Undergraduate Pipeline Symposium Showcases Student Research

Nearly 150 students from across the country shared research conducted under the direction of Carolina faculty members at the annual Summer Undergraduate Pipeline Symposium.

Emma Halker with research poster
Rising junior Emma Halker presents her research at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center

Emma Halker is the first scientist — the only scientist — in her family, and she’s sharing her knowledge with the public for the first time.

A first-generation college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Halker presented her biology research at the fourth annual Summer Undergraduate Pipeline (SUP) Research Symposium on Wednesday.

“It means everything to me to be here,” she said. “No one in my family has ever done this before. I don’t think my parents graduated from high school. So to be able to come to Carolina, to do research like this and present it — it’s kind of unprecedented for me and my family.”

Halker is one of nearly 150 students from dozens of universities nationwide who presented information about the research they conducted this summer under the guidance of UNC-Chapel Hill faculty. The students’ findings shed light on everything from mental health treatment to the search for truth in an era of “fake news.”

Student presenting his poster

Student shares his research findings with the campus community

The symposium is part of a larger effort by SUP, a program within the Graduate School, to prepare diverse undergraduate students for graduate careers.

SUP coordinates with more than a dozen research programs at Carolina to provide research and professional development opportunities to undergraduate students, who conduct their own research projects with faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral mentors.

At this year’s symposium, students shared research from across the academic disciplines and represented 15 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“Today’s student presenters have innovative ideas and believe that their ideas can contribute to a better world,” said Steven Matson, dean of the Graduate School. “We agree, and we celebrate with them.”

Halker hopes her project, which focuses on plant growth, will change the way we think about agriculture as the global population grows.

“We want to apply this to the real world to improve crop performance,” she said. “We hope it could even end up playing a decisive role in the efforts to mitigate world hunger.”

While Halker joked that no one can understand her research, gesturing to the words “phosphorylation of the aspartic acid of the type-B Arabidopsis Response Regulators” on her poster board, one clear outcome is her confidence in her own bright future.

“It’s incredible to be here. It gives me goosebumps to talk about it,” she said. “This is a stepping stone to the person I want to be and the life I want to make.”