Undergraduate Researchers Explore Capitol, Share Work, Learn About Legislative Process

Omar Wyman and Bailey J. Woods walk the halls of the Texas State Capitol.

Omar Wyman and Bailey J. Woods walk the halls of the Texas State Capitol.

By Elena Watts, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

Two Texas A&M University students shared their research with legislators and their aides, among others, while learning about the legislative process at Undergraduate Research Day. The event is held every other year at the Texas State Capitol in Austin for undergraduate student researchers enrolled in both public and private colleges, universities and health science centers in Texas.

Omar Wyman, 21, a senior biomedical engineering student from Cypress, enlightened audiences about engineering new human tissue and organs from biomaterials, while Bailey Woods, 21, a senior English and classics student from Fort Worth, inspired them to contemplate the mysteries of faith. The students participated in the daylong affair through LAUNCH, an undergraduate program at Texas A&M that facilitates learning communities, academic excellence, undergraduate research opportunities, national fellowships, capstones and honors programs. Both have been active in undergraduate research programs for most of their academic careers as Undergraduate Research Scholars, board members of Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, and Undergraduate Research Ambassadors.

“Both Bailey and Omar are familiar with LAUNCH: UGR programs, undergraduate research at Texas A&M in general, and are able to describe their research projects and the significance of them to a general audience,” said LAUNCH Program Coordinator Annabelle Aymond. “We selected students from both humanities and STEM fields to emphasize the importance of supporting research in every discipline.”

With more than 60 other students from 51 academic institutions across the state, the duo presented their poster displays and toured the Capitol during the 85th Texas Legislative Session. They met with State Rep. John Raney and chiefs of staff for Rep. Chris Turner and Rep. Mary Gonzalez at a time when legislators are considering the future of funding for Texas A&M and other state universities.

“I am pursuing graduate school and hope to end up in academia, and state and federal funding are important,” Wyman said. “Investing in higher education is a good way to keep pace with advancements made by other countries…and researchers need the help of the representatives who make those decisions, so it was interesting to see the inner workings of our government.”

Wyman’s presentation, “Annealed Microspheres for Tissue Engineering Applications,” featured his most recent work to engineer human tissue and organs from biocompatible polymers. His research has focused on creating a new tissue-engineering scaffold that can be used for numerous regenerative medical applications, such as human bone tissue engineering. When a broken bone is not expected to heal properly, this material can be used to fill the gap and allow for proper bone regeneration. Approximately 600,000 of the almost 8 million fractures that occur annually in the United States are delayed in healing, and 100,000 of those progress to nonhealing, according to a Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism journal article that published last year. Aside from the obvious health benefits, the effective and timely treatment of fractures using this method can help to save some of the $21 billion currently spent treating the infirmities each year, and this is just one of many medical diseases and conditions that stands to benefit from the innovation.

Woods presented her creative thesis, “The Untold Voyage of Saint Cormac: A Study of Voyage Literature Throughout History in Conjunction with the Practice of Peregrinatio in 6th Century Ireland.” Her 70-plus-page thesis is a work of historical fiction that delves into an ancient monastic practice of embarking on voyages to demonstrate devotion to God. When the monks survived their voyages, either returning home or landing elsewhere, their unlikely survival was considered the work of divine intervention and contributed to their verified miracles and eventual canonization. Through her study of more than 60 primary and secondary texts, most importantly Homer’s “Odyssey” and Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi,” Woods inspires readers to interpret St. Cormac’s experience through their own lenses and to reflect on their own religious or spiritual journeys.

“Being able to address the research community in Austin, elected officials and their representatives, students from other universities and their parents, and members of the general public helped me to learn to tweak my presentation for different audiences based on backgrounds and interests,” Woods said. “I could focus on areas such as history or the creative story and communicate in different ways to a wide variety of people.”

The Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors, the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc., and the Texas Association of Community Colleges host Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol while the Legislature is in session every other year. The event was conducted with the support of Sen. Kel Seliger (R-District 31), chairman of the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee, and State Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-District 43), chairman of the Texas House Higher Education Committee.

Wyman compared the camaraderie he has found in LAUNCH programs to that generated by student organizations, such as fraternities and sororities, on the campus of Texas A&M.

“You become part of the research community and you meet a lot of great people who can help you discover your passion,” he said.

To learn more about LAUNCH programs, visit http://launch.tamu.edu.

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Media contact: Annabelle Aymond, Program Coordinator for LAUNCH, at (979) 458-0039 or annabelle.aymond@tamu.edu; or Elena Watts, Division of Marketing & Communications, at (979) 458-8412 or elenaw@tamu.edu.

For more news about Texas A&M University, see http://today.tamu.edu/.

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