Michigan State University psychology senior Marisa Kelly, of Ann Arbor, Mich. recently received the Novartis Award for Innovation at the National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC), hosted by the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association.
The award was presented to the winners of the Innovation Challenge, a new event at this year’s conference. The Innovation Challenge is a collaborative, engaging event that took place across two days. Conference participants were placed randomly into groups and then asked to refine macro-scale questions to frame more specific, tractable problems. Groups then developed solutions to solve these challenges and present their proposals.

The question Kelly’s group addressed was, “How might we better communicate to our current generation learnings from the past in order to learn from history?” The group chose to focus on children grades 1-4 and empower them with tools to discover their ethnic, cultural and ancestral history. Under this plan, students would be assigned mini history projects in which they are required to learn something from their family’s past. Several of these mini history projects would take place over the course of a school year and, at the end of the year, students would present their work at a multi-cultural fair. The goal of the project is to inspire children and help them realize that learning can be a process that is both fun and rewarding.

“I was very honored to win this award, especially since this was the first award of its kind presented at this annual conference,” Kelly said. “I felt lucky to have this opportunity to collaborate with great minds from across the nation. It was a high intensity challenge and my team was able to work together to create a viable solution to an important world issue. I was further honored to be nominated as team leader by my fellow group members. I was elected to speak on behalf of the group in front of the entire conference. It was an experience that I will never forget!”

The NCRC is a platform for undergraduates across the nation to share their interest in research. NCRC promotes the growth of a national undergraduate research community by facilitating communication, collaboration, and identity for undergraduate students in the global research sphere.

In addition to the Innovation Challenge, students participating in the conference also have the opportunity to present their research through poster and plenary sessions.
Kelly’s poster presentation, entitled “Children’s Use of Front-of-Package Labels to Recognize Healthy and Unhealthy Foods,” addressed the need for healthy foods to be easily recognized by consumers, especially children, because roughly one-third of our nation’s school-age children are classified as obese.

“Presenting my undergraduate research at this conference gave me a taste of what kind of research undergraduates are conducting across the nation,” Kelly said. “The variety of topics presented was amazing. I felt proud to be among the select few chosen to participate in this showcase. I got the opportunity to practice my presentation skills and received great feedback from both judges and peers alike. MSU has such a terrific undergraduate research program. It really enables students to reach their potential. Dr. Judith Danovitch is my mentor and a driving force for sparking my interest in undergraduate research. My undergraduate experience would not have been the same without this conference.”

The NCRC took place January 22-25 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. For more information about NCRC, visit http://ncrc.hcura.org/about-ncrc.