Summer Research Colloquium Maintains Quality Student Experience

Life in Summer 2020 has mostly been a continuation the mid-March arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom meetings from home, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing to name a few routine activities. Another routine, only now a summer tradition for students at the University of San Diego, is the chance to do meaningful research. This summer, one unlike any other, was actually treated like business as usual.

Summer Research Colloquium 2020

"The resiliency these students have shown in such uncertain times is awe-inspiring," said Elisa Greene, director of USD's Office of Undergraduate Research. "I'm overwhelmed by the level of participation this summer. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, I was expecting fewer entrants, but we had just as many entries this summer as the Creative Collaborations in April."

The proof came Aug. 6 when Greene's office, in conjunction with other USD departments, hosted the third annual Summer Research Colloquium and first-ever in a virtual setting.

Welcome remarks from Greene and Ramiro Frausto, director of USD's TRIO McNair Scholars program, and a wonderfully inspired keynote from Assistant Professor of History T.J. Tallie, PhD, were presented over Zoom.

From there, two one-hour sessions were done via USD's Blackboard platform. All 64 projects entered had a video with slides and an oral presentation by one or more students. Faculty, staff, administrators and fellow students clicked on the videos gained access to a diverse group of presentations and it went off without a hitch.

Session I consisted of research projects in three categories — Arts (Creative Works) and Humanities, Engineering/Math/Computer Science and Social Sciences/Behavioral Neuroscience — to account for 33 projects. Session II added all 31 Life and Physical Science projects.

Projects came from the 2020-21 McNair Scholars cohort, students who received funding through SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience), PURE (Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience) programs and Summer Scholars at USD who received funding through foundation grants and scholarships. All research projects have faculty mentors attached depending on if a student is working in a specific faculty member’s lab or it is the student’s major. Research students had another choice this summer. Many students worked only remotely, perhaps a few in a hybrid situation or, for those with access to the Shiley Center for Science and Technology labs, in-person (after doing a training and adhering to all COVID-19 health protocols).

Research Project Samplings

Frausto was impressed by his McNair Scholar student presenters, of whom 14 presented their research in Session I.

One was Gabrielle Gomez, a McNair Scholar whose research title under the Social Sciences banner was “Social Distancing and Negative Attention Bias.” The aim of her study, she said, is to analyze potential environmental and cognitive impacts on students in the San Diego area due to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was most interested in how students were responding to social distancing — were they isolating themselves further or were they actively socializing through remote means? — and how that may correlate with attentional bias and overall mental health,” Gomez said.

Another notable McNair Scholar project belongs to Alyssa Mugavero, also in the social sciences category. She’s working with two faculty mentors, English Professor Carlton Floyd, PhD, and Sociology Professor Thomas Reifer, PhD. Mugavero’s title is “If we could change ourselves, we can change the world: Empathy and the Possibilities for Transformative Education.”

Mugavero, who was selected for the Keck Foundation Fellowship program via the USD Humanities Center this year, said her summer project seeks “to establish an alternative way to humanistically educate so that it transforms our understanding of what it means to be alive in relation to others and the various communities we find a sense of belonging within.”

She added her hopes for the project involve “encouraging others to see themselves as individuals who have, in the words of James Baldwin, “an endless connection with and responsibility for each other.”

Mugavero will focus her original Keck research on how different forms of media influence education. It should be interesting to see how the latter project influences the summer work and vice versa.

“The McNair Scholars really impressed me,” Frausto said. “I think the virtual format made a typically intensive research experience even more challenging, but I believe many of them stepped up and did an excellent job.”

Students who also inherited a previous research project, did a great job of doing work and gaining their own merit. Mira Wiley, a senior mechanical engineering major, took the baton from two just graduated USD engineering students, Ava Bellizzi and Christina Kozlovsky, and continued their work with full support of faculty mentor Frank Jacobitz on a water filtration system that is hoped to one day aid people living in rural Uganda. Wiley’s focus was on multiple testing of a water filtration device to remove bacteria by using pine and eucalyptus xylem.

Dr. Tallie, who specializes in comparative settler colonial and imperial history with a focus on South Africa and has interest in colonialism, gender and racial identity, indigeneity, and religious expression, praised a few students whose work he had already viewed and offered encouragement and an invitation to discuss additional considerations for their work. Those he was delighted by were humanities research by Jacquelyn Crane on “Land into Property: Mapping Cowlitz Tribal Land and Its Colonization”; Gianna Pray’s “Where are the People of Color and Queer and Trans Hikers? Intersectional Discrimination in the Great Outdoors”; and the creative work of Joharatulmajd Raaiq on “Framing Capitalism in Kenya Through Urban Development.”

PURE Connection Via Research

One of the most fulfilling aspects of the colloquium is for PURE students, those who have just graduated high school just two months ago and, prior to their first semester at USD, get a chance to work with USD faculty, in a lab, do a project and meet current students. This connection is so helpful as PURE students transition to college.

The lone PURE student in Summer 2020 to be a lead researcher at the colloquium was Katherine Garcia in the Life and Physical Sciences category. Working alongside Biology Assistant Professor Arietta Fleming-Davies, PhD, and Recart Gonzalez, a diversity postdoctoral faculty fellow in Biology, Garcia merged her science work with the importance of sharing it with a Spanish-speaking population to create an inclusive vision. The title, “Using Ecology as a Bridge for a Language Barrier,” helps expand science knowledge and interest to bilingual San Diegans.

“By providing more information in different languages, we hope to plant a seed of encouragement to those who might otherwise have turned away from science due to a language barrier,” Garcia said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photos courtesy of Ramiro Frausto


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