Undergraduate research: ‘You learn much more than you can in the classroom alone’

climate change research

Bria Goldade never expected to be part of research as an undergraduate. 

But studying the effects of climate change with experienced researchers in NDSU’s Department of Geosciences was a transformative experience.

Through research, NDSU students get to dive deeper into a subject of interest and develop a set of skills unique to the experience. Goldade’s contribution to helping solve a real-world problem has given her technical knowledge, problem solving skills, project management experience and the ability to work independently. 

“Jumping into it, I feel like I learned a ton,” said Goldade, a junior geology major from Williston, North Dakota. “You learn much more than you can in the classroom alone.”

Goldade also was able to work with one of the top scientists in the field. Benjamin Laabs, assistant professor of geological sciences, helped Goldade through the research but allowed her to take her own path.  

“We rely heavily on students to help us advance what we’re doing,” Laabs said. “A lot of undergraduate students here actually get to own their own research. And that’s not true everywhere.”

Goldade is an example of NDSU students who take advantage of hands-on undergraduate research opportunities. Many of these opportunities are available to students, regardless of their major. And many of the research projects can have a lasting, positive impact on the world. 

The goal of Laabs’ study is to determine how precisely changes in snow depth can be tracked over time. In order to get an accurate measure, they use drones to photograph specific areas of land during the snowy months. This allows for comparison of the ground’s surface from month to month, which ultimately reveals the snow depth. 

Doing this continuously will show how snowfall is changing over time, and if it works, could be applied to the whole Red River Valley to improve flood prediction. “This is something that’s worth keeping track of because the population is growing,” Laabs said. “More people than ever are dealing with this issue and this research could help.”