In a chapel at Evangel University in Missouri, senior Randi Block stood in front of a crowd and spoke. Her voice echoed against the high ceilings and the bright lights illuminated her face as she presented with the help of a PowerPoint projected on a screen normally used for religious song lyrics.
But she wasn’t making a religious testament — she was discussing science at the national conference for Sigma Zeta, a science and mathematics honorary.
More precisely, she was presenting the research she had done on the prevalence of rickettsia in the deer tick population of southern Michigan.
After all the presentations had finished, Block received the award for best oral presentation at the conference, which included representatives from more than 40 Sigma Zeta chapters across the nation.
“What was good about her presentation was her ability to answer questions,” senior Jacob Ross said. “She knew her material intimately. It became abundantly clear during some of the other presentations that the material was regurgitated. Randi really knew her research.”
Block said that many of the presenters discussed micro-projects they had done in conjunction with massive projects at larger research universities. The other students could attest to what they did in the project, but they struggled to explain how their research related to the project in its entirety.
Block conducted her research over the last year under the supervision of Associate Professor of Biology Jeffrey Van Zant. She saw the project through from beginning to end: collecting ticks, extracting DNA, collecting data, and analyzing it.
“It was easy to field questions,” Block said. “It was material I was very comfortable with. My oral presentation skills were not top-notch, but my familiarity with my project really set me apart.”
But it was not just Block’s victory that made sacrificing part of spring break worth it to the students. They also were able to participate in the national organization.
Block served as a member of the national service project committee, which included 15 students from different Sigma Zeta chapters. She said they decided that this year’s mission for the honorary was to work to make science more alive for underprivileged kids.
Senior Lauren Barlass said she was impressed by the variety of subjects discussed at the conference including gunpowder research, squirrel habitats, and one chapter that had worked to establish sustainable fish farms in Haiti.
Barlass presented a poster which detailed research she conducted concerning phosphate levels in water.
“It was a neat opportunity that probably won’t come around again,” Barlass said. “We got to learn and see what resources and ideas other undergraduates had.”
Like Barlass, Ross was similarly impressed with the work done by other Sigma Zeta chapters.
“It was like a shot of penicillin into our arm,” he said. “Now we are excited to try different things in our chapter.”
Although the conference focused primarily on undergraduate research, it was not a solely academic weekend. The conference organizers offered excursions to tour an underground cave system and a local aquarium.
“The conference was very informative,” Block said. “It made me proud to be a member of Sigma Zeta. It made the organization feel tangible and alive.”