Institute Report, April 2007
By Wendy Lovell
Seven cadets traveled to Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif., in March to present their work at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR).
The three-day conference offers a national forum for undergraduate research.
Cadet Wesley Hopkins ’07 presented a paper on Homeland Defense policy and examined the threat posed by viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF), such as Ebola, Marburg and Lassa, as biological weapons and tools of terror. He researched the history of VHF agents, learned about the potential to turn them into weapons and examined the utility of biological weapons in combat. His final analysis focused on how a terrorist organization or rogue state might attempt to use VHF agents as biological weapons to attack the United States, and what Americans could expect as a response based on the country’s current level of preparation.
“I had presented this work at the Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium and VMI’s URS to minimal audiences at both,” said Hopkins. “Finally having people interested in my work come listen to me speak made the whole trip worthwhile. In addition to using my talents as a speaker and a researcher, I met a wide variety of individuals, perhaps even some with whom I will work in the future, and got the chance to hear what other people thought of my paper.”
Hopkins, who plans to commission in the Army, would like to be involved in homeland defense or national security, and he added that taking part in a number of research projects on the undergraduate level will be invaluable to a career as an analyst, public servant or teacher.
The cadets’ travel expenses were funded by VMI’s Office of Undergraduate Research through a Jackson-Hope Fund grant. The office selected Maj. Neal Messer, assistant professor of modern languages and cultures, to attend NCUR to explore undergraduate research opportunities that will benefit his discipline and the Institute.
“I have a much better idea of how to prepare my students not only for undergraduate research but also for national presentations,” said Messer. “The positive aspect of the conference is that so many students are able to make a presentation at a national meeting and gain confidence in their presentation skills. As a new faculty member, I gained exposure to the types of research being performed at the undergraduate level in my field, and this will allow me to be a more effective research mentor, which I intend to be my main cadet development focus at VMI.”
In addition to Hopkins, cadets Jeremy Adams ’08, Thomas Cunningham ’08, Will Flathers ’08, Laura Hash’07, Robert Payne ’07 and Robert Russman ’07 presented at NCUR. Col. James Turner ’65, VMI’s director for undergraduate research, also attended the conference.