Dual Purpose


High school senior conducts multi-disciplinary research

KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 3, 2019) —  

Each year, thousands of undergraduates from all over the United States participate in the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). NCUR, the largest conference dedicated to undergraduate research in the country, features work from some of the nation’s best and brightest students. Kennesaw State will serve as the host institution for NCUR 2019 April 11-13. Matthew Tikhonovsky, of Roswell, is one of more than 400 KSU students who will present his research at NCUR.

For the last two years, Matthew Tikhonovsky has had the opportunity to take college classes while earning both high school and college credit simultaneously as a dual-enrolled student at Kennesaw State University. When he graduates from The Classical School in Roswell in May, he will have participated in the National Conference on Undergraduate Research twice. He said that dual enrollment was a viable option to get a head start in college, but the opportunities and resources available to conduct research solidified his decision.  An Honors College student, Tikhonovsky has received funding to present his research at several national conferences.  

Tikhonovsky’s current project focuses on the challenges and opportunities that refugee resettlement agencies experienced prior to and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Refugee resettlement agencies, funded by federal dollars, provide incoming refugees housing and assistance in accessing other resources when they apply for resettlement status through the U.S. government. Tikhonovsky has been working on this project with his faculty mentor, Darlene Rodriguez, assistant professor of social work and human services, since last June.

Matthew Tikhonovsky

What is your research area?

I would describe my research area as somewhere between the social sciences as a very academic field and the social sciences as a practice. On the one hand, we are exploring the theory behind refugee resettlement in the U.S. and how social workers engage with their refugee clients. On the other hand, we are looking at the specific tools and resources social workers and social service providers in the Clarkston, Ga., community are providing to their refugee clients.

Since Clarkston is home to about 25,000 refugees from all over the world, there are so many unique challenges specific to Clarkston that may not be found anywhere else in the state. With this high population of refugees, it was ideal to conduct some sort of study relating to refugees and immigrants.  

What (and/or who) has been your inspiration for your research?

Throughout the course of my research, my faculty mentor Dr. Rodriguez has been an inspiration and a role model whom I really admire. I sometimes consider inspirational people to be those who you have no contact with or famous people who have done some incredible things. But what I think is unique about Dr. Rodriguez is that she is not only an inspiration to me, but she is also a role model for me in how I conduct my research. Having this faculty researcher-undergraduate researcher relationship is very important because she has been able to share so much information with me and guide me through the research process. She helped me better understand what a research study looks like.  

What motivated you to get involved with undergraduate research and NCUR?

On the first day of my English 1101 class, the instructor gave us a comic book that was our primary English textbook. I was shocked to see a textbook in this format. The more I looked into it and read it, I could see that this format was actually very important because it engaged the students and increased their interest in the textbook. I personally found the comic book layout interesting, but I wanted to know if all students were benefiting from the format or if it was a distraction. I reached out to Dr. Amy Buddie, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, and pitched to her my research idea. I had no idea what I was doing, and she was able to introduce me to research and explain what actually needed to be done. We designed surveys that were administered to about 100 first-year students in English 1101 classes. We found there was a subtle increase in attention and information retained among students who did have the comic book format.

The English department arranged for the textbook author to come to KSU. We talked with her about the research findings as well as how the textbook could be revised and improved for students. From that experience, we will actually be working with the author on the next edition of the textbook that will come out in 2021.

I applied for NCUR last year because Dr. Buddie encouraged me to do so since it was a good platform to share my research and get feedback. I applied again this year, but I am giving an oral presentation this time instead of a poster presentation. I think personally I chose the oral presentation because I could have more engagement with the audience and really share what I think is most important with my study. NCUR is a great platform to meet so many different researchers and also discuss with researchers and undergraduate researchers about really important topics in my field.

What have you gained or (hope to gain) from your experience with NCUR?

Since I am giving an oral presentation this year, I really hope to gain new viewpoints on my research from other student researchers. I think that student researchers have unique perspectives on different topics because they are students. I believe there is an element of honesty I can get from a student researcher rather than a faculty member that I will value as well.  

With so many researchers coming to Kennesaw State for NCUR, I am also excited to share my findings with people who are interested in my specific field. I have not had the opportunity to discuss refugee or immigrant research with other researchers besides Dr. Rodriguez and one of her colleagues.

What advice would you give to others about doing undergraduate research or participating in NCUR?

The number one piece of advice is not to be shy in admitting that you don’t know what you are doing in undergraduate research and that you need help. For me, I didn’t know what to do to start research or even what undergraduate research is supposed to look like. I think it is important to acknowledge that from the start and then seek out faculty mentors who can provide you with the critical knowledge you need to start your project. When I sent an email to Dr. Buddie saying I wanted to start the textbook engagement project, I had no idea what to do or where to start.

Students should also take advantage of all the resources that KSU has available through the Office of Undergraduate Research and professors across the university. NCUR is a great opportunity to get an idea of what undergraduate research looks like because sometimes undergraduate research can be abstract and not easily defined.  

Joëlle Walls

Photos by David Caselli


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu