UH Moment: "SURF"

Research for new hotel training models began with a trip to a public restroom.  Listen to this week's UH Moment.

Student Katie Kirsch, a senior in the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, embarked on a study made possible by the UH Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

Student Katie Kirsch and her faculty mentor, assistant professor Jay NealStudent Katie Kirsch and her faculty mentor, assistant professor Jay Neal

"We did some testing and found the most dangerous place in a public restroom, as far as bacteria are concerned, is the paper towel holder," Kirsch said.  "Now we've done a lot of research to find the areas that are most prone to contamination in hotel rooms.  We found 18 hot spots, meaning the places where there is high contact and the riskiest areas."

Katie is one of more than 50 SURF students undertaking an intense 10-week summer research experience.  With the guidance of her UH faculty mentor, assistant professor Jay Neal, Katie is collaborating with two other universities and hopes to develop standardized cleaning methods for hotels.

"It will be a training tool that they can use.  If they know the areas that are most prone to bacteria, they can concentrate more on those areas," she said.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship aims to develop and hone research skills while students are undergraduates.  A small stipend allows them to focus entirely on a research project for the summer.

"I'm not aware of many programs that offer scholarships for students to do this," Neal said.  "Katie is working on an issue that is very real in the industry.  To actually design and execute an experiment—you don't see it very often.  And I treat Katie just like my graduate students."

Kirsch is collaborating with Purdue University and the University of South Carolina in her study.  She's hopeful that the results lead to a larger study and standardized cleaning methods in hotels.  She's also hopeful the experience puts her closer to graduate school.

"The SURF program is definitely going to be a big part of getting me into grad school and getting funding for it," she said.  "It's really cultivates the young researchers at the university."

Undergraduate Research is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.  I'm Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.