|Investigation through collaboration
By Mike Dauplaise ’84
Faculty/student partnerships drive innovative research projects
|Sarah VanSchyndel ’11 (right) has been working with Ashley Hill-Söderlund (Psychology) on the professor’s research into the regulation of emotion in early childhood. VanSchyndel presented on their findings at the 19th Annual National McNair Research Conference and will be first author on a published article about their project. She is now helping Hill-Söderlund introduce Kelley Catenacci ’13, Devan Scherer ’13 and Arielle Tremel ’14 to this work.
Few experiences in academia can match the exuberance of a faculty member when a student displays unbridled enthusiasm for a project, or of a student when the learning experience becomes just plain fun.
That sense of nirvana is becoming more common with an increasing emphasis on faculty/student partnerships that has led to the establishment of the St. Norbert Collaborative: Center for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities. The center’s goal is to provide support for students, faculty and staff at all levels of undergraduate research collaboration.
The opportunity for students to participate in research projects, present at conferences and even contribute to published articles as a listed author is a prized one at the undergraduate level.
Each spring research partners on campus share their work at an event that is abuzz with scholarly achievement. >>MORE
“It gives students an in-depth perspective of what faculty members do outside of teaching,” comments Tynisha Meidl (Teacher Education). “There are other aspects to what it means to be a faculty member and engaged in scholarship. It starts to make sense to them; they see how engaged you are in relation to your passion.”
Projects currently underway span a wide range of academic disciplines, with some initiated by faculty members and some by students. The collaborations provide a differentiating factor for St. Norbert students interested in pursuing graduate education.
“The level of writing that’s needed is an unintended, but good, consequence,” Meidl says. “Particularly if you’re doing an article for publication, there are not many courses that can help students the way that writing for research can, particularly in the social sciences. They experience research methodology that they would not normally get in class.
“The students know it’s going to benefit them, particularly the ones going on to grad school. Having this type of experience is going to put them one step ahead. They do it because they want to do it, not because they have to.”
While the Collaborative, officially, is in its second year of operation, this academic year is the first with a budget large enough to fund initiatives such as research and travel needs. Some of the programs receive promotional assistance from the Collaborative, while funding funnels through alternate budgets such as Admissions.
“Our Collaborative advisory committee awards grants and, more importantly, discusses the philosophy of undergraduate research and how we can promote it even more at St. Norbert College,” explains John Pennington (English), director of undergraduate research. “By far the most popular component of our program is the Student Academic Travel Fund. This provides support for students to present their research at national and eventually international conferences.”
Ashley Ash ’10 experienced firsthand the multiple benefits of student/faculty collaboration during her final two years at St. Norbert. Currently a doctoral student in the physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Ash worked with David Bailey (Biology) on research involving a protein in the brain of zebra finches, thought to protect against damage from stress hormones.
She collected data and formulated a rough draft of what the data meant during her junior year, as an independent study course, and then spent her senior year working in the lab and putting together an article for possible publication. She also attended the Society for Neuroscience national conference in Chicago and presented some of the research.
“That was a very valuable experience,” Ash says of the conference. “For me to be there as an undergrad was unique, considering most attendees have graduate degrees and even post-graduate degrees. I was one of the younger people there.”
It’s not just people who collaborate. Read how the college itself partners with other institutions in order to expand offerings and opportunities. >>MORE
Ash and Bailey submitted the article to a scientific journal immediately after her graduation. The journal accepted the article after some revisions, and Ash signed a contributor’s agreement in November as the first author on the paper.
“It made a normal term paper seem tame by comparison,” Ash says. “This was something I became interested in and it started to mean a lot to me. It was stressful at times, but in the end it was rewarding and worth it. I received a full-tuition scholarship to UW- La Crosse, and the school mentioned my research experience was something they considered. In talking to people here, no one has done anything like that.”
Watching Ash progress through the experience was fulfilling for Bailey, as well.
“Ashley’s work was the first done here in which a student of mine presented at a national meeting and wrote a paper accepted for national publication,” Bailey says. “I presented at that same conference in 1996, and I remember how proud I felt of the work I did. Now to be on the other end of things 14 years later is really cool. The satisfaction I get is seeing my students work through the scientific method.”
Megan King ’12 began her St. Norbert career as an elementary education major before switching to sociology following her sophomore year. However, the five weeks she spent as a student teacher in the Green Bay Public School District exposed her to the cultural and language diversity that teachers deal with on a daily basis.
She jumped at the opportunity to collaborate when education professors Bola Delano-Oriarian and Meidl, along with instructor Debra Faase, approached her to assist them with a project in that same field: researching articles and conducting field interviews to identify, examine and evaluate instructional literacy approaches teachers use to meet the needs of diverse learners.
“The first thing that came to my mind was how beneficial this would be for my future,” King says. “It works hand-in-hand with what I want to do in terms of looking into global public health issues.”
While King is getting an opportunity to develop survey questions and decode data in the field that most students don’t experience until grad school, her contributions are also valuable for her faculty partners, on multiple levels.
“We’ll use these findings to take back into our own classroom to better prepare our St. Norbert students for getting into the classroom [as teachers],” Delano-Oriarian explains. “We’re looking at this issue at the local level, and we’re hoping to help students get jobs right in this area. Megan has re-energized me. She’s one of those students that I will miss when she graduates.”
Ravi Agarwal (Computer Science) and his student, Sergii Bilokhatnuik ’12, are collaborating on a project to investigate the Android phone’s capabilities and limitations, developing a multi-level authentication application to enhance the phone’s security. The Android’s open-source platform allows developers around the world to work on these challenges using the common Java language.
“Sergii gets exposure to doing some meaningful research which he would not otherwise have at this level,” says Agarwal, who has been working with the Android operating system for two years. “We’re creating a model for future projects.”
“We both have goals we’re pursuing,” adds Bilokhatnuik, a Ukraine native. “We’re working on each other’s portfolio. It will look good on my grad-school application, so we both should benefit from it.”
Biology majors Isabella Benassi ’12 and Izzy Rauguth ’11 will be co-authors on a poster presentation submitted to a national cancer conference in April under the guidance of Russ Feirer (Biology). The project is an extension of work undertaken by Feirer while on sabbatical at University of Wisconsin Hospitals in Madison, Wis., last fall.
|Isabella Benassi ’12 examines cancer cells under a fluorescence microscope while Izzy Rauguth ’11 scans the image on the screen. The women, working with Russ Feirer (Biology), center, are investigating drug combinations that may limit cell proliferation.
The research looks at the effects of resveratrol, a compound which inhibits the growth of tumors in mice, in combination with additional inhibitors. The students maintained cells in the lab during the first year of the project, feeding them every three days.
“By the second year, students start to make suggestions,” Feirer says. “We have lab meetings every Wednesday where we meet to talk strategy and decide next steps. I lead, but they are group discussions. The students get so much more invested in their field, and they feel a bit of ownership.”
The enhanced lab knowledge and research experience provides additional resources for students as they prepare for graduate programs.
“I went into it to put the things I was learning in class to hands-on experience, and that’s exactly what I got,” says Rauguth, who plans to pursue certification as a physician’s assistant. “I was interested in going to a medical professional school, and I knew research was something that older students will have had. In my [grad school] entrance essays, I referred to the research experience I have, and schools want to talk about that.”
“This is one of the things I love about going to school here,” adds Benassi, who plans to attend dental school. “You can get involved outside of the classroom at such a greater level. When you’re doing collaboration and maintaining a cell line, you have to actually learn what you’re doing. It’s a whole ’nother level of learning.”
Occasionally a student will come along with an idea that catches the attention of a faculty member. That was the case with Wolfgang Grassl (Business Administration) and two students from Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic that sits midway between China and Europe.
|Graphic design major Leivur Djurhuus ’12, here in his print- making class, will be bringing computer skills and creativity to his upcoming collaborative opportunity with his professor.
Yerzhan Nauruzbayev ’13, a former exchange student at West De Pere High School, began formulating ideas along with Jamilya Sauranbayeva ’12, on how to leverage their country’s strategic location to spur economic growth beyond the oil and gas industries.
“I would not have otherwise discovered such a project,” Grassl admits. “Now my function is to help them move it along, applying some economic theory to the analysis part of the project, and finding a suitable conference and publication venue for their work.”
“The government is trying to diversify the economy as much as they can, and we might contribute to that,” Nauruzbayev says. “It would be great for a U.S. company like Schneider National to enter the market before any competition.”
The Green Bay-based transportation and logistics firm known for its orange trucks was the first non-Chinese company to start trucking operations in China. Nauruzbayev met Dan Van Alstine ’81, senior vice president and general manager of dedicated services at Schneider, at a lunch event and broached the subject to him.
Schneider currently has no appetite for expanding its operations beyond China and the Czech Republic, but Nauruzbayev’s passion left an impression on Van Alstine.
“His energy is infectious,” Van Alstine says. “He’s going to be successful at whatever he chooses. If we had the desire to expand into Kazakhstan, he would be part of the strategy.”
Not every collaboration results in a presentation or publication aimed at a specific target audience. Brian Pirman (Art) and graphic design major Leivur Djurhuus ’12 are working on a series of computer-generated panels for exhibition in the Godschalx Gallery. Using the “exquisite corpse” concept – a technique of collective assembly first developed by the Surrealists – the pair builds on each other’s work by trading Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files.
“The thing I like about (this collaboration) is the learning goes both ways,” Pirman says. “Leivur has a pretty good knowledge base regarding software, so not only will he learn from me certain things within the program, but I stand to learn from him as well. We don’t know what it’s going to look like until we hang them, or even the order we’ll hang them. There’s going to be an element of surprise.”
Since the pair is using their favorite art history movements to create the finished work, their individual preferences will shape the project’s ultimate feel.
“I go back farther in art history to the Renaissance, while for Brian it’s more contemporary, modern art,” states Djurhuus, a native of the Faeroe Islands who chose St. Norbert in part out of his allegiance to the Green Bay Packers. “It’s very exciting because once it’s hanging in the gallery, people are going to learn something. We’re hoping people are going to stop and look for a while and not just walk past.”
Open-book experience bridges college and career
A student worker post gave Paige Caulum ’11 the chance to work closely with Karlyn Crowley (English, Women’s and Gender Studies), as student and professor prepped Crowley’s new manuscript for publication. Here, Caulum reflects on the experience.
It wasn’t until I received my first task via e-mail, with instructions to review and edit the Works Cited, that I learned the topic of Dr. Crowley’s study: “Feminism’s New Age: Gender, Appropriation, and the Afterlife of Essentialism.” Not having realized this was a full-length book, I was surprised to download a 245-page document with 20 pages dedicated to Works Cited.
|Paige Caulum ’11: a start in publishing.
Dr. Crowley was on sabbatical, and I had started my new position upon my return from a semester abroad. Beginning the project this way – without prior knowledge of it, without being able to meet with the author, and literally starting at the end of the book – was intriguing, to say the least.
People would ask me what the book was about, and from what I had gathered from the Works Cited entries, I would tell them it somehow involved Native Americans, Oriental diets and Oprah. The task of formatting the Works Cited page sounds mundane, but I found myself enjoying the work and learning the intricacies of MLA style. Another interesting task I completed for Dr. Crowley was generating the index. I often used to wonder who it was who determined what terms or topics readers might want to look up, and found every occasion on which that subject appeared throughout the work. In academia, I discovered, that task is often undertaken by student assistants.
Dr. Crowley and I were both new to indexing, so we referred to the one-page list of instructions from the State University of New York (SUNY) Press and a chapter in the Chicago Manual of Style, as well as some tips from experienced professionals. The task required a meticulous reading of the work, all the while trying to determine what readers might expect to find in its index. This skill will certainly be one of which I can boast on my résumé.
The most exciting task assigned was to copy-edit the manuscript – a true test of whether my dream job of editor at a book-publishing firm was really the path for me.
As I devoted the next couple of weeks to the task, I was excited to discover that I indeed loved the work. An examination of the current status of the women’s movement, Dr. Crowley’s book on New Age spirituality and feminism comments on important sociological and political matters. I had read articles and other works published by faculty in the past, but this deep investment in one manuscript led me to draw links between academic life on our campus and the “outside” world.
Dr. Crowley’s relationship to me had been as teacher, but copy-editing her work of scholarship gave me a better understanding of the connections between my own role at St. Norbert and my role in society as a whole.