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Undergraduate Researchers

Monica Berron

Monica Berron, Media and Communication Studies

Summer Researcher

Read my blog from Iowa.

What research did you complete last summer?

Last summer, I completed a 10-week research project at Iowa State University’s Virtual Reality Application Center (VRAC). My team’s project contributed to their established Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) program. We experimented with game devices utilizing pre-designed software called ISIS. ISIS is a computer program, which uses medical data to view body parts in 3D volumes. Our team connected the Microsoft Kinect to ISIS successfully and user studies are going to be done to see what results from viewing ISIS hands-free. Is it more accurate, efficient or user-friendly than other previously studied game devices?

How did you find out about this opportunity? Was there a formal application process?

I co-taught a Y-seminar last fall and Janet McGlynn gave a presentation on undergraduate research to our students. I joined the group on myUMBC and received emails about REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) application deadlines. I found two schools that wanted my background. I only applied to one, Iowa State, which I later discovered is a world-class graduate program.

The process required references, essays, and an application, but was not particularly formal. I was very honest about my interests. The day I heard from both of my mentors that they had not been called, when I was so sure I was not going to be accepted, I received an email that I had been chosen for the program.

Who did you work with on this project?

The lead of my project was Dr. Eliot Winer. He served as great coach and mentor for our team. Team members included my two undergraduate teammates, a post-doc, and a current HCI graduate student.

Was this your first independent research project?

This was my first time doing formal academic research.

Do you get course credit for this work or get paid?

I pursued the research program to learn about graduate school first-hand. I received a stipend for my work, housing, meals, and compensation for travel. The coordinators and VRAC team were very accommodating and allowed me to work for them without financial difficulty.

How much time do you put into it?

I worked 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. There were some days my team came in early and left late. The first few weeks we additionally completed courses in psychology, ethics, research, user studies, Heuristics, C++, 3D modeling, and more.

Many activities were scheduled for our professional development including luncheon presentations with professors on their research as well as day trips to prospective employers like John Deere and Principal Financial.

What academic background did you have before you started?

My academic background consisted of critical media skills, technical writing, and basic computer programming. I was chosen more for my work ethic than the brief coding background. No previous experience was required and many of the other REU students had no computer background. My fellow undergraduate peers were from all over the country with backgrounds in education, graphic design, theatre, mathematics, and neuropsychology.

HCI is about solving real-world problems with technology as an application, so interdisciplinary teams are required. I met professors doing work for the U.S. military, U.S. Census Bureau, John Deere, and Boeing. Other areas of study included mass-produced clothing, designing educational programs for children with autism, and creating apps to educate young women in college about reproductive health.

How did you learn what you needed to know to be successful in this summer project?

The archiving I completed for the Alumni Association two summers ago developed my interest in research and definitely played a pivotal role in preparing me for lengthy research.