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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Research Gives Undergraduates Chance to Shine

Student projects displayed April 20 at University's annual undergraduate research conference.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 4-21-2015

MANKATO — Eyebrows furrowed and arms folded neatly across his chest, the Minnesota State University, Mankato senior paused a moment, considering what to say next.

Distilling the results of his months-long, highly technical research project into something even a layman could understand was going to be difficult. Soybeans and how they respond to infections is complicated.

But he’d give it a shot.


Deep breath.

“OK. So. If a plant is subjected to infection by the fungus .... we’re expecting that little pieces of DNA will be copied,” Andrew Oeltjenbruns said. “And those little pieces will travel to other strains of DNA that function to make the plant to grow longer or bigger. And it tells those strains of DNA to stop, so the plant can ramp up its defenses.”

It’s kind of like the plant’s autoimmune response, he said. When a soybean plant is injured or infected, it releases a volatile organic compound that tells its DNA cells to make repairs.

Oeltjenbruns studied how effective the process is as part of an extensive undergraduate research project at Minnesota State Mankato, presenting his findings Monday during the university’s 17th annual undergraduate research symposium.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Inspiring Students, Creating Scholars.” More than 200 undergrads participated, said the symposium’s coordinator Heather Von Bank.

The event is intended to get students thinking more critically. Minnesota State Mankato’s undergraduate research center helps students set themselves apart from their peers, improve their resumes, and gain real-world experience as well as explore their own interests.

“I think a lot of our students think of research as that big, scary R-word,” Von Bank said. “But depending on your interests, it can be really fun and fulfilling to do.”

Other research projects featured at the symposium explored the effect of low testosterone levels on bone density in male rats, hygienic bee behavior and the build-ability of “do-ityourself” 3D printers.

Several weeks ago almost 50 students from the college presented their findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Cheney, Washington, Von Bank said.

“And of course it’s going to help a number of them get into a graduate program,” she added.

The ability to perform research could help others get jobs. Oeltjenbruns, who is majoring in biochemistry, said he hopes the skills he developed doing his project will help him get a job in a research lab before he goes to pharmacy school.

Peter Nickel, who graduates next fall, already has scooped up an internship.

This summer the construction management student is working for Mortenson Construction, the company building the new Vikings football stadium.

His interviewers were impressed with the research he did on green construction and LEED for last year’s research symposium.

This year, he focused on precast concrete.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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