Undergraduate Research @ UMKC

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2016 Honorees for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers, Scholars, and Artists


Dr. Tina Niemi

A member of the Department of Geosciences since 1995, Dr. Niemi has mentored more than 40 undergraduate researchers in just the past decade, inviting students to participate in her innovative work on neotectonics. Truly a global citizen and researcher, Dr. Niemi urges undergraduate researchers to explore the world as well as their own backyards. She has invited students to join her on research trips that span the globe--from Southeast Missouri to Jordan, from California to Turkey, from the Bahamas to India. They have worked in 108F heat to collect samples from a 13,000-year-old lake bed in Mexico; they have measured a frontal thrust fault in the Himalayans; and they have probed microfossil assemblages to track the impact of ancient tsunamis in the Caribbean. One of Dr. Niemi’s colleagues notes that a poster in her office sets the tone for her work with undergraduate researchers: “Don’t tell me why you didn’t get it done, tell me what you have accomplished.” In that environment of promoting productivity, many of Tina’s students develop long-lasting friendships with her on their way to productive careers in industry, government service, and the academy.
   (Photo by Janet Rogers)

Dr. Praveen Rao

Specializing in data management and health informatics, Dr. Rao joined UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering in 2007. A noted expert on Semantic Web data management and cloud computing, Dr. Rao’s widely-cited research has earned the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and he has leveraged those dollars to support the investigations of undergraduate researchers in his field. Under his tutelage, undergraduate researchers have studied query optimization techniques for federated query processing on Semantic Web data sources; SPARQL Query Optimization using Cardinality Estimates for Linked Data; and how to harness Kansas City open data to improve the lives of citizens. Thanks to Dr. Rao’s dedicated mentorship, his students have been able to share their findings at both local (e.g., UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit) and national conferences (e.g., 2015 Grace Hoppers Celebration for Women in Computing). Both private sector employers, including Cerner, Skybox Imaging, and Perceptive Software, and top-notch graduate schools find the creative problem-solvers and team players that they are looking for among Dr. Rao’s mentees. As one of Dr. Rao’s colleagues notes, “There’s always a stream of students waiting to talk with him outside his office,” and he works tirelessly to foster their critical thinking skills and intellectual curiosity.
  (Photo by Janet Rogers)

Dr. David Thurmaier

Having joined the Conservatory of Music & Dance just three years ago, Dr. David Thurmaier is already making his mark in UMKC’s intellectual community, and he has distinguished himself as a committed, talented mentor of undergraduate students. Students describe Dr. Thurmier as “accessible,” “enthusiastic,” “inspirational,” and “passionate,” and they speak to his dedication in helping undergraduates see themselves not just as students of music theory but as contributors to this critically important field of artistic knowledge. Indeed, Dr. Thurmaier is committed to helping even beginning students at UMKC participate in undergraduate research and creative scholarship--he was one of the first faculty members to teach a EUReka course for 100- and 200-level students in 2015. He developed innovative assignments that allowed students in a sophomore-level course to conduct a significant inquiry into the lives and works of contemporary composers, and he invited doctoral students in the Conservatory to join in the process of mentoring these novice researchers. Dr. Thurmaier’s students certainly benefit from his hard work and pedagogical creativity, but so do his colleagues. As one of them observed, “Among the upper-level students I’m teaching, I’ve never seen students so well prepared for research as those who were enrolled in Dr. Thurmaier’s EUReka course.”
  (Photo by Janet Rogers)