In five minutes, sum up an entire summer of research.
That's the mission that the Wofford College biology faculty gave 15 student researchers during the "Rapid Research Round-Up" held on Sept. 24 in the Roger Milliken Science Center.
The students did not disappoint.
Joseph Eddy ’16, a biology major from Rock Hill, S.C., spent the summer at the Medical University of South Carolina working on a project that could help prevent heart valve defects in utero.
Mareli Sanchez ’16, a biology and environmental studies major from Irmo, S.C., spent time in Puerto Rico researching the role that fungi play in replenishing forests after hurricanes.
Other students worked with supercomputers, coyote scat, chimpanzees, cancer cells, pit vipers and even South African crocodiles.
The Department of Biology has developed its own Moodle site to help students explore, secure and find funding for research experiences. Other departments have similar methods of directing Wofford students toward research experiences.
"This Rapid Research Round-up is a way to let other students know what types of research experiences are out there," says Dr. G. R. Davis, McCalla Professor of Biology and chairman of the department. The campus is invited to the presentations, which also offer students the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills.
"Engaging students in research is one of the high-impact practices that Wofford College does so well," says Dr. Dennis Wiseman, Wofford College provost. "Students conduct research in the sciences, of course, but we also have students who perform community-based research and students who do research in the humanities and social sciences as well."
Richard Fields ’17, a finance, accounting and mathematics major from Lexington, S.C., is one of those students.
Fields worked with Dr. Phillip Swicegood, the R. Michael James Professor and coordinator of the Finance Program, on a project that tracked market reaction to board votes of confidence for the CEOs of struggling corporations.
"Financial research is the foundation of understanding financial markets, how capital is allocated and how markets behave under various conditions," says Fields. The experience confirmed his plan to go into investment banking or enroll in a financial engineering graduate program.
According to Swicegood, having research experience as an undergraduate gives Fields a huge advantage, regardless of the path he chooses after Wofford.
"He's getting first-hand experience with Ph.D.-level financial research," says Swicegood. "To my knowledge, no one featured in finance literature has researched the vote of confidence phenomenon. This is where our research project will be groundbreaking. If we find statistically significant results, then publication in a prominent business journal is almost a certainty."
Fields says the research was eye-opening and significant. He, Swicegood and Victoria DaSilva ’15, who helped with the research during her senior year at Wofford and is now in investment banking with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, N.C., are finishing a paper on their research now.
Now that this project is complete, Fields is looking for another project.
"There are so many ways to apply upper level math to the financial industry, and there are lots of interesting phenomenon to study," says Fields. "Dr. Swicegood and I are considering other opportunities."
Fields serves as the portfolio manager of domestic equity and alternatives for the R. Michael James Student-Managed Investment Fund. The investment fund provides another type of undergraduate research.
"We're using real money, so we have to do our research," says Fields. "It's exciting to look at and consider different investments."
Swicegood and Fields were one of five teams doing student-faculty collaborative research with grants funded through the college. Dr. David Pittman ’94, professor of psychology, worked with Elizabeth Berwaldt ’16 (biology major, neuroscience concentration, Lexington, S.C.), Kassie Franck ’18 (biology and psychology major, Florence, S.C.), Taylor Hall ’16 (psychology major, Burlington, N.C.) and Logan Shelnutt ’16 (biology and Spanish major, Carrollton, Ga.) on a project to determine whether influences such as hunger or satiety and experiential learning can cause foods to become more or less tasty or even aversive.
"The students used advanced surgical techniques and Designer Receptors Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADD) techniques to isolate specific neural contributions to the changes in taste preferences that we experience," says Pittman. "The experience of working on a research project with a faculty member is one of utmost value in preparing undergraduates for life in graduate school at a major university."
Berwaldt, who plans to go into public health or research after she graduates in May, believes everyone should have a research experience before they graduate.
"You learn so much and develop such a wide skill set by doing research," says Berwaldt. "The research exposes students to the real-life applications of science that we learn about in academic classrooms and laboratories."
According to Wiseman, professors often say that working with students on research enhances their teaching and builds the type of mentoring relationships that are the hallmark of the Wofford experience.
"Who wouldn't want to support that type of teaching and learning?" says Wiseman. "South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU) is an example of an organization that recognizes the value of these types of experiences and supports them financially."
This summer three pairs of Wofford students and faculty members conducted research thanks to SCICU grants.
Bailey King ’16, a psychology major from Lexington, S.C., and Dr. John Lefebvre, chairman of the Department of Psychology, worked on a project for Upstate Warrior Solutions with implications for improving the experience of military veterans in the classroom.
Alex Bentley ’17, a biology and Spanish major from Salem, Va., worked with Dr. Chuck Smith, assistant professor of biology, and others, on a comprehensive survey of the amphibian and reptile populations in the Francis Marion National Forest. They fitted "at-risk" species with radio-telemetry to determine distribution and habitat requirements.
Jordan Thomas ’16, a chemistry major from Boiling Springs, S.C., and Dr. Ramin Radfar, associate professor of chemistry, researched Metformin, a first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes, and its reactions on glycolysis in normal and cancer cells.
The research didn't stop there.
Matthew Howell ’16, a biology, chemistry and mathematics major from Boiling Spring, S.C., performed computational biology research at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, England. During the "Rapid Research Round-up" he shared the biology side of his summer's work. Howell talked the following week at the Computational Science Internship Presentations to share more about the computing protocol he development to identify potential species-specific repeat sequences using next-generation sequencing data.
"It's clear that there's plenty of room for students with a liberal arts background in the field of research," said Dr. Stacey Hettes, associate professor of biology and associate provost for faculty development, after Howell's presentation.
Yes. Wofford students have made that abundantly clear.
Student / Faculty Collaborative Research teams for the past two years:
1. Learning Community: Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, professor of modern languages, literatures and cultures (MLLC) and Dr. Beate Brünow, assistant professor of MLLC, with two students
2. German Studies / Holocaust Studies: Dr. Beate Brünow, with one student.
3. How do Benzodiazepines Influence Taste: Dr. David Pittman, with six students.
4. Neurological changes – Memory: Dr. Katherine Steinmetz, assistant professor of psychology, with one student.
5. Prime Number Research: Dr. Thomas Wright, assistant professor of mathematics, with two students.
1. Data-Rich Representations of Surface-water and Ground-water Interaction along the Lawson Fork: Dr. Kaye Savage, associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Studies, with one student
2. The Distribution and Pattern of Carmichael Numbers: Dr. Thomas Wright, assistant professor of mathematics, with one student
3. Increased ethanol tolerance in d. melanogaster as a means by which flies can increase their cold tolerance: Dr. Tracey Ivey, assistant professor of biology, with one student
4. The Impact of Confidence Votes on CEO Performance and Market Reactions: Dr. Phillip Swicegood, the R. Michael James Professor and coordinator of Finance Program, with one student
5. Testing a New Experimental Protocol for Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs: Dr. David Pittman, professor of psychology, with four students