SALT LAKE CITY -- Weber State University botany major Jaclyn Parker is building an online plant database that could allow Weber County law enforcement to use pollens and plant material found on corpses as evidence in investigating crimes.
"It's really kind of cool," said Parker, a senior who on Thursday presented a poster on her project at the Utah State Capitol rotunda, as part of WSU Day at the Capitol.
Students who worked on 20 other projects also shared information on their undergraduate research or volunteer activities. Dressed in their business best, they stood in the ornate, historic space and answered project questions from passersby.
"I always wanted to use my passion for botany to help my community," Parker said. "Weber State is great. I couldn't do anything like this without their help."
Parker has entered key information data about 250 varieties of plants found in Weber County into an online database she is building. She has 500 more plant varieties to go.
For each type of plant, she enters a photo, line drawings, pollen traits and pollen-season data, preferred soil composition and growing altitude, and locations at which the plants are found.
"If you find three types of pollen on a body that has been moved, you can even use overlay botanical maps of Weber County, and where the three maps come together, that may be the place investigators should go to look for more crime evidence," said Parker, 23, of Ogden.
Parker, with WSU professor Stephen Clark, already was tapped to help with botanical evidence in a West Jordan murder case, the student said.
"I'm going to graduate school for botany next," Parker said. "I hope to remain a crime scene consultant as a community service that I would not want to charge for."
WSU communication students Melissa Moyle, of Layton, and Samantha Ramsey, South Ogden, studied different aspects of the common question, "What do you do?"
Moyle, 21, surveyed 68 people, mostly Weber State students, about their motivation for asking the question. Respondents listed they were seeking information (about 48 percent); they were just making small talk (about 23 percent); they wanted information to judge or assess the person they were questioning (nearly 16 percent); and they were seeking a social or career connection (nearly 8 percent).
"I was surprised that judging was twice as much as connecting," Moyle said. "I also expected small talk to be bigger."
Ramsey, 20, surveyed 80 students about what constituted a socially acceptable answer to the question, "What do you do?" Respondents listed answering with the type of job held (almost 28 percent); a description of job duties (nearly 20 percent); a reference to income level (more than 16 percent); the job's benefit to society (nearly 15 percent); and a description of job complexity or required level of education (more than 11 percent).
"I thought income would be higher -- we live in such a materialist society," Ramsey said. "And I was surprised that education level was so low on the list, since I was surveying university students."
Other study topics represented included "Serum ATL Levels in part Transplant Patients," "The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage," "Habitat for Humanity -- A Brush with Kindness," and "Bridging the Gap/LGBQ Moments."
Chuck Wight, Weber State's new president, chatted with students about their work, and talked with political leaders.
"I think one of the really important things about today is we let students tell the story about Weber State University," Wight said. "It gives them exposure to some of our representatives, and it helps our representatives learn about the great quality of education and research at Weber State. It's a wonderful day. We've gotten lots of great support from our senators and representatives."
Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski, a WSU sociology professor and co-director of the WSU Community Involvement Center, said talking with students about research gives lawmakers a small glimpse of what engaged learning opportunities can do for a student.
"It contributes to the academic, personal and professional growth of our students," she said. "When lawmakers see the power of engaged learning, then they can understand the need to support higher education and innovative learning environments."
Dave Hardman, president of the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce, said he is heartened to see the caliber of students represented at Weber State's Day at the Capitol.
"It's good that they are down here, sharing these exciting presentations," Hardman said. "Weber State now has over 26,000 students, and the growth is very important to the state. Businesses are struggling to get a well-trained work force. Education is very important."
Kowalewski said presenting senior projects caps the WSU student experience.
"It gives them an opportunity to share their knowledge and really almost advocate for the work they have done," she said. "It empowers the students to champion their educational experience and to be more civically engaged."