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Seniors present research across disciplines in annual expo

For Lindsay Myron '11, a semester abroad in Mongolia was a rare chance to experience a unique culture and landscape. There was just one problem: The traditional Mongolian diet consists almost entirely of meat and dairy. And Myron is a vegetarian.

"I was really hungry for vegetables by the end of the program," she confessed.

But while some students may have chosen a different destination, the natural resources and plant sciences major saw a research opportunity. She set out to study the agricultural and economic challenges facing Mongolian vegetable farmers and to develop potential strategies for making vegetable farming more viable.

Myron was one of 50 Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars presenting their work -- from genetic and tissue engineering to prisoner interrogation and college recruitment -- at the annual Cornell Presidential Research Scholars Senior Expo in the Biotechnology Building April 14.

The Rawlings Scholars program supports up to 200 undergraduates each year from across academic disciplines and colleges to work with faculty mentors to design, plan and carry out individualized research projects.

Students receive a research support account ($8,000 for students admitted as freshmen; $5,000 for those admitted as juniors), along with an annual need-based loan replacement of up to $4,000.

The program is part of The Cornell Commitment, which also includes the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars program and The Cornell Tradition.

Research helps undergraduates develop valuable analytical skills, try out potential career ideas and learn about a topic on a broader level, said Laurel Southard, director of undergraduate research.

"Research requires that you understand the history and the background of your topic and then use that information to think in a new and innovative way," Southard said.

Students also develop long-lasting relationships with faculty mentors, she added.

Myron's project included interviewing farmers and government officials, studying the local economy and infrastructure, learning about the climate and soil conditions, and evaluating current investment strategies.

She concluded that farmers could do better by growing more high-value vegetables and producing value-added products -- rather than simply trying to boost yields of lower-cost crops.

She plans to share her research with development organizations in Mongolia. "It really frames the situation, which is something that has not been researched at all before," she said.

And the experience gave her a new perspective on her field. "I'd never really done a project myself, cradle to grave, so I was learning the importance of methodology," she said. "I also learned about the different things that go into agriculture itself -- extraneous things I wouldn't think about as an agronomist. I was teaching myself a lot of economic principles as I was going along."

ILR senior Matthew Loeb presented a historical analysis of the Sherman Antitrust Act. By sifting through old news articles, court cases and the Congressional Record, he said he learned about how the act, and the related Clayton Act, affected labor unions in the early 20th century.

Working on the project made him more confident about his plans to attend law school. "I came to realize that this is what interests me most -- this is what I want to do," he said.

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Blaine Friedlander