Speaking before Michigan lawmakers yesterday, University students said the answers to the state’s economic woes could come from the innovations of undergraduate research.
Twelve undergraduate students from Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan — the institutions that make up the University Research Corridor — were chosen to present their research to an audience of state legislators at the capitol on Wednesday. The students, as well as other higher education and state leaders, spoke about the importance of research to Michigan’s economy.
Speakers at the event included State Rep. Joan Bauer (D–Lansing), MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, Jackie Jerome Marks, a special advisor to Michigan’s governor, and Jeff Mason, executive director of the University Research Corridor.
In an interview, Mason said research has been a large focus for the three universities, adding that university research has a large economic and social impact on the state. The three universities have had a net economic impact of $14.5 billion on the state’s economy, according to Mason.
Mason also said researchers at the three universities have been essential in exploring the answers to the state’s difficult problems.
“If you look at some of the research that’s going on at these three institutions, they have addressed some pretty significant challenges,” he said.
Despite the successes of more experienced researchers, Mason said state legislators also need to hear about the successes of undergraduate students, which is why yesterday’s forum was so important.
“I think it’s important to highlight the research activities that students are involved in to our legislators and policy leaders in Lansing and focus on the exciting things they are doing within our university system,” Mason said.
Several University of Michigan students — affiliated with the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, which pairs undergraduate students with a faculty advisor to assist in research — from all three of the University’s campuses presented at the event.
UROP Director Sandra Gregerman said the students speaking at the capitol were chosen by faculty members based on the possible impact their research could have on the state’s economy and other issues important to state legislators.
Among the students presenting were Public Policy senior Catherine Laurion and Engineering freshman Andrew Farron. Their research project — in collaboration with the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy — is focused on a local business incubation model.
The project matches up local entrepreneurs with professional service providers, like lawyers or insurance agencies, in order to support new businesses and ideas in communities, Laurion said.
Laurion said she believes the business incubator model will be an effective way to turn Michigan’s economy around.
“Things like these grassroots ideas, that is the way to build Michigan up and make it stable,” she said.
Laurion added that she is glad to have the opportunity to share the model with state legislators, so state leaders can start thinking about innovation and entrepreneurship.
Engineering freshman Sita Syal was also chosen to present her research project, which focuses on ways to use incinerated waste as construction material.
In an e-mail interview before the event, Syal said she was “very excited” to speak at the forum.
“I think my research project has a lot of potential to impact the state of Michigan, and I am glad to know that my voice will be heard,“ she wrote.
Syal added that she is grateful for the opportunities she has had while participating in UROP.
“I think we are very lucky here at Michigan that we have such an easy way to get involved,” she wrote. “Participating in research has given me a chance to apply what I am learning to real life situations.”