Undergraduate students at the University of Utah and Utah State University will showcase their research for Utah lawmakers on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol.
Research Posters on the Hill, now in its 15th year, allows students the chance to demonstrate the importance of research funding to legislators, as well as polish their presentation skills.
Caitlin Heighton, a 2014 participant of Research Posters on the Hill, said the event was her first introduction to the realities of research, from initial project design to the final poster presentation. The event also helped her gain confidence for pursuing her lifelong dream of a career in scientific research.
“It was a wonderful experience to present research locally. It’s important for local legislation to see what students are working towards understanding and what we’re capable of doing, even before we finish our degrees,” said Heighton.
Shwan Javdan, another 2014 participant, echoed Heighton’s sentiment on the importance of communicating science to the public.
“[The event] put me into a situation where I had to explain my research to non-scientists, a difficult task when my research involved very technical polymer chemistry,” said Javdan. “However, I am grateful to have met with local congressmen to demonstrate the importance of academic research.”
“At the University of Utah, we emphasize the importance of applying knowledge gained from the classroom to real-world problems,” said David W. Pershing, president of the University of Utah. “Research allows students to graduate with a degree in hand, and also with invaluable, relevant experiences which help them develop into well-rounded, competent members of the global community.”
This year, topics range from linguistics, metallurgical engineering and psychology. A sample of projects include “Modeling of High Temperature Electrochemical Actinide Separations,” “Culturally Comprehensive Refugee Family Planning Curriculum” and “Social Support and Mental Toughness as Suicide Protective Factors in Military Police.”
The 2015 General Session of the 61st Utah Legislature convenes today. Gov. Gary Herbert’s $14.3 billion budget proposal gives $500 million to public and higher education and much for lawmakers to discuss in the next 45 days.
Jason Perry, vice president for government relations for the University of Utah, spoke to This Week @ The U about funding priorities this session.
What are the biggest funding challenges facing higher education in Utah?
In many ways we’re lucky. Legislative support and smart fiscal decision making has protected Utah’s colleges and universities from the worst effects of the recession. Lawmakers have done much to maintain state funds for public higher education. There are many different groups competing for funding every year, it is vital our lawmakers understand allocating money to higher education is an investment with a proven high rate of return.
How do lawmakers perceive the way higher education dollars are managed?
I think most recognize that Utah’s public colleges and universities are among the most efficient in the country. According to the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE), Utah public institutions award the second highest number of degrees and awards per $100,000 spent in higher education. That means Utah students are getting one of the best deals in the country. I think lawmakers are keenly aware that public dollars spent on higher education is an essential contribution to the state’s economic growth and expansion. Continued investment is necessary for the health of the state’s workforce and many vital community needs.
So what are the university’s top legislative priorities?
We’re asking for $10 million for an across the board compensation and benefits increase of three percent. We’ll make the case that building capacity is the way to provide expanded access to quality higher education in Utah, so we’ll request another $7 million to add sections of critical courses and eliminate bottleneck courses. We’ll also seek $4 million for expanding online and hybrid education and make critical IT system upgrades.
And what about building projects?
Lawmakers know that as the economy has recovered, most job growth has occurred in STEM industries. This year the top capital facility priority for us, and for the Board of Regents, is the Crocker Science Building. We are very hopeful that an emphasis on state-of-the-art, high-tech and dynamic STEM higher education facilities will result in the $34 million investment we are requesting. Private funds raised to date have been $21 million. We are also seeking approval to begin the replacement of Orson Spencer Hall.