female student working in a college laboratory
Story Research

A Virtual Pivot: CSU's First Online-Only Research Competition a Success

Hazel Kelly

For the first time ever, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and judges participated online for the 34th Annual CSU Student Research Competition.

female student working in a college laboratory

​​​​​​What do 256 students, 193 research projects, 44 judges, 23 campuses and 21 Zoom conference rooms have in common? Answer: Student research at the scale of the California State University. These numbers comprise the 34th Annual CSU Student Research Competition, which was held virtually on April 24th for the first time ever, due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Hosted this year by Cal State East Bay, the prestigious annual competition brings together the best of the CSU's graduate and undergraduate student researchers across the state to present their research and vie for the top honor in their discipline.

Competition organizers took quick and creative action to ensure that this highly anticipated competition could move forward, despite not being able to gather physically. “For us, cancelling the event outright was not an option. We know how much this event means to our student competitors, many of whom will be graduating after spring semester and might not have the opportunity to participate next year," says Jenny O, Ph.D., director of the Center for Student Research at Cal State East Bay.  

Because students were unable to present their work in person as in prior years, contestants submitted a video of their presentation for judges to review prior to the event. On April 24, participants took part in live Zoom Q&A sessions with judges.

Selected research projects represented a wide range of disciplines including behavioral and social sciences; biological and agricultural sciences; business, economics and public administration; creative arts and design; engineering and computer science; education; health, nutrition and clinical sciences; humanities and letters; and physical and mathematical sciences.

This year's research projects ranged vastly: Thermal energy storage, wind power, soil pathogens, wildfire impacts, fake news, investment strategies and CalFresh for students, are just a few examples of the 193 projects presented. All projects demonstrated the innovative critical thinking and hands-on learning that CSU students are engaged in.

The judges, who were Ph.D. students from various University of California campuses and several industry professionals, selected an outstanding project and runner-up in both undergraduate and graduate divisions of each discipline category. (See the list of winners.) 

"This event truly required a massive team effort and I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved," says Dr. O. “Words cannot express how grateful I am that I had such a dedicated and talented organizing team led by Michelle Hobbs-Helmus, as well as unwavering support and assistance from Dr. Jeff Seitz, our AVP of Research and Sponsored Programs. Our session moderators and judges also went above and beyond. They handled the many last-minute changes and tasks that we threw at them with great professionalism, and their preparation for—and exceptional execution during—​the 21 Zoom Q&A sessions solidified the success of the virtual competition."

“The CSU is known for its work in providing rigorous, hands-on learning experiences that help change lives both on the campus and in the community. The unique opportunities our faculty provide their students are key to their development both intellectually and personally," says Cal State East Bay Provost Edward Inch, Ph.D.

Research, scholarship and creative activities are essential components of a CSU education. Through these activities, the CSU advances student success, enhances faculty excellence and addresses challenges facing California and beyond. Participation in research also contributes to higher retention rates—especially among undergraduate students and students from underserved communities—a key goal of the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025, which is making progress toward improving completion rates and eliminating equity gaps.

Visit CSU Research to learn more about how faculty and students at each campus are impacting local communities and preparing for the jobs of the future. ​