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State college students learn to fly solo on research projects

Elisa DeOlim (right) of Wareham presents her research during the Midyear Symposium at Bridgewater State College. The symposium exposes students to rigorous academic research. Elisa DeOlim (right) of Wareham presents her research during the Midyear Symposium at Bridgewater State College. The symposium exposes students to rigorous academic research. (Bridgewater State College Photo)
By Stephanie S. Daly
Globe Correspondent / December 31, 2009

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It’s not common or normal for a college freshman or sophomore to feel like a true scholar, but at Bridgewater State University, students are given the opportunity to do some serious research.

The college’s Midyear Symposium allows students in their first and second years to take part in an extensive independent research project that requires them to get a grant, compile information for about four months, then prepare a 15-minute oral presentation on their topic.

The symposium held earlier this month was a compilation of research on subjects that included science, law, math, and business.

“I researched a topic that I really had no background in,’’ said Lucas Hamory of Canton, a senior in his second year at Bridgewater, who researched a 1997 hate crime in Wyoming. “It helped me with my presentation skills and in understanding how to do good research.’’

Of the 506 students who participated in the annual symposium, more than 200 were from communities south of Boston such as Brockton, Canton, Marshfield, Plymouth, Quincy, and Weymouth. This was the fourth symposium at the college.

“Bridgewater students have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about going to a state school,’’ said Lee Torda, director of the Undergraduate Research Program at Bridgewater State. “We want them to imagine themselves as powerful people, people who can work with and think with the best of the best.’’

The symposium is intended to expose students to legitimate research early in their academic career, pushing them to use and practice skills they can use throughout their college and professional lives.

“Just speaking in front of your classmates is an invaluable tool - it’s an important thing to have a grasp on in order to get through college,’’ Hamory said. “No matter what field a person goes into, they’re going to have to know how to present information.’’

Students choose their research topic with the guidance of a faculty member who acts as a mentor during the project. There is no limit to the topics they can study, and this year some of the most noteworthy ones were projects on food additives and one on the “seven deadly sins’’ of businesses and public relations.

The college also holds an April Symposium for advanced students.

“For most of these kids, the closest thing they’ve come to a research project is a history paper in high school,’’ Torda said. “I always say, a student five minutes before they present [at the Midyear Symposium] is not the same student five minutes after they present.’’

Stephanie S. Daly can be reached at ssdaly@gmail.com.