Thanks to summer research grants from DU, 50 undergraduate students were able to spend the last three months pursuing their academic passions.
“I don’t think this research project would have been possible without that grant,” says Kristen Kennedy, a sociology and international studies major who spent the summer studying the role of women in secular and atheist communities. “It takes a big burden off.”
DU’s Undergraduate Research Center awards the summer grants every year — up to $3,500 each for students seeking to complete independent projects in collaboration with their peers and University faculty. Research topics this summer came from a wide range of disciplines, including biology, engineering, psychology, sociology and art, and they covered a diverse range of subjects — from “Collective Governance of Public Goods in Malawi” to “Effects of Maternal Stress Before and After the Birth of a Child on Child Health and Behavior Outcomes.”
For their related projects, biology majors and premed students Melissa Jackels and Kendra Reilly worked in DU’s Human Dynamics Lab, comparing healthy knees to knee implants in order to improve the design of the latter. Working with Erin Mannen, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the two used a biplane fluoroscopy system to track patients as they moved through a range of knee-flexibility exercises. They later analyzed the data to make recommendations for ways that current implants can be improved.
“It’s just enhanced my drive to be in medicine,” Jackels says of the project. “Getting to work with the patients and getting to work with these systems and the data processing, it’s shown me how much I love it and want to keep doing it.”
Jackels and Reilly have submitted an abstract for the Orthopaedic Research Society conference next spring; if their research is accepted, they will travel to California to present on the project. The two also will be part of DU’s annual Undergraduate Research & Scholarship Symposium at the end of the 2016–17 academic year.
“It’s really cool to see the whole process from beginning to end and really understand how we get the data that we get,” Reilly says. “It’s really opened my eyes to the possibility of being able to practice medicine while also working on research.”
Art major Jacob Pearlstein was one of several students who used their grants to conduct research abroad. He and fellow art student Kevin Shanken traveled to Iceland to photograph glaciers.
“I wanted to travel, but I wanted this travel to be meaningful. I wanted to accomplish something,” Pearlstein says of his initial project proposal. Fans of the documentary “Chasing Ice,” which details an expedition to track climate change through the photographic documentation of glaciers, Pearlstein and Shanken looked for a way to contribute to the cause.
“Kevin and I realized that the Extreme Ice Survey lacked in the art department,” Pearlstein says. “They did take photos of glaciers and glacial ice, but for the most part, they failed to convey the power and uniqueness of ice, focusing on documentation instead. We wanted to show the power, beauty and importance of ice with our photographs.”
In June, the two ventured to Iceland, where they captured powerful images of shrinking glaciers. Their next step is to find a place in Denver to show their work, “to engage people with this subject matter and hopefully get people to care enough to do something about it,” Pearlstein says. “I plan to contact some galleries and other potential venues once I have finalized more of my images.”
Nancy Lorenzon, director of the Undergraduate Research Center, considers projects like these an essential aspect of undergraduate education.
“Research is an important experiential component that can take what students learn in the classroom, in labs and in course work, and actually apply it. It’s really important for critical-thinking skills, problem solving and writing,” Lorenzon says. “We are extremely lucky to have an undergraduate research center that is well-funded and to have the support of the administration.”