University of Mary Washington student Ethan Bottone earned national distinction as a member of a regional team placing second in the Association of American Geographers World Geography Bowl last month in New York City. Perhaps more impressive, he helped claim that win as a sophomore in a competition dominated by graduate students.
The Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers team—made up of mostly graduate students—missed first place by a mere 20 points. In November, Bottone secured a spot on the team after placing third overall in the regional bowl.
“Competing against grad students was really nerve-racking at first, because I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, some of these people have been in college since I started high school’,” Bottone said. “But after answering a few questions, I just felt settled down and ready to play, like there wasn’t any gap between our educations.”
The geography department isn’t the only opportunity for UMW students to interact with graduate students and professionals in their field. Undergraduates in numerous disciplines attend professional conferences throughout the U.S., where they are able to present original research, as well as network.
Bottone also said that he felt he had an advantage over the other students since UMW emphasizes teaching and research as part of the undergraduate experience.
“We get to work right alongside our professors from the get-go, whereas somebody from [another school] probably won’t be known by their professor until they become a grad student,” Bottone said. “It just gives us more opportunities to learn and gain experience in our respective fields of study.”
UMW has an impressive track record at the geography bowls, most recently sending Matthew Holden ’11 to the national bowl each year from 2008 to 2011. Additionally, sophomore Joseph Winter participated on the Virginia team in 2009, and received the honor of top overall scorer at the regional bowl in November 2011. Many schools that attend the SEDAAG conference only send graduate students, so the Virginia team usually is composed entirely of UMW undergraduate students.
“We are one of the better, perhaps the best, geography program in Virginia,” said Associate Professor of Geography Jackie Gallagher. Typically, she said that students who perform well at the competition “think in maps.”
“For some students, it’s very clearly an academic root. They are that good,” Gallagher said.
Within the College of Arts and Sciences, 95 students were awarded undergraduate research grants for the spring of 2012. The grants will allow for a variety of projects, including presenting original research at professional conferences, travelling overseas to work on thesis papers, or supplying materials necessary for research.
In January, the Department of Mathematics sent five students to the American Mathematical Society -Mathematical Association of America joint meeting, the largest math conference in the U.S. Over spring break, the Department of Economics sent three students to the Eastern Economic Association Annual Conference.
In addition to attending and presenting at the conference, the economics students are editors of “Issues in Political Economy,” a journal featuring undergraduate research in economics.
Senior Patrick Marek, the current editor-in-chief of the journal who is double majoring in economics and business administration, said attending the conference allowed him to experience how professional economists apply economic theory to issues that affect ordinary people every day.
“This experience only galvanized my desire to explore, learn, understand, and apply economics in a way that reaches beyond the classroom,” Marek said.
The Department of Biology also plans to send students to conferences in Norfolk and Athens, Ga., this spring to present their research in various biological fields.
Undergraduate research is a priority university-wide, boasting an institutional membership to the Council on Undergraduate Research, a national not-for-profit educational organization, aiming to “support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.” Both the Colleges of Business and Education support undergraduate research through funding and advising, as well.
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By Anne Elder