Virtual Reality
UNH’s undergraduate research conference goes online
illustration of a microscope
Illustration by Kasey Glode

or many students, presenting monthslong research at UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) is among the highlights of their college careers. Indeed, the program celebrated its 20th anniversary in April 2019 with more than 2,000 students presenting work over the course of 13 days. When campus closed March 18 and students were sent home to complete the spring semester remotely, it seemed inevitable that the 1,858 students who had registered to share posters, performances and projects at this year’s conference were bound for disappointment — but with a little ingenuity and the dedication of groups across campus, for the most part, that wasn’t the case.

Within a day of the university’s closing, the URC’s organizers in the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research had made the first move to take the conference virtual. “We had very little time to shift gears, identify one shared virtual platform that would work for most if not all 20-plus events, and work out the logistics,” says Hamel Center administrative director Molly Doyle.

By April 1, with the help of UNH Academic Technology, the virtual platform was identified. An online gallery to accommodate individual URC events was created, and guidelines were drawn up to aid faculty mentors and coordinators in shepherding students through the process of reimagining their in-person presentations for a virtual format. Students presented and recorded their projects remotely, then loaded them to the virtual platform for “visitors” to view at their convenience.

Screenshot from a computer
Not all of the students who initially registered were able to translate their work to a virtual medium online, but Doyle says fully 74 percent did. Madeline Karlberg ’20, an accounting and finance major in the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, was among those who were able to make the shift.

“Switching to virtual was definitely different and not what I was planning on when I first started working on my URC preparation,” says Karlberg. But she’s quick to point out the positive. “Being able to really think about my response and almost script exactly which points I wanted to highlight helped me get my point across faster and more clearly.”

Doyle marvels at the resiliency students demonstrated in the face of the spring semester’s unexpected curveballs. “Our undergraduates rose to the challenge of a virtual URC with real creativity and spirit,” she says.

— Jody Record ’95