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Last modified: Wednesday, April 4, 2012

IU Bloomington undergraduates honored for outstanding research, creative activity

April 4, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Six undergraduate students at Indiana University Bloomington have been recognized for projects that include developing a computer vision program for identifying birds; studying associations between food and memory; and documenting an under-studied African language.

Recipients of the 2011-12 Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity are Russell Conard, Karissa McKelvey, Kate Sanders, Juliet Stanton, Joseph Toth and Tarlise Townsend.

"Congratulations to these six students, who have accomplished remarkable success as undergraduates while showing initiative and maturity far beyond their years," said Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel. "Their research and scholarship are a testament to academic excellence at IU Bloomington. Great credit also goes to their faculty mentors, who recognized the talent of these students and worked patiently to support them."

Research and creative activity award winners

From left, Karissa McKelvey, Kate Sanders, Russell Conard and Joseph Toth are recipients of the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. Not pictured are Juliet Stanton and Tarlise Townsend.

Print-Quality Photo

Robel will present the awards at the IU Bloomington Honors Convocation at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at the IU Auditorium.

Created in 2010, the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity is sponsored by the offices of the provost, the vice provost for undergraduate education, and the vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. It recognizes excellence and celebrates the importance of supporting undergraduates who engage in research and creative activity.

Students are nominated by professors, and recipients are selected by a committee made up of administrators and faculty from several discipline categories.

Russell Conard, a senior from Lafayette, Ind., studying in the School of Informatics and Computing, spent the past year developing a system for remotely identifying birds using cameras and novel computer vision algorithms. His mentor is David Crandall, an assistant professor in the School of Informatics and Computing.

It was a difficult project -- one that, Conard said, he might not have tackled if he had understood the technical challenges in advance. But, working with Crandall and IU biologists, he was able eventually to develop an algorithm that could consistently identify bird species.

The research, it turned out, was not only interesting but has potential practical and commercial value as a way to conduct bird surveys that are required before and after a new wind farm is built. Conard is working to start a business to commercialize the research.

Karissa McKelvey, a senior in the School of Informatics and Computing from Santa Rosa, Calif., worked under the supervision of professor Filippo Menczer on the Truthy project, which analyzes and makes accessible the massive stream of data disseminated through social media.

McKelvey worked on the design and development of an interactive Web interface to visualize and navigate the diffusion of memes on networks such as Twitter. The goal of the project is to empower researchers, journalists and ordinary citizens to visualize how information spreads online and identify critical factors of the diffusion process.

She recently presented her work in a peer-reviewed paper for the 2012 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work in Seattle. Also, Menczer presented her work at this year's annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. McKelvey plans to pursue a Ph.D. and to conduct research that applies computational tools to fields such as political science.

Kate Sanders is a senior from Valparaiso, Ind., majoring in cognitive science and English in the College of Arts and Sciences. For the past three years, she has conducted research in IU's Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Lab, mentored by Peter Todd, professor of cognitive science, informatics and psychology.

Sanders learned essential research skills in the lab, including how to plan and run a study, code data and analyze results. She planned and executed two studies from start to finish: a study of the eating environment and a study of people's memory for foods.

She presented the study of the eating environment at the Michigan Consumption Behavior Conference in 2010. She is completing her research this semester for her IU honor's thesis; working with Todd, she plans to publish her work on environment and food memory in a cognitive-science journal.

Juliet Stanton, a senior from Austin, Texas, with a major in linguistics and a minor in French, fell in love with the idea of doing field work on languages as a student in a field methods course taught by Robert Botne, professor of linguistics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

For the class, she created a grammatical sketch of Saafi, an under-documented language spoken in Senegal. Through working with a native speaker and constructing the Saafi grammar, Stanton learned how to conduct linguistic field work and became confident as a researcher.

Botne said her 109-page paper is "not only an excellent piece of work, but it is the best sketch I have ever received -- either at the undergraduate or graduate level -- in over 20-plus years of teaching this course." After working with Botne this summer to expand and revise the sketch for publication, Stanton plans to attend graduate school to continue working on lesser-documented languages.

Joseph Toth, a December 2011 graduate with a major in telecommunications in the College of Arts and Sciences from Lebanon, Ind., was recognized for creative work that included serving as production sound engineer, dialogue editor, Foley artist, sound designer, composer and music editor for "Nathan and the Luthier," a 52-minute, student-produced feature film that was screened at IU Cinema.

Toth credited his mentor Norbert Herber, senior lecturer in the Department of Telecommunications, for being "a constant source of artistic inspiration and technical guidance."

By serving multiple roles in the making of the feature film, Toth said, he developed an appreciation for the complexity of film production and learned to contribute elements of texture, emotion and mood through the medium of sound.

Tarlise Townsend is a senior from Bloomington, Ind., majoring in Germanic studies and neuroscience. She spent the past year studying in Freiberg, Germany, where she completed an honors thesis on tracking and inequality in German public schools.

Her mentor, Ben Robinson, associate professor of Germanic studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, helped guide her research and encouraged her interest in education policy.

Townsend said working on the thesis helped cultivate a growing interest in social justice issues and broadened her academic exposure to fields such as sociology and educational research. She is working to publish the thesis and plans to spend the next year working at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.

Student winners of the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity receive a certificate and $500. Their faculty mentors receive a commemorative pin, $500 in research funds for personal use and $500 to support future mentoring of undergraduates.