"see blue." #selfie: Aaron and Joy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 24, 2017) — Want to get to know the people behind some of the biggest student leadership positions on campus? We did, too! That's why we've introduced "see blue." #selfie — a series on UKNow that lets student leaders from across campus tell us a little bit more about themselves and their organizations. Up this week, Society for the Promotion of Undergraduate Research Co-presidents Aaron Mueller and Joy Kim.

Meet Aaron Mueller and Joy Kim, this year's co-presidents of the Society for the Promotion of Undergraduate Research! Mueller and Kim, both from Louisville, Kentucky, conduct very different types of research on their own, but they collaborate to support other students' passions and interests in research. These co-presidents are paving the way for new discoveries, and encouraging other students at UK to do the same. Learn more about them in their "see blue." #selfie.

UKNow: What is your major and what year are you?

Aaron Mueller: I am a junior in computer science and linguistics.

Joy Kim: I am a senior in human health sciences.

UK: Where are you from?

AM: We are both from Louisville.

JK: We went to the same high school.

UK: Tell me about your positions as co-presidents of the Society for the Promotion of Undergraduate Research (SPUR).

AM: We are in charge of organizing all the events that SPUR put on. We function as a student org that helps other students better their research any way we can.

JK: As co-presidents, we set the agenda. We are returning members, so we know the ropes a little bit better. All of the other officers this year are freshmen. Aaron and I know more of the outline of what SPUR does during the fall and the spring. One new initiative in the fall we did was our "Ask a Researcher!" panel, which included professors from all different disciplines including com, biology, linguistics and computer science. We opened that up to UK undergraduates to come and listen. We also had some graduate students from pharmaceutical sciences on the panel so we could get their perspectives!

AM: It was a huge variety of people from all different fields.

JK: It was the first time SPUR had done an event like that.

AM: We helped plan that with the Office of Undergraduate Research.

UK: When did you become involved with SPUR?

AM: We've both been involved since last year.

UK: How did you all find SPUR on campus? 

AM: I did a search on OrgSync and it stood out from the rest. I joined in the hopes of getting involved in research, but bettering my technique as well.

JK: I was already involved in research when I learned about SPUR in an email through an Honors' listserv. I thought it was a cool way to promote research on campus and help students who don't have experience with that.

UK: What else are you two involved in?

AM: I am involved in Amnesty International, the Linguistics Club and Oxfam.

JK: I am really involved in the Baptist Campus Ministry. I help with the international ministry there. I'm in Alpha Phi Omega and I'm a peer mentor in the Honors LLP (Living Learning Program).

UK: Is there any major event SPUR is hosting this upcoming spring? 

AM: The Spring Showcase of Undergraduate Scholars! Students, faculty and staff can come and see presentations. We give our mentor awards and honor people who make the research possible.

JK: Like Aaron was saying, it's a big chance for undergraduate students who have been conducting research to come and present to peers and instructors. The SPUR team reviews mentor nominations and presents an award for a mentor who has shown excellence in mentoring an undergraduate student in their research. It's a time of appreciation and it's wonderful to hear how those connections work.

AM: It's a nice chance to show everyone the work the mentors have helped make possible.

UK: So why did you two decide to "see blue" and come to the University of Kentucky?  

JK: It was easy. I was very eager to enter UK’s Pharmacy School, which is nationally renowned. This is also why I looked in the field of pharmaceutical sciences for research opportunities as a freshman. Although I switched to dentistry along the way, I continued research in pharmaceutical sciences because it was fascinating.

AM: It's close to Louisville and UK offered me a scholarship. The connections I have made have blown me away. Everyone is awesome. It has been a lot better than I came in thinking it would be.

UK: What has been something of a surprise to you that you weren't expecting at UK?

JK: For me, it was coming to a university and realizing it's a lot more than a stepping stone to a career. As an incoming freshman, I wasn't looking for the journey, I was looking for the end. UK has helped me realize the importance of the journey. Number one, I was surprised by the number of faith-based organizations on campus, it has helped me realize what to prioritize in life. Being part of the community of the Baptist Campus Ministry has helped me realize what to prioritize in life. Another thing has been the Honors Program. My favorite class so far has been a freshman Honors history course that explored sociological perspectives during World War I and World War II. Since that experience, I have been eager to take advantage of my university education. There's so much to explore! Being a student at UK has taught me to keep an open mind.

AM: I had a straightforward look at what it would be like. I didn't realize there were so many opportunities to get involved in on campus to help you find out what you're actually interested in. I didn't know I was going to be so involved in human rights organizations and history. I am interested in social sciences. I am in Gaines (Gaines Center for the Humanities), so we learn different philosophies and topics. I have ended up expanding my interests.

UK: If you had a warning label, what would it say?

JK: "Jesus lover" and "curious."

AM: I think mine would say "Warning: keep up." I get excited and talk really fast and I bounce from topic to topic like it's nothing.

UK: What advice would you have for freshmen interested in research?

JK: Dropping by the Office of Undergraduate Research is a good first step, because they can provide resources to support you before and after you make those connections. I would also say definitely know that many professors are very willing to work with you and mentor you at UK. It's a very research-based institution. Another thing would be to take initiative. Read through what interests you and find people doing research related to that field. That's how I got started. Coming into college, I just thought genetics was super cool based on what I had learned in AP Biology. I contacted professors who were studying genetics-related topics, including my current mentor in pharmaceutical sciences. I came in never having done formal laboratory research. Don't be afraid to reach out first.

AM: Most importantly would be to talk to people — students in research and faculty. When I came here I had no idea what I wanted to do. Second, do stuff. Once you know your interests you can explore with no big commitments. Third would be to join SPUR. We have been through the process and we are decent at helping people explore themselves.

JK: They don't have to do research in their discipline. Whatever interests you! It's an exercise in humility when you're learning methods and topics you've never been exposed to. It's a critical thinking exercise.

AM: If you're interested in a bunch at the same time and don't know what to pick, there's a way to bring it all into one research project.

UK: What has been the best gift you've ever received? 

JK: Mine is two-fold. Probably the best gift is salvation — the love God gave me and how he has sent his son to die for me. Having that identity as a child of God has been essential to who I am and I have grown into at the University of Kentucky. And that’s an identity that cannot be taken away. I believe what God has done for me so I could have a personal relationship with him is the best gift. I also think my grandparents' love because they have shown me unconditional love in a human way.

AM: I think it’s something I receive on a regular basis — and that is just a chance. Whether that’s at friendship or a job, it’s a chance to show yourself how good you are at being a friend or at a task. It’s a compounding effect, you keep doing better things and it starts with one person believing in you. So, I try to do that for others and it makes life better all around. 

UK: What is your favorite city?

AM: I think I like different ones for different reasons. Chicago, for stuff to do and people to see. I'll go there on spring break and hang out. In terms of culture, Montreal. It's a mix of culture and there's no place like it.

JK: I guess Lexington. It was the first city I got to explore on my own and so having that memory associated with it makes it special for me. I spent my childhood between LA (Los Angeles) and Louisville, so both of those too. Louisville is where I call home.

AM: Louisville is a good mix of Kentucky coziness and it's also a little weird.

"see blue." #selfies will appear every other Tuesday on UKNow. Know a student leader we should feature? Contact Rebecca Stratton at rebecca.stratton@uky.edu to nominate someone.