University of Wisconsin-Stout

Nov. 30, 2011

Lacey Holzer went to North Dakota to help research glucose intolerance. Diana Witcher traveled to New York to study an internationally known artist and sculptor.

Their research projects last summer were valuable in themselves, but the students’ experiences symbolize something greater: The significant strides Holzer and Witcher have made as undergraduate students at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

They had the same goal when they came to campus: Get their bachelor’s degrees and begin their professional careers. Now, having seen new possibilities through research opportunities, they are setting their sights on going to graduate school and becoming researchers and professors themselves someday.

Holzer and Witcher credit their involvement in the McNair scholars program, which is in its third year at UW-Stout. One of the purposes of McNair is to train students to conduct research and prepare them to pursue graduate school.

“It has helped me broaden the view of my career,” Witcher said.

“I never thought I would want to go to graduate school before,” Holzer said.

Her sister’s researcher

Holzer, from Hammond, is a senior majoring in dietetics. She was interested in the glucose intolerance study because her sister, Rachael, 9, has had diabetes for three years.

“Once she was diagnosed, I wanted to do juvenile diabetes research. It’s really hard on her. I’ve seen how it affects our family; I can imagine how it affects other families,” Holzer said.

Holzer worked with Susan Raatz, a University of Minnesota professor, at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Human Nutrition Research Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They examined glucose intolerance using different variables.

Holzer learned how to collect and analyze data for a study Raatz was conducting. “It was just a good experience overall for me. The scientists are so smart, so amazing and what they’re doing is so cool,” said Holzer, who plans to pursue her doctorate and do research on juvenile diabetes.

The research experience also opened her eyes to “different fields you can go into that I had no idea existed.”

Designing a career

Witcher, from Menomonie, is a junior majoring in art with a graphic design concentration. She researched sculptor and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi, who died in 1988.

She was under the direction of Alex DeArmond, UW-Stout assistant professor in the School of Art and Design.

The research experience involved studying Noguchi’s landscape and playground works in New York, with the goal of writing an academic paper and adapting it for a mass market publication.

Witcher saw several examples of Noguchi’s works and visited his New York studio, now a museum.

“He stretched the limits of what is possible as an artist. Studying him inspired me,” Witcher said. “He wanted people to understand his art and interact with his sculptures.”

Witcher, part owner of Aquarian Gardens, a sustainable flower garden design business in Menomonie, is excited that doctorate degrees are becoming available in design and design history, beyond the traditional Master of Fine Arts.

“It’s a new field. There’s lots of room for study,” said Witcher, who eventually hopes to write, design, consult and possibly teach.

‘McNair is changing lives’

Along with Holzer and Witcher, six other UW-Stout McNair scholars — there are 25 in all — conducted research in summer 2011, ranging from on campus with UW-Stout professors to working with professors at Michigan State and UW-Madison.

“When students come back they’re completely changed people. They just blossom,” said Richard Tafalla, a psychology professor and McNair program director. “McNair is changing lives and really creating some good students.”

Money from the grant-funded program pays for research experiences, as well as travel to disseminate research and for site visits to graduate schools. Students in McNair also receive academic support. One of their goals is to have their research published.

“It’s no less than a cultural shift. We are saying you can do this, even though they never may have considered it. That’s what McNair is about,” Tafalla said.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program began nationally in 1989 to bring more first-generation college students and disadvantaged groups into higher education. It is named after McNair, a scholar and astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.

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