News

Closure and exposure for students' hard work

04.23.13

A Saint Michael's College student used the story of Hansel and Gretel to make a point about astrophysics and the origins of the universe at the college's annual Academic Symposium over Family Weekend, April 19-20. A classmate went out to the ballpark with an economist's eye, investigating whether major league baseball owners get a good return on their huge investments in player salaries. A recent study-abroad traveler had insights about sustainable agriculture while another had clearer ideas about public health and maybe a new career path after a summer study-trip to Guyana.

In an atmosphere both celebratory and scholarly, St. Mike's students put their best work forward for visiting family who mingled with professors, college leaders and a big group of newly accepted students who were visiting campus with their families the same weekend. Everybody seemed fired up about what (and how) Saint Michael's students are learning.

The sheer scale of the event was something to behold: 102 students at the main poster session, 150-plus oral presentations of senior theses by department throughout the college's main academic building; more than 900 students and their family with faculty and administrators in Ross Sports Center for a Dean's Reception Saturday night. That reception featured 35 invited dean’s list presenters who set up around the gym’s perimeter with posters, along with two featured student speakers and an elegant spread of hors d'oeuvres.  On Friday afternoon, teams of business students presented their original business start-up plans in the annual Enterprise Competition, with winners receiving large cash prizes.

The Family Weekend included honor society inductions, athletic events, musical presentations, a theatrical performance of "Dead Man Walking," and a crafts fair to raise money for international service learning trips. The Accepted Students Open House welcomed high school seniors who have been accepted at the college.

The fourth annual Saint Michael's annual Academic Symposium featured students presenting academic research through poster sessions and student-led presentations. This event coincided with Undergraduate Research Week 2013, sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research, which recognizes high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.

Here's what a sample of student presenters across a variety of disciplines had to say about their Symposium experiences:

Ashley Armstrong '13, physics major, Rome, NY

Chemistry/physics poster session, adviser John O'Meara

Carbon IV and analyzing properties of early galaxies

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    Triply-ionized carbon is called Carbon IV -- they use a Roman numeral – and detecting its presence in space can tell us important information about the origins of the universe. My project is a culmination of about two years of research. I'd grown up always wanting to be an astronaut so when I came to St. Mike's I felt lucky to find a real astronomer in the Physics Department, John O'Meara. We connected and started to do research to explore the universe through astrophysics. In summer 2011 we made a field trip to Hawaii to use the Keck Telescopes and there we used the same type of instruments that I used gathering data for this project. The specific topic is important because, by studying how galaxies formed, we're getting a better idea of why the Milky Way formed which addresses the important topic of why we’re here at all.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    The coolest thing for me was finding a way of presenting it that's interesting or makes sense to people. I came up with an analogy between my project and the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. I loved that you can talk about physics in terms of a fairy tale and bring out its meaning. I'm an English and philosophy minor so I like finding ways to tie them all together. Carbon IV tells us where to look for clouds of gas in the universe so that by finding them we can find where other elements are. So like Hansel and Gretel, we are following breadcrumbs of Carbon IV molecules to get to what we really want to look at. On my poster for the Symposium I have a cartoon of Hansel and Gretel dropping Carbon 4 breadcrumbs along the path and I animated the graphics, using PowerPoint. This also was my senior seminar topic. One thing I learned about myself in all this is that I love computer programming.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    If one could purchase telescope time, I would do that, but since that's not how it works, money wouldn't even help so it's sort of hard to figure out how I'd use it. Perhaps I would fund a team of students to all work on the same project. It would include programming licenses, which are expensive, and that way there could be a team of undergraduate working on the same project which would verify data and give some peer review of everything I found.

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    The project really has given the abstract course work I've done an application for real data in an academic setting. I'm actually using concepts I learned then. In terms of career plans, being able to do research like this has given me a clear perspective on what graduate school research would be like. All that information is helping me decide what I want to do and make an informed decision on future education plans. After taking a break from science for a year to move out to Seattle just as an adventure, I hope to go back to graduate school soon.


Lauren DiBona '14, biology major, Quincy, MA

Experiential Learning – adviser Joan Wagner

Community engaged learning class in Guyana

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    My presentation was in the Experiential Learning Showcase. I'd gone to Guyana this past summer with seven other students and philosophy Professor Katie Kirby so I wanted to talk about that at the Symposium, focusing on communities I saw in Guyana and how that relates to my life back at home. We visited both an impoverished neighborhood in the capital city of Georgetown and an Amerindian Arawak village called Moraikobai.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    I learned how much I value the community that I have here at St. Mike's working with others in service. You hear these terms thrown around a lot at this college -- community, service -- but I realized how true they are after this project.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    I would go back to Guyana and visit more Indian villages, and also interview people in Georgetown to see how their experiences compare -- what they have, what they do, what they believe, since it's in the same small country, but worlds apart in many ways.

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    I think this helped me see how important the liberal arts background was for me as a biology major. Without this experience I wouldn't have seen the global aspect of what biologists can do so directly, and it's made me consider a career in public health or health care in underdeveloped countries. I always knew I wanted to do heath care, but the idea of public health came out more after the trip. I'm thinking of becoming a physician's assistant.


Alyssa Cuddy '14, environmental studies major from Lawrence, MA

Farming, food and working landscapes, adviser Bridgett Kerr

Can sustainable agriculture be sustained?

About her advisee's work, English Professor Bridget Kerr says, "Alyssa Cuddy is an extremely focused and accomplished Environmental Studies student and, very fortunately, she also has social justice at her core."

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    Majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology, I saw the topic of sustainable agriculture as a way to research and address both the environment and cultures. My concentration for Environmental Studies is Global Health, Social Justice, and Environmental Sustainability, and as sustainable agriculture addresses these areas in terms of worker health and public health issues, fair trade values, and caring for the environment in a sustainable manner, the topic seemed to be the perfect fit. Having visited India, China, and South Africa, I was exposed to severe poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, and other human rights violations; therefore, digging deeper into one of the determinants such as industrial agriculture and monopolies remained important to me.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    I found the most interesting aspect of the project was learning about the critiques and reasons some hesitate to switch to sustainable agriculture such as lower incomes for farmers, fewer markets, outdated equipment, and intensive labor which is difficult on the body. At first, one comes to assume the choice is simple. Industrial agriculture has numerous negative impacts, so why not switch to the alternative? Yet, I realized that I cannot jump to conclusions. Instead, I looked into how sustainable agriculture can denounce these criticisms as avoidable or manageable. In turn, I found that it is more beneficial for the environment, the economic side, and health.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    If I were able to continue research on a higher level, I would seek to work with non-governmental organizations to promote awareness, but also begin investigating the viability of certain alternatives such as the development of more local or farmers' markets. Of course, large scale subsidies and a change in the consumer market are what factors need to occur, so even one million dollars would not serve that purpose. Therefore, I would focus on promoting awareness and evincing the effectiveness of alternatives such as organic gardening.

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    As aforementioned, I am concentrated on Global Health, Social Justice, and Environmental Sustainability, therefore, the research project fit perfectly into each category as I looked into public health and the increased risk of diseases, social justice and workers' rights, and the environment with regards to pollution and degradation. Having traveled abroad, I connected the project to my experiences with the people of different cultures as well which brought in my Anthropology major. In the future, I hope to work in an area that synthesizes nature and cultures such as organizations like World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Although, I am not exactly sure of my career path, I know food comes from farms, which Berry reveals many have forgotten, and that the land is truly the foundation of our futures.


Jessica Morrissey '13, economics major, Glens Falls, NY

Economics, adviser Patrick Walsh

Do major league baseball teams receive an ROI in first-year draft signing bonuses?

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    My interest was both as a baseball fan and future economist. I've always been very interested in the financial and statistical sides of baseball. It's important to me since sports is such huge part of American culture and is such a financially expensive enterprise at the highest levels, so I was really curious, given the major amounts of money that baseball team owners put into these players, if they see good returns on their investments. I'm from Glen Falls, NY, and a Red Sox fan since that's what most of my friends were growing up.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    I learned that I love collecting data and manipulating numbers. For all the economics projects at the Symposium we had to have all data by November of last semester – this is a whole year project for us, so doing the initial digging for information last fall was my favorite part of it: searching for numbers, putting them in Excel, seeing what cool trends I could get out of them. Usually I'm not a huge math person, but when math is applicable to one of my strong extracurricular interests, I found it brings out the math side of me.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    I think I would like to fly around the country to all 30 major league teams and interview the front-office draft personnel who were behind these decisions, to learn more about their process determining how much these players are worth, if they get any repercussions about players turning out well, or in the case of the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, not so well. They were the worst, losing a bit more or less than 10 percent of their investments. Everyone else had positive returns.

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    My project fits with my economics major, obviously, but I'm hoping to get into some facet of the sports industry for a career -- sports marketing or analytics -- so this definitely tied into my current academic program with future interests and extracurricular interests as well. After graduation I plan in the fall to attend Bentley College for an MBA with a concentration in marketing.


Christopher Crocker '13, physics major, Foxborough, MA

Chemistry/physics poster session, Dean's Reception presenter, adviser John O'Meara

Using quasars to analyze distant galaxies

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    I started in the engineering program but decided it wasn't for me so I became a physics major and found it's something I'm good at. For this project I got asked by Professor John O'Meara if I wanted to work with him during the summer. I had no idea of how the realms of astrophysics worked, so for me it was more a first glance at astronomy if you will, working with all the data he collects. It seemed like a really good option for the summer so I took it up and liked it a lot.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    After learning the basic background, I learned to compile large amounts of data about quasars and galaxies for six out of eight weeks. Basically I was taught that light has spectra so when you look at light from a star, it comes out in a wave form and when this light passes through dust you get what are called absorption lines -- nicks in the wave form -- due to light passing energy to the dust or gasses. So, based on where that is in the wave form, that is, what the nick looks like, we can tell what element it is and approximately how far away it was absorbed. I was working with giant databases of absorption lines. I started working with programs to do that and eventually the bulk of my project was learning to computer-program which was very interesting to me. I really liked it a lot and took another computer science course last semester because of it. As a physicist it's good to have that background.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    I have no idea! The way things work in the work I was doing, you have to petition for time at telescopes, and that's where the next step in my research would be -- so money wouldn't be any help in getting that time. And it would cost way more than $1 million to buy the kind of telescope that we're talking about!

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    In the future I want to go into a career working with engineers in manufacturing or some other realm. It was a good idea for me to figure out what the life of an astronomer is actually like, and I got a little peep at that and found it really wasn't for me, the whole "writing proposals" business. But I really enjoyed the computer programming aspect of it and that's become a mini-passion of mine. I also made a great companion in Professor O'Meara - it was so great to work with him and I loved my time over the summer and learned some valuable information in the process.


Michael O'Neill '13: Religious Studies and Political Science double-major, Leominster, MA

Advisers: John Kenney in Religious Studies, Jeffrey Ayres in Political Science

Religious Studies: "Time crisis: contemplating the theological implications of Saint Augustine of Hippo's understanding of Time in the Confessions."
Political Science: "Cyber war, the new nontraditional threat and its impact on US national security and foreign policy?"

  1. How did you decide on this topic and why is it important to you?

    For my Religious Studies topic I decided on time in Saint Augustine because he's a saint who is very important to me personally and I wanted to dive deeper into his thought. I remembered a part in his Confessions about time – it was so dense and I wanted to see if I could understand it better. Now I definitely feel I do, but it wasn't easy. Augustine is at the core of a lot of Catholic theological thought, a doctor of the church, and you can see his influence in so many prominent thinkers in the church. I'm very involved in Campus Ministry, joining Emmaus Retreats a number of times and co-running a weekly Scripture-based reflection group for students, and I draw on Augustine a lot for both. I also did an "experiential artifact" for this project – that is, Augustine has shaped my own thinking on how to approach metaphysical topics like the soul and God. For my political science project I took the foreign policy seminar and was first thinking maybe of doing something on terrorism or drones, but then I read an article that mentioned cyber war, which also was in a book we read for class, so I got intrigued and started talking to Professor Ayres and he encouraged me. It was a really interesting topic.

  2. What cool and/or surprising things did you learn about the project (and yourself) during the process?

    Before doing this Augustine work I wasn't sure I was capable of grasping such abstract topics, but doing a thesis on it, I learned how to logically think in a such a way that I can deal with that sort of topic now. I used to get very lost when people talked about abstract topics, but now I realize I can wrestle with them. For Augustine, time basically is a part of the fall for the soul and the soul gets kind of affected by time in such a way that it doesn’t participate in its own nature fully, and time acts as a penalty for sin. I also realized just how interested I am in this particular topic. I'd like to continue learning about time in Augustine in future studies. I also learned how important your approach to a topic can be to the conclusions you reach - how different schools of thought can transform what one sees in a writing. For example, one school on this topic I did is philosophical while another is historical-contextual, and you get two very different outcomes depending how you approach it. For my cyber war project, the coolest thing I learned was how cyber defense is an Achilles Heel for the United States. We have a very strong military, but my thesis shows how cyber-dependent we are, and that’s our weak point. It shows how far behind we are because of our obsession with terrorism, causing an inability to recognize what a threat it is.

  3. If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it following up on your research?

    I would put money toward research on how best to update the U.S. cyber defenses, which would not only improve U.S. national security but also U.S. foreign policy initiatives. As for "time crisis" in Augustine, maybe I'd use the money for acquiring resources and documents relating to that topic, using it to work with others to gain further understanding on a deeper level since my thesis was just a surface understanding in many ways. I'd like to further develop textual analysis of what Augustine was thinking.

  4. How does this project fit in with your education at Saint Mike's and your future career plans?

    The Augustine project was the culmination of using a lot of the research and writing skills I've learned over my four years here, and in particular, my last couple years in Professor Kenney's classes, so using the knowledge I gained from those. It challenged me to take on these hairy topics. I'm planning to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation, so depending on where I end up, I may have an opportunity to teach by way of preparing people for the sacraments in religious education, so I think my knowledge of Augustine can further what I can do in that area. Then in grad school I'd like to further my education in theology, focusing on Augustine hopefully, and turn that into a job afterward. At one time I was interested in doing intelligence analysis for the government but that interest has passed. Still, my project with Professor Ayres was another culmination of my reading, writing and analysis, trying to formulate an argument and establish a position, to do that critical thinking. While the Augustine project developed my approach to abstract thinking, the cyber war project was more problem-solving in nature, which is also a useful skill.

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