Spotlight on Undergraduate Research — Zon Thwin

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.

With this initiative underway, we share with you the success of our students’ undergraduate research through a bi-monthly series — Spotlight on Undergraduate Research.

Student Zon Thwin hopes to be a doctor one day. In an Organic Chemistry II course, Professor of Chemistry Vasudha Sharma introduced Zon to what will likely be her first of many research projects — this one on a one-pot synthesis of an imidazole, to create a condensation reaction of benzil, aldehydes and ammonium acetate in the presence of catalytic amounts of iodine. Imidazoles are heterocyclic compounds with important biological activity — antifungal, antibacterial, plant regulators, etc. The course-embedded research project allowed students to use higher order skills, think to analyze and evaluate, plan to design, and communicate scientifically. Use of a catalyst in the reaction opened discussions on green chemistry for a sustainable planet.

Research “is an excitement, a curiosity, and some amount of frustration when things don’t work the way we expected,” Zon shared, adding that research is intellectually stimulating. “I like the idea that my thoughts are not limited. I like how I am able to understand why things work the way they do. I enjoy seeing how smartly scientists design their experiments to answer their questions.”

Since conducting this research, Zon has improved her capability to interpret scientific literature.

“I appreciate textbooks better, because they are written in an easy-to-interpret format,” she said. “Rather than feeling like, oh I have to study, I think how lucky I am to learn from ready-made sources.”

Research has also helped her identify her strengths and weaknesses, taught her to become an active learner and improved her time management, organizational and presentation skills, she explains. Additionally, she appreciates the sense of accomplishment.

“It is such a transferable skill that I can become an efficient researcher with any random topic,” Zon said.

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

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