Spotlight on Undergraduate Research — David McLaughlin

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Valencia College has developed an undergraduate research initiative — based on nationally recognized models — that expands opportunities for students to partner meaningfully with faculty members to pursue a specific course of research. As most community colleges only offer undergraduate research as a very small boutique opportunity for a few students, Valencia has become a leader in community college research. Last year, hundreds of Valencia students worked in one or more modalities of research. This is vital for students exploring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) -related professions through transfer, both to better discern their purpose and pathway, and to have experiences comparable to their peers at the university to which they transfer.

David McLaughlin, who graduated from Valencia College with an A.A. focusing in psychology, began his research journey on lifeguards’ visual perception in a psychology course taught by Melonie Sexton, professor, psychology, and coordinator of undergraduate research.

But what started as a class project turned into a big opportunity to study something unique and impactful, with David eventually presenting his research at the Valencia Undergraduate Research Showcase.

“Every day, especially in the summer months, we entrust our lifeguard staff to be vigilant and monitor an ever-changing dynamic environment,” said David as he described his research.

“As patrons, employers and fellow staff we trust lifeguards with our lives, it’s important to know whether our lifeguards are any better than the average ‘untrained’ persons at spotting a visual stimulus.”

David, who now attends the University of Central Florida (UCF), said the experience left him wanting to conduct more research, which he plans to do as he pursues his dream of joining a doctoral program in social psychology in the future.

Besides meeting great friends along the way, David said his research experience at Valencia has been extremely valuable to him.

“Research has given me hands-on experience that has been invaluable for my academic and professional career. My undergraduate research really gave me the toolset I needed to join bigger research teams at UCF,” he said. “And having research experience on your resume, whether it’s for a graduate program or a personal career, has really set me apart from other candidates. And I’ve met some great friends along the way.”

In addition, David said he considers research the “lifeblood of science.”

“Research moves the boundaries of what we know forward, and we need more people to step into the role to keep us moving forward,” he said. “It’s vital, it’s exciting (when it wants to be!), and more than anything else; it can lead to amazing revelations.”

To nominate a student doing great undergraduate research or for questions about Valencia’s undergraduate research initiative, contact Melonie Sexton, professor, psychology, and coordinator of undergraduate research, at UR@valenciacollege.edu or 407-299-5000, extension 5632.

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