Stories of Impact

Basener ’24: “So Many Opportunities”

Abigail Basener ’24


Before she even came to VMI, Cadet Abigail Basener ’24 had already earned an associate degree in computer science, and because of this, her future options were plentiful. She was seeking a challenge, though, so VMI quickly rose to the top of her list.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something harder than just a normal college,” she stated. “The traditional college didn’t seem to have enough responsibility or rigor. So, I wanted something that would push me a little bit further, that would require a little bit more, something that would be built around people and reliance on BRs and friends.”

Now, with graduation just months away, Basener is grateful she chose VMI—and undergraduate research opportunities are at the top of her list of reasons why. An Institute Honors cadet with a major in applied mathematics and a minor in economics and business, Basener has found that at VMI, research isn’t the siloed, one-department-only endeavor that it sometimes is at other schools. Thanks to VMI’s small size and collaborative nature, she’s been able to work across disciplines to seek answers to her research questions.

“The academic opportunities are great,” said Basener. “Because it’s such a small student-to-teacher ratio [at VMI], you have a lot more opportunities to do things you wouldn’t at a bigger school. … I’ve done research with history teachers. I’ve done research with math teachers, with engineering teachers. I’m currently starting some research that I’m doing with an English teacher.”

This year, Basener has been working on an especially timely research project: How to detect plagiarism in student writing in the era of ChatGPT by using tools that can tell the difference between human- and machine-generated content.

“My goal is going to investigate those [tools], and kind of learn how they work, learn how the detection algorithms work, through building my own [detection tool],” Basener explained.

Among the many features of student writing to consider, she noted, are variables such as sentence structure, sentence length, and word usage. If there’s significant variation between even one of those features in human- and AI-generated text, that could be a key feature in sniffing out plagiarism. To conduct her research, Basener is working with faculty from the applied mathematics, computer science, and English departments.

"It’s really fun to know that there are people who actually care what you’re doing and think that you’re important enough that you should have a good college experience."

Abigail Basener ’24

“It’s so much fun to be able to work with different research projects and for teachers in different departments,” she commented. “And you get to branch out and understand how different people approach projects, how different people think about different problems.”

As the oldest of five children, Basener has had to take on much of the burden of paying for college herself. Thankfully, scholarship support from a variety of sources has helped ease that load.

“It takes a lot of weight off your shoulders to know that some of that money is paid for and that you can focus more heavily on what you want to do and not have to worry about what’s the exact job where I’m going to make enough money,” she stated.

What’s more, Basener knows that those scholarships are given by real people who truly care about cadets and their futures.

“It’s really fun to know that there are people who actually care what you’re doing and think that you’re important enough that you should have a good college experience and then be able to give back to them in the world,” Basener commented.

After VMI, Basener plans to attend graduate school for math, computer science, data science, or statistics—or possibly a combination of those fields. She’s very aware that VMI has prepared her well for future study.

“I’ve had a very structured life where I have to meet certain goals and certain time hacks that are very harsh,” she stated. “So, it’s nice to know that when I get into a scenario like [graduate school], I don’t have to worry about it the same way other students might. … I understand that if you need to be somewhere, you need to be somewhere.”

As she ponders her next steps, she’s very glad she chose the path less traveled. “There’s as many academic opportunities at VMI as you make,” she stated. “There’s so many things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t at VMI.”

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