By Rachel Deanne Sherman ’18
Shenandoah University offers students an abundance of challenging opportunities to complete research over the summer. Research projects conducted this year focused on everything from the study of chestnut trees and the potential healing properties of a certain plant to a virtual reality treadmill.
Teresa Zielinski ’21 and Bailey Hamilton ’20 worked with Associate Professor of Biology Laurel Rodgers, Ph.D., this summer, to study American and Chinese chestnut trees. Zielinski wrote and won a $5,000 grant for her research.
Teresa and Bailey are very strong students academically. Both are strong in their courses, and by doing this summer research program, they can focus on research without having to take classes at the same time. It’s easier to collect a large amount of data during a short period of time. Summer research allows you to get a really good sense of what a research career would be like because in a research career, you are doing research everyday. It allows you to get a really good idea of what that is like, and it allows you to really focus on honing your lab skills and experimental design.”
Associate Professor of Biology Laurel Rodgers, Ph.D.
Continuing Research and Paying It Forward
Another two students – biology and public health double major Candace Ashworth ’19, and chemistry and mathematics double major Rachel Aterrado ’19 – completed summer research in 2017 and then watched their research grow this summer.
Ashworth continued her work with Assistant Professor of Biology Michael Zimmermann, Ph.D, to study parasitism in bluegill sunfish. Focusing on the levels of parasites between alpha and beta male sunfish, she found that alpha males, as well as females, typically have higher levels of parasites than the beta males. The research she completed in summer of 2017 gave her a first-place win in Independent Undergraduate Research at Shenandoah’s 2018 SUpr Summit.
I am focusing on histological sectioning of multiple organs – like the liver, kidneys and spleen – to examine the immune response elicited in bluegill sunfish in response to heavy parasitism. I am comparing the immune response in alpha males to that found in beta males to examine whether beta males have a different immune response that somehow protects them from being negatively affected, health wise, from accumulating large numbers of parasites.”
biology and public health double major Candace Ashworth ’19
“When we look at alpha males and females, we find that they are negatively impacted by having high levels of parasites” she added. “But, what we found is that as beta males accumulate a lot of parasites, their body index is not greatly affected. Moving forward with my new research this summer, we looked at histological studies between alphas and betas to determine why they have an evolutionary advantage.”
Aterrado spent last summer working with Professor of Chemistry Diep Ca, Ph.D., as well as Professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences Wendell Combest, Ph.D. Her 2017 research looked into the chemical compounds in the bark of the black gum tree (or Nyssa sylvatica) that has biological components with healing attributes. The preliminary data was accepted at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy as well. Aterrado got the idea from learning that a couple of Native American tribes used the bark from this tree for medicinal purposes.
“I found an article produced by Harvard about a bunch of different plants used by southeastern tribes for medicinal purposes, and that particular tree was used for several purposes,” she said. “No research had been done on it. I wondered what chemical properties were in that plant that was maybe why those tribes used it.”
“This project was entirely on her own,” said Dr. Ca. “She is working on getting it published. She would like to make her mark. She is always willing to spend extra hours, even weekends, to complete the tasks.”
This summer, however, Aterrado passed her work on to chemistry and mathematics double major Kyle Albert ’20, who took over her research with a different approach.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” said Albert. “I definitely like [the role of researcher], having a lot of freedom and figuring out what to do. It feels good.”
Summer Scholars Program
Meanwhile, several other students were part of a Summer Scholars program where they assisted with research in various departments over the summer. John Kent ’19, Andrew Sartain ’19 and Alexa Rubano ’19 are three of those students.
Kent, majoring in mathematics, researched the binary coding reaching outer space, while being guided by Department Chair and Associate Professor of Mathematics Jessica OShaughnessy Ph.D.
One of the benefits to doing mathematics research is that you ask an unanswered question and do the research. It’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and ‘no’ is still a beneficial answer. You know more than you did before, and you can keep going with it. It’s nice to be able to have these opportunities without having to worry about things like financial aid. You just come in and do research. Shenandoah really helped with that.”
John Kent ’19
Sartain, an exercise science major, researched the 360-degree VR treadmill. The research is focused on how this VR treadmill affects the metabolic state of people who use it as opposed to people who use a regular treadmill. His research was led by Assistant Professor of Exercise Science, Jessica Kutz, Ph.D.
“Actually being able to do research and put my name on it has been incredible,” said Sartain. “[Dr. Kutz] has been there to guide us and help us through all the aspects of research and the fundamentals that we need to know.”
In addition to simply studying the differences in the two types of treadmills, they are also looking at the effect of virtual reality software on the metabolic state.
“We are at the forefront of virtual reality research,” he added. “There isn’t much on it, and being able to say that we were one of the firsts to pioneer this is such an incredible experience.”
Rubano, who studies environmental science, studied stream geomorphology and woody debris. She greatly enjoyed spending most of her summer days collecting data from Shenandoah’s Cool Springs Campus and the George Washington National Forest.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to get my hands dirty with research because I had never done this kind of research before,” said Rubano. “It just piqued my interest, so I figured I would do it.”
“I thought it was very interesting. I was nervous because I had never worked on outside research before, and I’ve become a lot more open to the idea of [researching] outside and putting myself out there. It’s okay if you fail at something. You just get back into it and try it a different way,” she added.
A Time To Succeed
Summer research provides time in which students can stretch their understanding and skills to the limit. Stephen Klawa ’18 worked with Ca, and he had his recent summer research in nanoscience accepted by the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. This research also gave him first place at the 2018 Warrington Science Symposium, which was held on Shenandoah’s campus. Klawa was accepted into all five graduate schools to which he applied.
“Stephen conducted a very challenging project that requires advanced knowledge, lab skills, and instruments that were not all covered in classes,” said Ca. “However, he quickly learned from me and taught himself from reading literature. We don’t have all of the apparatus and instruments that are required for the project. Stephen created his home-made apparatus to make the experiment feasible.”
“I tell a lot of students who don’t go to Shenandoah, that it is a great place to do research,” Ashworth said. “You have great professors here who can work one-on-one with you. They will take the time to show you new lab techniques. It seems that the professors really pull together to help make sure all of the students have what they need [to succeed].”