Kal Holder ‘23, a double major in Biology and Creative Writing through the College of Science and the College of Liberal Arts, placed third in the 2022 Undergraduate Research Pitch Competition held this past March. Their research is focused in the field of Biology Education, investigating how students are learning biology in order to improve the classroom experience and the standards of pedagogy upheld by instructors. More specifically, the project they have been working on seeks to understand how students make connections when describing how a process occurs and what this means for biology education. Their contributions to the project included data analysis, paper drafting and writing, and providing feedback on completed components. Their motivation for this research comes from their intent to become an collegiate level educator in the future.

They admitted that when starting their search for undergraduate research opportunities, they were struggling to find something that they were passionate about. This was until they “stumbled” across the opportunity. They had previously mentioned to one of their professors that they enjoyed their teaching intern and tutoring roles they held in the past. This professor recommended that they reach out to Dr. Stephanie Gardner, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, about availability in her lab. After the initial conversation with Dr. Gardner, they have now been working in the Gardner Lab for almost a year and have discovered a passion in working in a biology discipline.

“Dr. Stephanie Gardner has been an incredible mentor throughout this process, from giving me that first chance when I initially joined her lab, to continuously providing me with opportunities to expand my professional portfolio and my research skill sets.”

– Kal Holder ’23

Their day-to-day mentor has been Sharleen Flowers, a graduate student.. Sharleen has been an incredible mentor and an incredible source of support for Kal. From providing insights to the work they were performing under her to providing guidance to them as they navigated balancing challenging life circumstances and their engagement in undergraduate research.

They stated that research is an experience that is generalizable to almost any discipline or career. The rigor that is required for research in terms of data collection, privacy protection, data organization, analysis, drafting, and writing is the same rigor required for any potential career path. For Kal, personally, education research has become an important component to their academic profile and is a field they hope to continue to engage in as they move through their educational endeavors to their future career. They provided the following guidance for those who plan to present their research projects at future Purdue undergraduate research conferences:

“Remember that this conference is not a highly specialized one to any given field. This means that the language that is being used in presentation ought to be understandable by someone outside of the field. I would also advise students to approach the presentation with confidence – it is a great opportunity to practice and receive feedback before potentially attending conferences outside of the Purdue community”

Kal Holder ’23

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