Students Gain Valuable Experience at Summer Research Colloquium

Monday, August 13, 2018post has photos

Ask most students what they did during the summer and there's a mix of answers: time spent with friends, family, going on vacation and plenty of beach visits.

Summer Research Colloquium 2018

Throughout the day on August 9, more than 60 University of San Diego students presented in blocks of 15 minutes what they've spent their past 10 weeks, their summer, doing: deeply examining a theory, conducting a lab-tested outcome, seeking answers to their questions.

At the inaugural Summer Research Colloquium, students in USD's McNair Scholars program, along with those who’d secured a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant or were selected for a Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) presented their findings on a topic in their area of study. Projects grouped by Life and Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, Humanities and Creative Works each got the spotlight.

Held in four conference rooms in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, the colloquium was hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research, McNair Scholars and USD Associated Students. The event gave nearly half of USD’s 132 Summer Scholars in 2018 a chance to gain public speaking experience by sharing their research knowledge before an audience of their peers, friends, faculty mentors and in some cases, family.

Ramon Solis '19, a biology major, gave his report, the "Density Dependence of Nucleopolyhedrosis Virus in Agraulis vanillae Larvae," with six family members sitting in the front row, beaming with pride as he explained the work had done through a SURE grant while in the lab of Biology Professor Arietta Fleming Davies.

The research colloquium had something for everyone. Varied projects with such titles as "The Shape of the Universe"; "The Musician's Muse: A Review of Motivation and its Implications for Percussion Pedagogy"; "What's for Dinner? A Look at Housing Segregation and Food Deserts in Chicago"; and "Analyzing the Role of the Hippocampus in Temporal Memory in Rats," were just a few of the 56 presentations made.

Two of those titles belonged to Amanda Ezell (Musician's Muse) and Larissa Olivas (Temporal Memory in Rats), who are both in the current USD McNair Scholars cohort. For them, the experience as an undergraduate student researcher is priceless.

Research is Music to Her Ears

Ezell, a music education major and a military veteran who spent five years in the U.S. Marines, initially chose to do her research based on how music could improve the academic performance of struggling students.

After closer examination and as a percussionist herself, she came across an interesting study that discussed percussionists and how they had "less intrinsic motivation to learn their instrument than brass or wind students." It sparked her interest to go deeper. She was intrigued by motivation, a key element for educational learning, and did so by studying it by way of three groups: percussion students who had access to instructors; percussion students who had no access to instructors; and to look at programs where students don't start by learning percussion, but rather other instruments first.

When she presented her research, Ezell centered on the importance of motivation for percussionists, highlighted the perceived achievement gaps, and expressed the need for more studies, more research to examine such claims in hopes of improving their music education outlook.

Ezell, who completed her first year at USD after attending San Diego Mesa College after finishing her military service, is a dedicated Torero musician. She plays on the drumline, wind ensemble and the pep band. Last year, she demonstrated her music prowess by learning to play five wind instruments — clarinet, alto sax, flute, oboe and the bassoon — while still a percussionist. She’s dedicated to music education, denoting how time intensive it is and appreciates being part of USD's music program. The research she's done and will continue to do, is supported by two faculty mentors, Band and Music Education Director Jeffrey Malecki, DMA, and School of Leadership and Education Sciences Assistant Professor James Fabionar.

Last week’s presentation at USD was also a bit of good timing in that Ezell will be one of a handful of USD students scheduled to present their research again, this time at the annual UC San Diego Summer Research Conference Aug. 17.

Growing Through a Research Experience

Meanwhile, Olivas, a first-generation student, looks at what she's done this summer as another positive step in her personal growth.

"I didn't know much about getting to do research and that's when I found out about the McNair program," said Olivas, a behavioral neuroscience major and history minor. The McNair Scholars objective is to work with high-achieving USD undergraduates committed to pursuing a PhD or graduate degree and to empower this next generation of scholastic leaders by providing a holistic developmental experience. While there are many steps to aid in this quest, one that’s critically important and advantageous when applying to graduate school is to do undergraduate research with a faculty mentor.

Olivas had the chance this summer to work in the behavioral neuroscience lab of Professor Jenna Hales, PhD. "This experience has meant so much to me. Setting me up with a research experience, it's been nice to have a helping hand. Without McNair, I wouldn't know what to do. Because of this summer, I already feel my growth as a researcher, as a scholar, I'm more responsible and more determined than ever."

Olivas met Hales for the first time in April and in June was assigned to her project, a new area to examine. Olivas said she was in the lab for five hours a day, including weekends, during the 10-week project.

"I studied the Hippocampus, one of the most crucial parts of the brain in terms of memory. We studied the role of that and the temporal memory having to do with time. Our project was based on trying to get (laboratory) rats to learn to discriminate objects based on an amount of elapsed time." Olivas' particular research objects for the rats involved using an egg and a banana.

She admits that working with the rats was, at first, "scary," but a few weeks in, she settled in and it was fun to do the research. "They were very curious and always moving around."

The chance to work with Hales was a definite plus. "She was awesome. Not only with the research but to go into her office just to talk,” Olivas said. “She was very supportive both in and outside of the lab. Even when it came to papers and abstracts, she would edit them and go over all the edits with me to make sure everything made sense to me. She was a very hands-on mentor, which was very nice."

Olivas said her project will continue into the fall semester and could eventually be published. It's also a likely candidate to be displayed on a poster and presented at USD's Creative Collaborations in Spring 2019, much like many other summer research projects on display at the colloquium.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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