’s racial history affects residents to this day. Warren County was the site of an infamous 1921 double-lynching in which Matthew Bullock, the intended victim, fled to Canada and a failed extradition ensued. With Bullock gone, the mob instead lynched his brother and cousin. Another local story is that of Soul City – a town that emphasized providing opportunities for minorities and the poor. The project fell through, and part of the site became a federal prison. It was also the start of the environmental justice movement in 1973 with a lawsuit against Ward Transformers Company for dumping thousands of gallons of chemicals on the roadside of mostly low-income, black communities. The case brought national attention to the issue of institutionalized environmental racism.  “That has been sort of the veil that people see the community through,” she says, “Particularly black people who have lived here all their lives.”

 

Making Rounds in Rocky Mount

A group of high school students start their summer mornings walking up and down business and residential streets of Rocky Mount. Their routes are dotted with stops to talk to business owners and curious residents wondering what kids in bright green t-shirts are doing all over town. As the teens make their rounds, they update business information into a phone app.

Over 800 miles away, students in Chicago start their day the same way, and have been for almost 10 years.

Both parties work for MAPSCorps – a nonprofit that employs local teenagers to map businesses in their community. The information is updated every year, and the data are gathered on a free, online mapping program.

UNC researchers have teamed up with counterparts at the University of Chicago, community partners, and local teens to map businesses in Rocky Mount and help the public discover resources in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

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