Eric Barton with rover

See Nationally Presented Buffalo State Student Research at SRCC 2024


From a collection of oil paintings to a rover controlled by artificial intelligence, engaging research projects by Buffalo State University students have been presented at conferences across the country. The community can see and learn about these projects—and many others—at Buffalo State’s 26th annual Student Research and Creativity Conference (SRCC), presented by the Undergraduate Research Office (UR), on Friday, May 3, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Science and Mathematics Complex.

Nearly 250 students from all disciplines will participate in this year’s SRCC, making it one of the biggest yet, said Carolyn Guzski, Buffalo State associate professor of music and interim director of undergraduate research.

“For the first time, we are including applied learning projects that operate beyond the traditional realms of scholarship and creativity,” she said. “We respect SUNY’s commitment to the applied learning model at which our system excels.”

Kelly Frothingham, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, agreed. “One of the things we have always done really well at Buffalo State is provide students with amazing applied learning opportunities. I am really proud of the work our students are doing with faculty and staff.”

Buffalo State faculty members encourage undergraduate students not only to engage in research but also to share that research on the national stage. In March and April 2024, several Buffalo State students had the opportunity to present at noteworthy conferences with partial support from UR’s Undergraduate Travel Program.

Julie Benhoff, a senior B.F.A. painting major, attended the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Long Beach, California, in April to present a collection of oil paintings titled Celebrating and Embracing Small-Town Americana: Taking a Step Away from Urban America. Each of the eight paintings depicts a landscape in the Buffalo or Mohawk Valley regions.

Julie Benhoff in front of oil painting presentation

Julie Benhoff with her collection at NCUR in Long Beach, California.

“I strove to capture and highlight the authenticity and charm of the landscapes,” Benhoff said. “Although Buffalo is more urban than Mohawk Valley, numerous similarities are present. This project was a way to document and celebrate places increasingly affected by urban sprawl.”

Benhoff researched places with historic or nostalgic significance—focusing on places vulnerable to urban expansion. Viewers will recognize Buffalo locations Canalside, RiverWorks, the Cobblestone District, and Glen Park, plus Mohawk Valley’s Fort Herkimer Church, West Schuyler United Methodist Church, Main Street in Herkimer, and College Street and West Park Row in Clinton, New York.

All paintings were completed through the plein air technique, the act of painting outside with the subject matter in full view. “Plein air painting implies site- and time-specific,” Benhoff explained. “It requires artists to work quickly and efficiently to capture the changing light, colors, and atmosphere. It is arguably the best way to capture scenery for what it truly is in that moment.”

For Benhoff, NCUR—which hosts 4,000 undergraduates annually—was the perfect opportunity to share her work with a wider audience.

“Being from a small town, I knew I wanted to paint landscapes with the same essence to strike nostalgia in others and myself,” Benhoff said. “It was exhilarating, insightful, and wonderful to travel that far, see that many people, and share my art.”

Ettan Saiwala, a senior biology major with a minor in chemistry, is no stranger to the benefits of national conference attendance. Saiwala attended the Diversity in STEM Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference (SURC) in Buffalo, in April 2023 and 2024 respectively.

Ettan Saiwala presenting research at academic conference

Ettan Saiwala presents at SURC 2024 in Buffalo.

“The experiences were inspiring and invaluable,” Saiwala said. “They provided a platform to share my project findings, receive feedback, and connect with peers and experts in the field.”

Saiwala’s research focuses on erythrokeratodermia variabilis (EKV), a skin condition characterized by skin reddening and thickening. The goal of his study is to uncover the underlying cause of the disease and explore potential solutions. 

“It began as a class project during my sophomore year,” Saiwala explained. “Recognizing its significance, I expressed to my professor my desire to pursue it further as an independent study, driven by the hope of contributing to the development of treatments for this condition.” 

Some students travel with classmates. Selen Yucel, a senior childhood education major, attended the National Association for School-University Partnerships (NASUP) in Anaheim, California, in March, with a cohort of Buffalo State students and faculty members. In addition to presenting her research on critical thinking in elementary mathematics education, Yucel enjoyed various seminars and meeting educators and administrators from across the country.

Group of female students at academic conference

Selen Yucel (far left) attended NASUP with a cohort from Buffalo State’s School of Education.

“This event brought together advocates and leaders from across the nation to learn from each other and drive educational practices forward with space for innovation,” she said. “It was invaluable to meet new and veteran educators and be inspired by their ideas.”

Eric Barton, YongJun “Frank” Lee, and Anthony Puelo, students in Buffalo State’s Computer Information Sciences Department (CIS), took first prize in April for their AI-operated rover in the Undergraduate Research Competition at the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges Northeast Region (CCSCNE) annual conference in Albany.

Team Bengal—the Buffalo State team—competed against 46 other teams from 25 colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Wellesley College, and the University of Michigan.

Barton, a senior, began research for the project during his sophomore year. “The general idea was building a rover that can move by itself using large language models like ChatGPT,” he said. “It took a lot of research, time, and effort. We spent hours perfecting it.”

The students, who developed the project from scratch, including both hardware and software, found it inspiring to be surrounded by others in their field. “We were able to showcase our work against people doing similar things,” Barton said. “Buffalo State has never won a project like this before in computer science. We’re not really known for that. It gives you a window into what’s possible—anything.”

Lee admitted he never expected to place first. “I was so happy,” he said. “I hope our research becomes an example of what students can do.”

Male professor with three male students at academic conference

From left: Faculty mentor Gang “Gary” Hu with first-place finishers YongJun “Frank” Lee, Eric Barton, and Anthony Puelo at CCSCNE.

Both Barton and Lee said this accolade will boost future job prospects.

“When we put this on our résumé or mention it in a job interview, it gives validation to our work,” Barton said. 

“The project required understanding of programming and how to apply new technology,” added Lee, who plans to pursue a career in web development when he graduates this month. “It proves my ability to learn and study new things.”

Buffalo State’s SRCC 2024 will feature poster and oral presentations from Barton, Benhoff, Lee, Puelo, Saiwala, Yucel, and more than 200 others. The event is free and open to the public. 

Barton said he hopes SRCC inspires more students to pursue meaningful research. “Take on projects, talk to professors that allow you to research the things you want to research and have fun doing it,” he said. “That’s a big part of why our project was successful: it’s something we enjoy. I want more students engaged in that process.”

Inline images supplied by students and UR; all other photos by Jesse Steffan-Colucci, Buffalo State photographer.

Top image: Eric Barton at SRCC 2023.