Making Connections

Dec 01, 2014 John Stumbos CA&ES Outlook Magazine — University of California, Davis
Popular undergraduate research conference hones student skills.
Making Connections

At the Undergraduate Research Conference, landscape architecture student Katie Herman presented a poster on her senior project, Illuminating the Delta, which analyzed recreational opportunities in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. (Photo: UC Davis)

About 5,000 UC Davis undergraduates conduct research each year, and approximately 500 of them showcase their work at a conference that has grown tremendously over the years—a reflection of the campus’ growing stature among the nation’s public research universities.

At the 25th annual Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference held in Freeborn Hall last April, food science student Jason Wang presented a study of grower practices and their relation to postharvest chilling injury in tomatoes. Environmental toxicology student Fian Louie’s poster was on vitamin B-12 and the gut microbiome. And landscape architecture student Katie Herman presented a poster on her senior project, Illuminating the Delta, which analyzed recreational opportunities in the McCormack–Williamson Tract in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta.

“I was drawn by the competing goals for recreation, habitat restoration, and flood control,” Herman said. “The tract is of particular importance because it’s one of the few restoration efforts currently in progress and will become a ‘building block’ for a Delta characterized by more resilient ecological processes.”

“It’s important to be able to explain a project to people without a landscape architecture background. I realized I needed to include more background information on the project in order to more clearly introduce the importance of my design interventions.”

One of Herman’s faculty mentors is landscape architecture professor Brett Milligan. “Katie has been looking at opportunities for boating recreation within the tract, and in the process proposing new landforms, docking areas, campsites, and interactive way-finding systems for boaters,” he said. “The Delta Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Department of Water Resources have been highly involved in this research and are very interested in what Katie and the other students come up with.”

The first undergraduate research conference took place in 1990 with only 19 students, according to founder Tammy Hoyer, assistant director of the Undergraduate Research Center. “The conference offers students concrete experience to explore research options,” she said. “Students grow in their communication and cognitive skills, self-confidence, and develop personal and professional values. Another important element is that research prepares them for graduate and professional school.”

Herman found the conference experience rewarding.

“It’s important to be able to explain a project to people without a landscape architecture background,” she said. “I realized I needed to include more background information on the project in order to more clearly introduce the importance of my design interventions.”

After graduation, Herman hopes to work for a Bay Area landscape architecture firm. “I enjoy projects that involve large-scale analysis and planning and hope to continue doing these types of designs,” she said. “Eventually, I want to become a licensed landscape architect.”

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