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Sources: Donald Saucier, 785-532-6881, saucier@k-state.edu;
and Jorge Mendoza, klunix@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Saucier is Sahs-ee-UR
Photos available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-2535
News release prepared by: Katie Mayes, 785-532-2535, kmayes@k-state.edu

Friday, May 7, 2010

MENTOR TO UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCHERS AND A STUDENT RESEARCHER RECEIVE K-STATE HONORS FOR THEIR WORK

MANHATTAN -- A faculty expert on prejudice and a student who has researched declining bird populations in Kansas are being honored for their efforts in perpetuating undergraduate research at Kansas State University.

Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology, is the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Distinguished Faculty Award for the Mentoring of Undergraduate Students in Research, which includes $2,500 and a plaque. The award is based on mentoring performed in the previous academic year.

Jorge Mendoza, senior in biology, Garden City, is the recipient of the University Award for the Distinguished Student in Research. He receives $1,000 and a plaque. The award was established to recognize outstanding individual contributions to the discovery and creation of new knowledge at K-State.

"At Kansas State University, researchers like Donald Saucier provide invaluable opportunities for undergraduates to take part in real research. This sets K-State apart from its peers and makes a difference in student learning and their career path," said K-State President Kirk Schulz. "Jorge Mendoza is just one example of a student who has benefited from a universitywide commitment to undergraduate research."

Saucier joined K-State in 2004. He researches prejudice and the individual differences that contribute to attitude resistance.

Each semester he engages undergraduates into all phases of the research process, from designing projects and collecting data to data analysis and presentation of results. Undergraduates and graduate students under Saucier often present at regional and national conferences. In 2009 and 2010, his work with undergraduate researchers resulted in three co-authored peer-reviewed articles, five additional manuscripts under review and 14 presentations involving students at national and regional meetings.

He also advises students on preparing for graduate school and mentors junior faculty on how to best integrate undergraduate researchers into their own research labs, including how to select assistants, how to structure the lab experience and how to take into account a students abilities and learning outcomes.

"Working with undergraduates at K-State is an energizing experience. The perspectives and dedication that they bring inspire me and my lab to do both a higher quantity and quality of research," Saucier said. "I try to involve my students so that it really becomes our work, rather than just my work. To see them transform from assistants to actual collaborators is truly amazing. I am honored to have the experience of working with them."

As an undergraduate at K-State, Mendoza has worked with yeast in the lab, declining bird populations on the Konza Prairie and studied entrance requirements for integrated science doctoral programs in the U.S. As a part of K-State's Research Experience for Undergraduates Site Program and the Developing Scholars Program, he's been involved in a wide variety of research projects that have helped him land additional opportunities like the research internship he took part in at Harvard in summer 2009. For the internship, he studied the evolutionary ecology of bluebirds in the North American woodlands.

"Undergraduate research has being one of the greatest things that happened to me," Mendoza said. "It changed the way I perceived the world and has helped me become even more inquisitive. Thanks to my mentors, I was able to discover a new passion of mine, which changed my career path."

Mendoza has worked closely with Brett Sandercock, associate professor of biology, completing independent projects on grassland birds at the Konza Prairie. One of his projects showed that parental care of young birds is almost exclusively done by males, as females desert their young and mate shortly after hatching. The finding is important in understanding the behavioral ecology and mating systems of grassland birds, Mendoza said.

In addition, Mendoza was invited to take part in the Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability – or SEEDS -- program of the Ecological Society of America and the Edge Conference of the University of California at Berkeley, which are both competitive programs. After graduating from K-State in May, Mendoza will be a team leader for the SEEDS program's spring field trip to El Yunque National Park in Puerto Rico. He then wants to conduct biomedical research for a year at a research university.