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More than 180 UC San Diego students presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference, a faculty-mentored program designed to prepare students for graduate school. Photos by Wesley Ruan/UC San Diego Publications

Passion Projects

UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Conference draws 180 students from across campus

Will Tanaka, a sophomore at UC San Diego, is growing mushrooms from food waste. He first discovered what is called “environmental farming” from a pair of UC Berkeley graduates who founded a startup for sustainable planters that allow people to grow mushrooms, herbs and more right on their windows. Tanaka took this knowledge to Roger’s Community Garden, a student-run space in Revelle College, where he began to grow his own fungi.

“My project involves collecting coffee and tea waste from on-campus vendors like Tapioca Express, Starbucks, Art of Espresso and Sunshine Market to grow edible oyster mushrooms,” said Tanaka. “That way we can directly convert food waste biomass to food.”

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Student research spanned all fields of study, from cellular biology to oceanography and cognitive science.

Tanaka was one of 180 students who presented research at the 32nd annual UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Conference held May 18 at the Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club. Participating students were nominated by faculty members across all fields of study. The conference was arranged by Academic Enrichment Programs, a division of Student Retention and Success that prepares students to pursue graduate degrees by providing faculty-mentored research opportunities.

“What I love the most about planning this conference is seeing undergraduate students present their unique research,” said David Artis, director of the Academic Enrichment Program at UC San Diego. “Not only are these students incredibly intelligent but because they’re nominated by faculty, they’ve proven how serious they are. I have planned nearly 20 of these conferences now, and students from 10, 12 years ago come back and tell me how much they loved being a part of this.”

Tanaka worked closely on his research with Keith Pezzoli, director of the Urban Studies and Planning program at UC San Diego. “Dr. Pezzoli has been an excellent mentor by giving me opportunities to conduct this research and connect it to the university’s goals of sustainability and agriculture,” he said. “If I do plan to go to graduate school, this project provides a basis and direction for any work I’ll pursue there.”

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Students who take part were nominated by a faculty member who judged their work to be outstanding.

Each student and group had 15 to 20 minutes to present their work in a faculty-moderated panel, followed by a five-minute question-and-answer period. Students were grouped based on their research topic, with panels ranging from “Education and Populations” to “Physics and Computational Methods,” and “Marine Biology, Ecology, and Oceanography.”

Nalani Tran, a UC San Diego junior, was nominated by Visual Arts Professor Dino Dinco for her project “Queer Resilience through Media Practices and Performance Art.” She was inspired by Dinco’s class called “Strategies of the Self.” Tran explained, “I created a lot of performance pieces relating to my multi-identities as a queer Vietnamese-American woman. Performance art is an important medium for me to express queerness and other aspects of my life that put me in the margins.”

As part of her research process, Tran read about other women in performance art and the contexts they performed in. She also researched queer theory and critical gender studies and analyzed available documentation of those performances. “I use performance art as a form of resistance against forces of oppression, erasure and toxic heteronormativity,” said Tran. “Performance art is a method of investigation and research I use to find freedom through artistic expression and carve space for queer futurity.”

The UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Conference is held each spring with support from Student Affairs and the Office of Research Affairs. The conference is planned and coordinated by Academic Enrichment Programs, which is part of Student Retention and Success, a division of Student Affairs. Learn more at aep.ucsd.edu.