|New Research Program Includes Exploration of Cross-Disciplinary Issues
July 24, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
by Rachel Andoga
More than fifty students from Davidson and other schools are working on campus with professors on research projects this summer. Among them, sixteen form a special new community known as the Davidson Research Initiative (DRI).
Funded by a $750,000 grant from The Duke Endowment, the DRI students are working with faculty mentors for up to ten weeks on projects in biology, chemistry, ecology, English, mathematics, neuroscience, political science, public policy, psychology, and physics.
|(l-r) Chris Paradise and Kealy Devoy '08 are studying the effect of greenways on insect populations in adjacent streams.|
In addition to conducting their own research, students and mentors also got together for topical group discussions, lectures, and social functions. One such discussion delved into issues of research ethics. Students and professors read fictional case files describing various violations of ethics including fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.
“That kind of exchange crosses all disciplines,” noted Professor of Chemistry Ruth Beeston. “Certain aspects of research aren’t unique to chemistry, biology, anthropology…it’s all about problem solving.”
DRI students and mentors have also been working on a white paper analyzing the benefits of undergraduate research. One issue the paper seeks to address is how to broaden the definition of “research” to increase campus awareness of research opportunities in the humanities. Out of the sixteen DRI student projects, three investigate social science and humanities.
The DRI reflects a national trend of growing support for undergraduate research opportunities. According to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, the popularity of undergraduate research programs has grown exponentially over the past twenty years, from what was once a practice undertaken primarily by faculty at four year institutions to an important new interactive pedagogy.
“In today’s world, engaged learning has clearly been shown to be a most effective means of education, and has benefits far beyond the exercise itself. We prepare students better for post-college challenges by providing them opportunities for undergraduate research,” said Clark Ross, vice president for academic affairs. “When students are given a more open-ended challenge, and work through it step-by-step with a professor, they learn how to learn, rather than just learning material.”
The support of The Duke Endowment has allowed Davidson to expand those opportunities for its students, and they have found it rewarding. Will DeLoache ‘08, whose research involves the construction of a device within an E. coli cell capable of solving a well-known math problem, enjoys the hands-on approach to learning. He said, "This experience has given me the opportunity to approach education from a different angle -- learning by doing, rather than learning by listening."
This is the second summer that Katie Hunter ’08 has spent assisting Professor of Political Science Russell Crandall with the research on a book scheduled to be published by Cambridge Press next spring which examines U.S. and Latin American relations in the post-Cold War era. “Research isn’t just a nine-to-five job,” said Hunter, who contributed chapters on Mexico and Haiti to Crandall’s book. “You can talk with a professor every day about your ideas.”
|(l-r) Bevin English '08 is assisting Karen Hales with characterization of genes in fruit flies.|
Professors appreciate the opportunity to develop a partnership with students outside of the classroom. “It’s a very different learning experience than taking a course where you’re trying to find the right answer on the test,” said Beeston. “In a research setting, neither you nor the student knows the answer. It’s that guided inquiry together that makes it so valuable.”
Beeston has been working with Halley Brantley ’09 in studying the chemical composition of sediment sampled from Davidson Professor of Classics Michael Toumazou’s Athienou Archaeological Project (AAP) in Cyprus.
Beeston has been involved with the AAP for several previous summers, but DRI travel funds allowed her for the first time to bring along a student to aid in collecting sediment samples. “Halley learned an enormous amount about archeology—much more than she could from a book or even taking a class,” said Beeston.
|Halley Brantley '09 augured for sediment samples in Cyprus, and is analyzing them back on campus with Ruth Beeston.|
Kate Wiseman ’08 has been researching representations of flowers as a reflection of attitudes toward female sexuality in nineteenth century periodical literature with Associate Professor of English Annie Ingram. One of the contributions Wiseman suggested for the DRI white paper was to use the term “in-depth study” as an alternative phrase for “research” when describing the objective of the program. “I think if we changed our mindset from ‘research,’ which has a very strict definition in the sciences and social sciences, to ‘in-depth study,’ we could foster more of the interdisciplinary scope that we’ve been trying this summer,” she said.
DRI students will present their work in an on-campus poster session in September. Many will also make presentations at regional or national meetings within their discipline, and some will publish their results in professional journals. Nick DiLuzio, who investigated the effects of artificial predation on bluebird nest building, will present his project with Associate Professor of Biology Mark Stanback at the annual meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union this August.
DRI students receive a stipend of $480 per week, plus an allowance for on-campus housing. In addition to those mentioned above, DRI participants are: Phillip Compeau '08, working with L. Richardson King Associate Professor of Mathematics Professor Laurie Heyer; William DeLoache '09, working with Professor of Biology A. Malcolm Campbell; Kealy Devoy '08, working with Associate Professor of Biology Chris Paradise; Nick DiLuzio '08, working with Associate Professor of Biology Mark Stanback; Bevin English '08, working with Associate Professor of Biology Karen Hales; Sarah Frey '08, working with Associate Professor of Psychology Kristi Multhaup; Jordan Iordanou '08, working with Associate Professor of Psychology Mark Smith; Kimberly Lang '09, working with R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio Ramirez; Natasha Meyer '10, working with Associate Professor of Biology Barbara Lom; Anna Nam '08, working with Associate Professor of Biology Karen Bernd; Sarah Rhodes '09, working with R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio Ramirez; Mona Shaban '08, working with Associate Professor of Biology Karen Bernd; and Adam Topaz '08, working with J. T. Kimbrough Professor of Mathematics John Swallow.
|(l-r) Mark Stanback and Nick DiLuzio '08 employ a rubber snake in studying the effect of predators on blue bird nest behavior.|
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by “U.S. News and World Report” magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz