Wooster Students Spend Portion of Their Summer Conducting Research

Nearly 80 students participate in wide range of programs across campus

July 27, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Students typically scatter when the academic year comes to an end, but about 80 undergraduates from The College of Wooster chose to either delay their vacation or return to campus after a brief break and spend eight weeks conducting research on campus.

Wooster, which has a long history of promoting undergraduate research, highlighted by its nationally renowned Independent Study (I.S.) program, offers a number of opportunities to sample the research process each summer. Among the options this year were programs supported through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Applied Mathematics Research Experience (AMRE), and the Sophomore Research Experience as well as individual grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Research Corporation for Science Advancement,, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

“Summer programs provide opportunities for younger students to get a taste of hands-on research,” said Heather Fitz Gibbon, dean for faculty development at Wooster, during a recent poster session celebrating the conclusion of the eight-week period. “It’s exciting for them to be exposed to the process and to begin working with faculty mentors.”

Andrew Lamade, a rising senior who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, wanted to get a head start on the I.S. process through his study of a protein and its response to electrophiles as an HHMI SEER mentor. Likewise, fellow senior Brittany Begres, also a biochemistry and molecular biology major, was looking to kick start her I.S. project by conducting research on the evolution of substrate specificity in the phosphagen kinases through a USDA grant. Both agreed that their summer experiences were interesting and enjoyable. “I really like to do research,” said Begres. “I am very happy being here (on campus) doing what I love.”

Upper-class students weren’t the only ones trying to get a jump on things. Sophomore Rachelle Herrin, as yet undeclared, studied a family of molecules that are anti-oxidants in an effort to gauge their affect on toxins. “I definitely learned a lot,” said Herrin, who worked with James West, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. “It was like having a full-time job.”

Each week, students and faculty would head to Hartzler’s Dairy on the northern edge of town, where they would sample several different flavors of ice cream. These informal events gave them an opportunity to compare notes and learn more about what their fellow researchers were doing.

“Research in the summer is different,” said Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology. “It’s more relaxing and less distracting. You can really immerse yourself, troubleshoot, and interact with students more regularly.”

Sirot’s colleague, Dean Fraga, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology agreed, adding that summer research programs give participants a decided advantage. “Students have more time to think about their project. It also gives them an opportunity to really engage in the problem-solving process.”