Bridging Disciplines

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News Article

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College of Arts & Sciences


A one-time high school dropout and first (along with her sister) in her immediate family to go for a college degree, University of North Dakota senior Korey Southerland is breaking new ground.

She’s also blazing new academic trails with a program of study that includes atmospheric sciences, environmental geography, and political science, with a minor in mathematics.

“I’m a double major in environmental geography and political science,” said Southerland, who plans to graduate in May 2012. “I’m also adding an atmospheric science emphasis to my geography degree because I have had trouble deciding which of the two to major in. So I’m not precisely sure yet what my diploma will read, but I’ll be pursuing both B.S. and B.A. degrees.”

In addition to her regular lineup of coursework, Southerland has participated in several research projects, reflecting a trend at UND to engage students in research, regardless of their majors or year in school.

This year, for example, Southerland presented a research poster titled “Report on the Polarimetric Cloud Analysis and Seeding Test 3 (POLCAST3) Field Project” at the American Meteorological Society Conference in Seattle. The poster was co-authored by her science mentors, Gretchen Mullendore and David Delene, both of the UND Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

She also presented a paper in a unique undergraduate research conference at the University of Manitoba (UM) organized by UND political science faculty members Paul Sum and Brian Urlacher and hosted by their UM colleagues.

Loving math

Southerland, who grew up in Oklahoma City and Minneapolis, received an award from the McNair Scholars Program, a federal TRIO program funded at 194 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. The McNair Scholars Program helps undergraduate students prepare for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.

“I’m keen to understand how science and policy connect,” Southerland said. “If you want anything to develop in science, you have to have public policy support. I grew up fascinated by the weather, so when I came here I registered as an atmospheric science major. But then it happened: I fell in love with political science after a research methods class with Dr. Jason Jensen, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and director of the MPA (Master of Public Administration degree) program. He connected science with policy using statistics — and that made the connection for me.

“As a result of that class, I wanted to become immersed in doing science and at the same time communication to policy stakeholders who are so crucial for science to succeed,” she said. “So after researching graduate programs that would combine these interests, I decided that I wanted to be part of scientific success by also being a part of science and policymaking.

“I engaged in a math minor because I was scared of math,” Southerland said. “I immersed myself into math courses, but I didn’t do very well in my first math class. Thus, I saw it as a challenge, saying to myself, ‘Yes I’m Korey, I can do it,’ with the help of mentors such as Dr. Mullendore and Dr. Delene. I love mathematics now!”

Women in Science

Southerland also found time to organize, along with a team of faculty advisors, Women in Science, a student group that aims to encourage women — both faculty and students — at UND to mentor and support each other in terms of their ambitions relative to work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions, and the challenges related to getting women into STEM careers. She is the group’s first president.

Before coming to UND, Southerland, a self-acknowledged high school dropout, completed the transfer curriculum at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where she was co-founder of the Student Committee on Public Engagement.

Inspired by her mother, a political activist, Southerland was a delegate to two Minnesota conventions and has demonstrated her dedication to public service by volunteering and conducting outreach with various political and community organizations.

Southerland received UND’s competitive “Communicating Climate Change” internship, funded by NASA’s Global Climate Change Education Program, in which she conducted research using NASA Earth observation datasets. As part of that program, she designed translational Webcasts and lesson plans for students and the general public. She also works at UND’s Aerospace Research Center, helping students figure out resources for their research projects.

Last year, she received the Milton R. Young scholarship, a competitive political science departmental scholarship that seeks recipients with an exemplary dedication to public service.

Southerland was selected last spring to be a weather intern for UND’s award-winning Studio One at the Television Center, creating weather news stories and assisting in the production of the weekly Studio One show.

Undergraduate research

According to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), over the past 20 years there has been a tremendous growth in undergraduate research at all types of institutions, from community colleges to research universities. What once was primarily an activity undertaken by faculty at four-year schools has become an important pedagogy for teaching and engaging undergraduate students and revitalizing the curriculum. Government agencies and private foundations have recognized the important role of undergraduate research in helping to diversify the science pipeline, NCUR says.

In a joint statement of principles in support of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activities, the NCUR board says, “We believe that undergraduate research is the pedagogy for the 21st century. As an increasing body of evidence makes clear, inquiry-based learning, scholarship and creative accomplishments can and do foster high levels of student learning at a variety of public and private postsecondary locations, including doctoral and research institutions, comprehensive universities and liberal arts colleges.”

“My experience in research is that it motivates us as students to learn by doing,” Southerland said. “But it doesn’t work without really dedicated faculty mentors.”

Southerland plans to pursue a doctorate in atmospheric or climate policy.

“I want to focus on identifying and specifying best practices within the scientific community for translational research to promote effective communication and develop sound public policy,” she said.