School of thought

Ready for your close-up? Students to present mostly green research at UNR.

Undergraduate research director Mike Collopy says the Academy for the Environment program will revive in a more fertile economy.

Undergraduate research director Mike Collopy says the Academy for the Environment program will revive in a more fertile economy.


For more information about Nevada EPSCoR, check out
For more information about UNR’s Academy for the Environment or to see the schedule for 2010 Nevada Undergraduate Research Symposium, see

The title of the 2010 Nevada Undergraduate Research Symposium may sound about as exciting as a narcoleptic desert tortoise (curiously, some of these people would probably find a narcoleptic desert tortoise pretty exciting), but a glance through the schedule suggests that the minds of University of Nevada students in Reno and Las Vegas are in green places.

The conference is intended “to provide a forum for undergraduate researchers in all institutions of higher education in Nevada to share the results of their research,” which is an academic way of saying these students will talk about the things they were interested enough in to investigate. The conference is supported by a National Science Foundation program that encourages climate-change research.

The symposium is April 13-14 at the student union. It’s free and includes refreshments. And there are many topics being presented that’ll likely interest non-academic people involved in the new environmentalism: “Sustainable University Food Systems: An Analysis of the Sustainability of the University of Nevada Food System,” “Cycling the Pacific Coast,” and “How Well is the Business Community Prepared for Climate Change? Carbon Initiatives in Local Green Business Programs,” for instance.

Mike Collopy, assistant vice president for research and director in the office of undergraduate research at UNR and a wildlife biologist, headed up planning for the conference.

“We really showcase the undergraduate research scholars who are supported through this [NSF] program,” he said. “There are 15 of them. Nearly all of them are working on some aspect of climate change research, across a number of disciplines.” There are two other main programs represented at this conference. “I think we end up with 60 different students presenting either posters or oral presentations over a two-day period.”

Collopy is also in charge of the Academy for the Environment program, which took some major hits from the state’s budget disaster, but has managed to preserve its life with hopes of regrowing after the economy recovers. Since many business and political entities are interested in seeing Nevada become a green-power producing state, having a university program to staff those new environmental jobs seems necessary.

“The budget reductions last year eliminated virtually all the state funding the university had been able to provide us in previous years,” he said. “We had previously administered an undergraduate major on campus—we’re finishing up the students we have—but it’s sort of been put on hold while we figure out what we can do.”

The Academy is looking for other ways to fund some of its members’ ideas, with the focus now on developing interdisciplinary environmental programs and bringing in outside money to support those activities.

“We don’t have the in-house monies that we did in the past,” he said. “When you’ve got to balance the checkbook, you try to keep the most important things alive and viable, but sometimes great ideas don’t get funded. … All we can do is fight the good fight, and keep providing opportunities for students, keeping them fired up because they’re pretty passionate about a number of these issues.”