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Provost's research fund provides opportunities in research and creative activity

It's well known that millions of Americans are battling health problems related to diabetes, heart disease and thyroid. 

But some might not realize that undergraduate students at Ohio University are studying ways to treat these and other medical conditions.
Jacob Wright-Piekarski, an Honors Tutorial College student studying chemistry, received $1,500 from Ohio University's Provost's Undergraduate Research Fund (PURF) to support his research on the effects of growth hormone on fat tissue in obese mice.

The PURF program, established in 2001, provides funding to help students pursue extracurricular research, scholarship and creative activity to further their education and explore career opportunities. This year, 50 students were awarded a total of almost $50,000. Click here to view the full list of recipients.

"Without the award I would be unable to purchase the proper DNA synthesis kits necessary to study the effects of low to high fat diets," Wright-Piekarski said. "With the necessary tools and funding, my research is intended to help people dealing with obesity."

The research and creative projects funded by PURF are diverse. This year, topics range from studying health conditions such as Parkinson's disease, memory loss and cancer, to exploring Dominican literature and creating stop-motion animated short films. 

Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit noted the importance of undergraduate research and the role of PURF in promoting it. 

"Being able to work with a faculty member on an independent project can be one of the best academic experiences of a student's career," she said. "I'm pleased with the range of projects this year and am appreciative of the faculty who make time to work with PURF recipients."

Kerry Shaffner received $400 for her art project "Garage Sale Idols," which examines the appeal of collecting kitsch. She purchased Kit-Cat clocks and various salt-and-pepper shakers with her grant, and kept a journal about her new collectibles. The project resulted
in a series of prints that she will exhibit at the Student Research and Creative Activity Expo this spring.

"People think these things are really tacky, but I think they're cool and inspiring," Shaffner said. "I needed to have these things to better understand why people like them, despite them not being worth very much."

Shaffner, a senior studying printmaking, said that applying for grants such as PURF is a learning experience in itself, and that the process would be beneficial to all art majors.

The PURF program funds projects in the social sciences as well. Aaron Hoy, a senior sociology major, is using his award to study how peer conversations about sex relate to actual sexual behavior among college students.

"It has been proven that the media has a large influence on college-aged students when it comes to sex, but I wanted to make an inference that dealt directly with conversation between peers," Hoy said. "Conversation is another way that students can make assumptions about their peers' actions."

Students who win PURF awards are required to present the results of their work at Ohio University's annual Student Research and Creative Activity Expo, held this year on May 13 at the Convocation Center. The PURF recipients can have their work reviewed by a panel of faculty judges, and can explain the results of their studies to the general university and community audience in attendance.

The deadline for new applications to the Provost's Undergraduate Research Fund is in September. Please contact the Honors Tutorial College at 593-2723 or honors.college@ohio.edu for more information.