/Spotlight on student research at UR Day 
Anakin Burdick at Undergraduate Research Day. Photo by Cady Inabinett, Editor in chief.

Spotlight on student research at UR Day 

By Cady Inabinett, Editor in chief 

Student researchers filled Harman Hall as the University of Montevallo hosted its 26th annual Undergraduate Research Day on March 13. 

Undergraduate Research Day is an annual event at the university, where students who have undertaken and conducted undergraduate research projects throughout the academic year get to present their work to the public. Researchers can present their research via an oral presentation session, where the researcher presents their findings in a lecture, or via a poster presentation, where the researcher presents their findings on a poster that the audience can pursue and ask the researcher about.  

This year’s Undergraduate Research Day featured 27 student researchers, who represented 13 different disciplines and were mentored by 19 different faculty advisers.  

Anakin Burdick, a theatre major, completed her undergraduate research with theatre professor Kyle Everett. Her project focused on creating puppets to portray the giant moving plant, named Audrey II, for a staging of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.”  

Since Audrey II grows throughout the show, Burdick created four different puppets, designing them in ways that also allow puppeteers to show Audrey II’s emotions and attitudes. Burdick explained one puppet, the smallest of the Audrey II puppets, is rigged with fishing line to allow for a puppeteer to raise and lower Audrey II’s leaves to make it look as though the plant is wilting with emotion. 

Burdick said a lifelong love of puppets pushed her to pursue this project. 

“I’ve always had a really big interest in puppets,” Burdick said, adding, “I grew up on ‘Sesame Street.’ From there, it evolved into Muppets, ‘Labyrinth,’ things like that.” 

In her course work, Burdick focuses on costuming, but she didn’t see why that should stop her from exploring puppetry. 

“There’s sort of a blurred line between costuming and props where puppetry falls. And so, I sort of wanted to play around with it,” she said.  

Burdick pointed out that there isn’t a lot of opportunity to work on designing puppets in collegiate theatre spaces, saying, “Most people will just rent them or commission someone to make them.” 

This lack of opportunity pushed Budick to pursue undergraduate reaseach. 

“I would love to work in puppets, and I didn’t see any other opportunity to do it,” she said. “So I approached one of my professors and I said, ‘I want to build a puppet,’ and he said, ‘Great news, they have a thing for that. Let’s do undergraduate research.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’” 

Burdick’s work was a change of pace from some of the more science- and humanities-based research projects that were also presented at Undergraduate Research Day.  

“I feel a tiny bit out of place,” she confessed, referencing the other presenters. 

But telling others about her project helped Burdick feel more at ease and confident. 

“People have been really excited to see it, they think it’s really cool, which makes me feel good about myself,” she said. 

Another presenter, Ricari Thomas, also presented art-focused research at Undergraduate Research Day. Thomas, who completed his research with art professor Michael Willett, focused on the benefits of practicing blind contour drawing. 

“I wanted to demonstrate how beneficial blind drawing is as an exercise for artists and non-artists alike,” Thomas said about his project. 

For his project, Thomas created 18 blind contour drawings of a wine glass. Thomas would spend two minutes on each drawing, drawing the figure without seeing what he was drawing. With each new drawing, the wine glass would become more distinctive and less abstract. 

Thomas pointed out that practicing blind contour drawing helps improve hand-eye coordination, motor skills and muscle memory, while also helping the practitioner become a better artist.  

“I wanted to show that anyone can learn how to draw doing this blind drawing exercise with any object, he said, adding, “It can really be the best observation drawing technique—or, one of the best—that you can do.” 

Like Burdick, Thomas turned a fascination into a project. 

“I wanted to do a project on blind contours because I just thought they were so fascinating,” he said. “Back in 2021, I just started doing a lot of these in my sketchbooks, and I just fell in love with the exercise altogether.” 

As for his Undergraduate Research Day experience, Thomas described getting to talk to people about his research as, “really amazing.” 

“I thought I would be a bit nervous, but I feel really relaxed. I feel really great about this. I love all the hard work I’ve put into this, and I’m so glad people like this,” he said. 

While Thomas aimed to draw attention to an artistic exercise, Jasmine Hall, a social work and sociology double major who conducted her research with social work professor Dr. Brendan Beal, aimed to draw attention to a local issue with her research. Hall, in her project, focused on how Montevallo students perceive homelessness.  

For her research, Hall surveyed 100 Montevallo students, aiming to measure their attitudes on causes of homelessness, remedies for homelessness and overall perceptions of homelessness. She said the results showed positive attitudes towards homeless people, but also showed a lack of knowledge about community homelessness. 

Hall said she was surprised that surveyed students pointed towards larger causes, such as social issues, as causes for homelessness, but that less respondents identified fixing these large issues as part of a way to alleviate homelessness. 

“I thought it was interesting because it showed that even though people seem to understand that homelessness has multiple causes going into it, and a lot of it has got to do with, like, macro issues—not necessarily anything within the homeless people’s control—there’s not, like, an easy way to fix it or, like, a lot of knowledge about how to even go about assisting fixing those policies.” 

Hall said she was drawn to working on this project because of her experiences interacting with homeless individuals. 

“Growing up, I had a couple of, like, interesting experiences where, like, my mom was—my mom, like, took in a few homeless people,” Hall said. “So, like, I kind of saw it from that perspective of, like, interacting with them.” 

Hall said her personal experience staying in a shelter also compelled her to pursue this research. 

“I’ve stayed in a domestic violence shelter before for a few days,” she said, “And, even then, it’s not a permanent residence, it’s not the safest. It’s very overcrowded, you always have to watch your stuff, because desperate people are going to do things to survive.” 

Hall said she enjoyed getting to draw attention to local homelessness issues by presenting her research at Undergraduate Research Day. Hall pointed out that the Shelby County’s homeless rate is 11.96%. 

“In a place like Montevallo, you don’t see a lot of homeless people like you would see in a place like New York or California,” Hall said. “But, like, there’s a very good likely chance that people are couch surfing or they’re staying in their cars—living in their cars.” 

She added, “About every one out of ten in the county are homeless, and I thought it was really interesting because you don’t really see it with your eyes a lot.” 

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Cady Inabinett is the editor in chief of The Alabamian. She’s majoring in English and double-minoring in political science and peace and justice studies. She enjoys reading, watching movies, caring for houseplants and generally just being pretentious in her free time.