The UC Santa Barbara Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities hosted its annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Week from Monday, May 8 to Friday, May 12. 

Students present their work during URCA Week conference panels. Anika Chang / Daily Nexus

Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Week is a five-day event where students showcase their various research and creative projects. The week includes a digital and poster colloquium, conference panels and a final fast-paced slam presentation. 

“URCA Week is a great opportunity for students across the university to present their [research] project that they’ve been working on all year,” URCA Director Anita Stahl said. 

The poster colloquium took place on May 9 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Corwin Pavilion. Over 185 students presented the results of their year-long research, with topics ranging from cancer cell research to racial prejudice analysis.

Along with the poster colloquium, over 50 students presented at the conference panels from May 10-12. Each panel was open to the public and featured each student explaining their methodology, experimental design and results to their audiences.

“A lot of the [topics] for the humanities students don’t work very well as a poster,” Stahl said. “It makes more sense to do a 10-minute conference presentation about it. For S.T.E.M. fields that have a lot of graphs and need data visualization, the poster is a good medium to communicate.”

While science and math make up the majority of the research project’s topics, URCA offers opportunities for all majors to participate in the event. 

“Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities also includes those creative activities,” Stahl said. “So there’s also students who are getting funding to work on their art projects, whether that be them buying canvas oil paints, but also software subscriptions to work on music or a student who developed a computer game to publish on Steam. Just really whatever students need to finish and share their work.”

The final component of URCA week was the Slam competition, where each participant had three minutes and three slides to give a presentation on their research in an effort to win a cash prize. 

The qualifying round for the Slam was held online, and the finals — consisting of the top 10 submissions — took place on May 11.

“It’s going to be competitive,” Stahl said. “We have someone from feminist studies, biochem and CCS [College of Creative Studies] doing presentations about their work, competing for $500.”

Most students who participated at URCA week received an independent research grant worth up to $750 to fund any travel and equipment expenses, according to Stahl. 

Milla Wu, a fourth-year Black studies and English double major, showcased her project at the Slam competition. Her project related to Black and Chinese relations in Los Angeles’s China Town to examine the perception of racial violence within capitalistic frameworks. 

“I needed funding [from URCA] to be able to interview them instead of looking at other people’s interviews. It’s important to be able to go out into the field,” she continued.

Wu felt that she needed to give back to those who she interviewed due to the vulnerability of those she talked to. 

“Because I was working with a lot of vulnerable populations, I wanted to be able to give them something like buying them a meal or giving them money. I didn’t want to be like ‘I’m going to exploit your story’ without being given anything in return,” Wu said.

Gaucho Racing, a student-run club that competes nationally in Formula 1-style car racing, received around $8,000 from URCA distributed across five projects that covered different aspects of automobile engineering, according to second-year mechanical engineering major and Gaucho Racing member Thomas Yu. 

Three projects were presented at the poster colloquium and the other two presented in conference panels.

‘The whole car costs around $30,000 to $40,000,” Yu said. “[URCA] was a huge help because we get no official funding from the school just as a racing club.”

At the URCA conference panel located in the UCSB Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning, Yu and his team explained how they tested the strength of welds on the car’s chassis while checking for weak points at the joints of the tubing. 

“To actually be able to say, ‘Oh, I built that car’ is very rewarding.” Yu said. 

URCA research is a high-impact educational practice that develops critical thinking, presentation, communication and collaboration skills that are supposed to be trained throughout the undergraduate level, according to Stahl.  

“It’s amazing what UCSB students are doing and the people who attend these conferences and colloquiums are amazed at what everybody is up to,” Stahl said. “Getting to present in that context, I hope, is giving students confidence in their work that they can bring into the classroom but also into their future careers.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 6 of the May 18, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.