Shining a spotlight on student research

Even after years of running the series, I’m still always energized by the launch of a new Research Unplugged season. But last week I was even more delighted than usual. Last year, my colleagues and I hatched the idea of inviting an undergraduate student to give one of our six talks each semester. With the help of Nichola Gutgold, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in Schreyer Honors College, we developed a list of potential student speakers.

There’s no lack of outstanding undergraduate researchers at Penn State; in fact, just the opposite. The number of exciting undergraduate research and service projects made it hard to imagine choosing. But one young woman stood out as the top choice for our Spring season. Though only a freshman, Neha Gupta has already captured the admiration and affection of not only  Penn Staters, but of the entire world, for the humanitarian work that led to her winning the International Children’s Peace Prize last November.

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Penn State freshman Neha Gupta accepts the International Children’s Peace Prize from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Fortunately for us, Neha agreed to be the first student speaker in this new initiative of ours, despite her extraordinarily busy schedule. (Among other things, Neha is taking part in Microsoft Office’s “Collective Project” which helps students pursue world-changing projects and tells their stories through videos, campus events and social media. )

After connecting through many emails and phone calls in the months before her Research  Unplugged talk , I was thrilled to meet this inspiring Penn State student in person yesterday.

Not unexpectedly, there was a standing room only crowd at Schlow Library to hear Neha describe her journey from a 9-year-old with a vision to help orphans in India to the head of a global foundation working on behalf of children’s rights.

Some of her fellow Schreyer Honors College scholars were in the audience, and Dean Christian Brady and Associate Dean Nikki Gutgold were there to support her as well. In her introduction of Neha, Dr. Gutgold pointed out that this is a student who embodies the values of Schreyer Honors College, most notably a passion for leadership and civic engagement.

From left, Associate Dean Nichola Gutgold; Penn State students in the audience; and at right, Dean Christian Brady

During the Q & A portion of the hour, the audience’s amazement at Neha’s accomplishments was palpable, as was their pride in her as a Penn State student. Neha fielded a wide array of questions like a pro for over 15 minutes.

While we know next semester’s student speaker will have a hard act to follow, we also are confident he or she will rise to the occasion. When it comes to Penn State student researchers, there are many exciting voices we’re eager to share with you!


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