COLLEGE STATION - With a cover story dealing with genetic factors affecting white tigers, Explorations might at first glance appear to be a journal catering to a highly specialized segment of scientific academia. Instead, it’s a highly diversified publication showcasing the research of undergraduate students at Texas A&M University. It is one of but a few such student-run publications in the nation, giving voice to literary and artistic endeavors as well as science and technology.
The opening article, a three-page piece titled “Water, Chemical Additives, and Their Effects on Shale” by Matthew Wiese, a senior petroleum engineering major from Houston, sets a distinct technical tone. However, a sobering spread a few pages over under a “Chasing the Sun” heading—a piece written by Stephen O’Shea, a senior English-creative writing major from College Station, gives a vivid and graphic literary report based on interviews with combat veterans recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then there’s the one where readers are requested to get out their smartphones and scan a QR code to hear “Only Human,” a piano piece composed and played by Peter Wong, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Corvallis, Ore. who also includes a highly personal account of how he came to appreciate music.
Those and 15 other articles written by Texas A&M undergraduates representing a variety of fields of study are included in the 64-page journal published this month. Many of them are based on research conducted in conjunction with the students’ studies, and all were subjected to rigorous review by a 10-member student editorial board, complemented by a five-member faculty-staff advisory board and with additional assistance provided by a bevy of volunteer faculty reviewers. Only about 10-15 percent of the articles submitted are selected for inclusion in the annually produced journal.
Explorations, now in its fifth year of publication, is overseen by Texas A&M’s Office of Honors and Undergraduate Research. It receives financial support from The Association of Former Students, the university’s alumni organization.
Explorations is the oldest student-run journal on the Texas A&M campus. However, a new literary magazine, entitled The Eckleburg Project, began operation earlier this year to provide additional opportunities for creative writers and artists to express themselves.
More than half of the Explorations articles were written by engineering students, including two pieces that fall more in the literary or artistic areas, but liberal arts and science are also well represented.
The new issue includes a letter from Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, a 1971 Texas A&M graduate, who notes that an opportunity he was provided to engage in research in physics during his undergraduate days proved highly beneficial to him when he continued his education at the graduate level and then launched his academic career.
“I can say without question that working on important research projects with faculty members as mentors gave me an advantage over graduates of other universities and helped launch my professional career,” he states, and further observes that opportunities for students to conduct undergraduate research are much more prevalent at Texas A&M now than when he was a student.
Loftin reiterated that observation at a reception for authors and others closely associated with Explorations when the first copies of the 2013 issue were made available.
He offered the student authors/researchers assurance that notation of such publications on their resumes will help set them apart when they apply for professional or graduate school or enter the work force.
Prof. Sumana Datta, who holds academic appointments in biology, biochemistry and biophysics and genetics and serves as executive director of the Office of Honors and Undergraduate Research, notes approximately 1,866 students currently participate in the university’s honors programs, with many formally engaged in research endeavors, working closely with members of the faculty. More than 200 students are currently in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, a one-year research capstone overseen by Datta’s office.
“I am always amazed by the breadth and quality of the projects and talents of our student authors and artists,” Datta says, “and I am especially proud of the tremendous leadership Executive Board co-chairs Madeline Matthews and Matthew McMahon, layout artist Annabelle Aymond and the rest of the student editors have brought to this issue. Of course, none of this would be possible without the selfless effort of our faculty research mentors and reviewers.”