A Passion for Research

By by Gail Huganir
Student Research Showcase
McKenzie Raver '16 discusses her projects with Provost Laura Niesen de Abruña.

If you don't know Runx1t1 from an eyelash, ask Brianna Kable '17 to explain it to you. She was one of 34 student scholars and recent alumni, from a variety of disciplines who proudly presented at the College's inaugural Undergraduate Research Showcase. The April event in Schmidt Library was sponsored by the Office of the Provost through the Center for Academic Innovation, and attracted a crowd eager to learn about the diverse projects.

Kable heard about the types of research being undertaken by biology professors in the Introduction to Scientific Research class. When Assistant Professor Sean Georgi, Ph.D., explained how gene expression changes during the development of the nervous system, Kable became very interested in this type of work.

During the Showcase, presenters articulately and enthusiastically answered questions about their research. Kable's "Characterizing the Expression of Runx1t1 Throughout Retinal Development in Chicken (Gallus gallus)" was among 35 projects on display. Subjects ranged from junior Joseph Bursler's "The Language of Stigma; A Resource," to 2017 graduate William Yommer's "Contemplation on State Collapse," to junior Alexandra DeBonte's "The Mental Lives of Fishes and their Conscious Abilities," to 2017 graduate Taylor Hartwell's "An Analysis of Criminal Justice Students' Cultural Competency: Recommendations for Multicultural Awareness Education," to 2016 graduate McKenzie Raver's four – yes, four – projects, including one titled, "That's the Spot: Eternal Sunshine, Grau, and Nietzsche."

Why this topic?

"How did you choose this research topic?" was a question the presenters heard frequently. Kable said, "After going over data with Dr. Georgi and finding Runx1t1, which had not been studied in the retina, I felt excited about the possibility of discovering something new." Hartwell chose her topic because she wanted to better understand issues that impact our community, and determine if Criminal Justice students are equipped to deal with these issues in their future careers. DeBonte picked her subject as part of a class assignment, and worked with Raver to develop the topic and ideas. She said, "Together, we were each able to take one aspect out of the project we wanted to expand upon." Raver said that many of her topics were subjects that were intriguing because of the challenges they presented. Recent graduate Emily Garrigan's research project was "The Cost of the Outdoor Cat and Dog: Wildlife Rehabilitation in South Central Pennsylvania." After an internship at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in 2015, she learned that wildlife attacked by cats and dogs were some of the most commonly seen patients. She wanted to quantify what was being seen to help educate the public.

Quite a few presenters intend to carry on with their research. Hartwell will attend graduate school at George Mason University to obtain her Master's degree in Criminology, Law, and Society, and then hopes to go on to the Ph.D. program. When asked if she will continue her research, she responded, "Absolutely." She plans to eventually create and implement courses for criminal justice educational programs and training programs for community agencies. Kable hopes to be accepted into a graduate program where she can continue researching. After earning a graduate degree, she would love to work at a research institute, and maybe one day become a political advocate for scientific research. Raver, who currently works for the Legal Department of P.H. Glatfelter, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and would like to continue research on humanity (and posthumanity) in science fiction. After taking a gap year, Garrigan is looking into graduate programs in 2018, and has so far been accepted into Shippensburg University's Masters in Ecology program. She would like to continue collecting data as she carries on volunteering at the wildlife center.

Working with mentors

Participants found the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty mentors was a remarkably satisfying experience. Raver declared, "Working with Professor Sam Waddell and Dr. Dennis Weiss was so much fun! The one-on-one that I got with each of them has helped me grow as a researcher, and it has helped me grow more independent and confident as a student and as a person." Hartwell said, "Dr. [Eric] Ling worked with me individually and provided guidance and assistance with various aspects of my project. Being able to work exclusively with a faculty member was the most valuable aspect of my college career." Kable felt that working with Professor Georgi helped her realize what she wanted to do in the field of biology, and said, "I will always be thankful for his encouragement and dedication." Garrigan remarked that Associate Professor Bridgette Hagerty provided her with the perfect balance of support and independence so that she was able to create publication-worthy original research. Carla Strassle, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, was faculty mentor for Bursler's "The Language of Stigma; A Resource." Bursler, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, hopes to work with her again when he continues his research. He said that Professor Strassle taught him a lot about the ins and outs of the publication process, and helped him refine his writing and research skills.

How successful was the College's first Undergraduate Research Showcase? DeBonte enjoyed sharing her work, and said, "Having the opportunity to discuss my research with faculty, students, and community members of different fields and academic backgrounds, was a rewarding and exciting experience." Garrigan said she "enjoyed being able to share my research with faculty and students since I am so dedicated to the subject." Hartwell echoed this sentiment and said, "Research is something that I am so passionate about – being able to share it with faculty members and students who are interested in doing their own research projects was a wonderful experience." Raver was also thankful to have had the opportunity to speak to so many people about her projects. In fact, participants were so pleased with the Showcase experience that some suggested expanding it in the future to include members of the public as well as potential employers so that more people could take a look at what our students have to offer.

Faculty mentors were equally satisfied with the Showcase. Professor Strassle remarked, "The undergraduate showcase is an excellent way for students to demonstrate the skills that they have been working on in their research and build additional communication skills as they interact with others. From a faculty perspective, the ability to nurture students' pursuits as a research mentor is a true hallmark of a teaching institution." Xiaofei (Sarah) Li, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, and faculty mentor for Yommer's "Contemplation on State Collapse," observed, "The Under-graduate Research Showcase not only helps nurture student interest and fully develop their potential for a research career in the future, but also encourages students to undertake graduate studies in their fields. If a student wants to gain research experience that complements his/her studies in an academic setting, the Showcase can provide him/her with an opportunity through school." Professor Georgi commented, "The Undergraduate Research Showcase was a great opportunity for my students to present their research to their peers here on campus. Because students of diverse majors were represented at the Showcase, it provided my students with the rewarding challenge of explaining the importance and meaning of their research to scientists and non-scientists alike. I saw my students interacting with other YCP undergrads who had done research in very different fields, sharing their common excitement for the research process and their enthusiasm for their projects. It was wonderful to see what has been going on across campus and to allow the students to share their passion for research with others." Associate Professor of Biology, Bridgette Hagerty, Ph.D., put it best when she said, "Undergraduate research is absolutely one of the most important high-impact learning opportunities that we offer to students at York College."