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START undergraduate wins second place at international conference

UMD FIRE student wins award for poster presentation

At the International Crisis and Risk Communication conference this spring, START student Lauren Cain earned the second place award for her poster, "‘You Are Here’: Assessing the Inclusion of Maps in Campus Emergency Alert Systems," and walked away with some finely tuned career ambitions.

Selected by conference attendees – including academics and government and industry representatives – Cain was the only undergraduate student to win an award among a pool of graduate students and professionals.

It was the first professional conference Cain had attended. She and fellow student Samantha Beitzell had been invited to attend because of their work as student researchers and peer mentors through START’s First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) stream in Risk Communication and Resilience (RCR), which is led by Dr. Emina Herovic and Dr. Brooke Liu. 

“It was an incredible learning experience,” Cain said. “Aside from receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism from scholars in the risk communication field, I learned so much about effective presentation. Topics of risk communication research are very broad, so I had to be able to provide a brief but informative summary of existing research on emergency alerts, in addition to explaining our findings and their implications. I think my biggest takeaway from preparing the poster prior to the conference is that there is always room for improvement.”

The conference’s reach didn’t stop there for Cain. As she immersed herself in the research of peers and field leaders alike, she realized she wanted to continue down this path.

“Attending the conference made me realize that I would like to attend graduate school to pursue a career in research,” she said. “It’s funny too, because when I entered the FIRE program I honestly didn't even know what social science was or how research was conducted outside of the hard sciences. But I've come to love social science research so much that I switched to the Criminology and Criminal Justice program.”

Cain is now seeking graduate programs that will allow her to explore her interest in school violence and emergency alerts, and bridge her interests in risk communication and criminal justice.

Herovic, who runs the Risk Communication & Resilience FIRE stream at START, said that Cain is a great example of the type of student the FIRE program hopes to cultivate as it immerses students in an authentic, empowering and challenging research experience beginning their first year of college.

“As Lauren's mentor and someone who works closely with her on this research, it has been truly amazing to watch her grow both professionally and personally,” Herovic said. “Lauren began her FIRE experience freshman year, and since then, she has served as a Summer Fellow and Peer Mentor on my team. She is dedicated and consistent in her pursuit, and I couldn't be more proud.”

Cain said the FIRE program, especially the tutelage she’s received under Herovic, has changed her life.

“Dr. Herovic taught me everything I know about the social science research process through her FIRE classes, and my experience in the program has showed me that I am capable of succeeding in unfamiliar fields as long as I apply myself to the best of my ability,” Cain said.