Summer researchers share hopes

Summer researchers share best hopes for their projects

June 17, 2019
Ariel Wish '20
President Sterritt Speaking

Directly above, President Lorraine Sterritt addresses the group; in descending order below, biology major Reece Pawlaczyk and chemistry and environmental science major Adele Pierce tell of their work studying metal contamination in a stream; Dina Alfasar explains her project on Vermont’s Muslim community; Hanna Geick and Nick Gibney on their e-cigarette research; Luna Isham, who is integrating psychology and dance; and Shane Coughlin describing his study of democracy. (photos by Tess Beinhaur ’20)

Summer has finally arrived, and while much of the Saint Michael’s community is using the long-awaited sunshine to catch a break from rigorous academic demands, nearly 40 ambitious students and their faculty mentors are back on campus for another round, this time performing highly specialized and generously funded research.

“This is absolutely at the heart of the intellectual experience,” Saint Michael’s College President Lorraine Sterritt told the group of researchers who gathered in the International Commons on Wednesday, June 12 to share a Sodexo-catered lunch and present their projects to the campus community. “We applaud the great things [you are going to do] and new discoveries that you are going to make in the course of the summer.”

Diversity across disciplines, passions, and research methods remained a trend throughout the hour as each student gave an intelligent and well-articulated account of how they are planning to spend their next eight weeks on campus. Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower, facilitator of the event, said after the first few projects were presented, “As you can see — we have a wide variety of things going on!”

Immediately after Trumbower asked for a brave first volunteer or group of volunteers to share their study, a table full of six seniors and one junior eagerly raised their hands. A mix of biology and neuroscience majors, the team will be using spiders to study sensory perception. With each student responsible for a specific area of research within the broader project, and with the help of the group’s mentor, neuroscience and biology Professor Ruth Fabian-Fine, the group will be using the similarities between a spider’s sensory organs and the hair cells of a human ear to analyze and understand sensory systems across species.

science students speakingThe spider team members were not the only ones to represent the world of lab-based research. Melissa Lezama, a senior neuroscience major from Merrimack, NH, for example, will be working with faculty member Adam Weaver to study leeches as a model for the invertebrate heartbeat system.

Zachary Principe, a senior chemistry major, will be working with Professor Bret Findley to “observe the solvation behavior of binary solvent mixtures with different solvatochromic dyes.” His goal is to better understand solvation trends and capabilities.

Four biology majors sitting right behind Trumbower shared that they will be looking at sugar transportation in maize. They’re hoping the research will be a step toward producing larger ears of corn and more environmentally stable plants in order to meet the demands of a growing population.

Many students this year are taking advantage of Vermont’s rich ecosystems and vibrant culture to facilitate their research. Biology major Reece Pawlaczyk and chemistry and environmental science major Adele Pierce, for example, will be working with their faculty adviser, Shane Lamos, to test metal contamination levels in the Union Dam, a body of water located downstream of the Elizabeth Mine in Strafford, VT.

Biology majors Nadia Racz and Kyle Berry will be researching mussels and macroinvertebrates in Lake Champlain. With the help of their faculty adviser, Declan McCabe, they will focus specifically on zebra mussels, an invasive species detrimental to a lake’s ecosystem.

Another pair of biology majors, Lauren Walsh and Owen Sanborn will be working with Professor Dagan Loisel to detect viruses in bobcats in the Vermont forests as well as geographic locations all over the United States. They will be using their findings to make genetic comparisons between bobcats and other species that fall victim to these viruses as well.

Three biology majors and one environmental studies major are showcasing the many opportunities that the campus farm offers students. Using Saint Michael’s soil, they will investigate horticultural and field practices in one crop system in the New England growing region.

Environmental science major Ethan Brookner has set up 20 motion-sensing cameras in the Saint Michael’s natural area and will be observing changes in ecology of its ecosystems. He will be paying specific attention to “cwd,” a coarse woody debris that serves as a habitat for many Vermont mammals.

Student Dina Alsaffar speaking to audienceVerging from the lab sciences, Dina Alfasar, an anthropology and sociology major from South Burlington, VT will be researching the impact that race and ethnicity have on Vermont’s Muslim community. With the help of Professor Robert Brenneman, she’ll be exploring “how the Muslim community understands their multiethnic and multiracial makeup, and whether or not they see it as an enhancement or a hindrance to community life.”


Also performing humanistic research, Katie Merchat, a psychology and elementary education major from Lsndstuhl, Germany, will be working with Professor Renee Carrico to assess the advantages and disadvantages of inclusive and special education classrooms for students with disabilities. Conducting a qualitative study using special education professionals, Merchat will be looking at the focuses of different programs and how they affect students.

A sociology and political science major from Bedford, MA, Zachary Nover, will be seeking to understand the origins and process of forgiveness in the aftermath of a mass conflict or violence. With the help of faculty adviser Amy Redman, he will be using qualitative and quantitative analysis to establish patterns and relationships.

two people standing and speaking to groupIn response to the significant amounts of sleep deprivation reported by college students, two juniors majoring in neuroscience, Jenna Blain and Megan Kain, will be studying sleep quality and the effects it has on cardiovascular activity as well as immune response.

With e-cigarettes recently on the rise, seniors Hanna Geick and Nick Gibney will be studying the chemical and physical properties of electronic based nicotine products. Mentored by Professor Ari Kirshenbaum, they will work to better understand the effect e-cigarettes have on both the human body and the human psyche.

Luna Isham Luna Ishum, psychology major from Duxbury, VT, will be working with Pauline Jennings in the dance department to research different mental states such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, mania and even hope. She will not only be writing a research paper, but will choreograph a creative dance to illuminate her findings.

A political science and philosophy double major from Hudson, NH, Shane Coughlin will be working with Professor Shefali Misra to research political philosophers and their critiques of democracy. With his interest stemming from a St. Mike’s course he took on the philosophy of Plato, Coughlin states that he is “trying to better understand what we can do to help American democracy [find] potential solutions as well as look at some of the problems: are they inevitable?”

While English-based projects were few and far between, Madison Newman wowed the crowd with her project titled, “Desiring What is Perfectly Good’; Ethical Humanism and Community in George Eliot.” Newman will be working with English Professor Christina Root to analyze the role of religion, community, and morality in three George Eliot novels. She also will be looking at shifts in the author’s personal morality and how they influenced her work.

Shane CoughlinAllison Croce, a senior from Morrisville, NC studying English and religious studies, had the room chuckling when she stood up and vibrantly announced, concerning her investigation of purgation in the Buddhist and Christina traditions, “This summer, I’m going to hell!” Also delving into theological traditions and controversies, Croce will be working with Professor Eva Pascal to examine the portrayal of the underworld in Buddhist and Christian thought.

With a passion for film analysis, Danielle Joubert, a senior English major from Methuen, MA, will be working with Professor Kerry Shea to examine the evolution of gender and sexuality across six different Chan-wook Park films spanning from the years 2006 to 2016. She will be working within the context of the Film Noir tradition, textual adaptation, Korean cinema, and Korean culture.

“We’re not just consumers of knowledge, but producers of it,” Trumbower appropriately told the group after making sure each researcher had a chance to share. “You all are at the forefront of potentially creating new knowledge.” Indeed they are, it seems. Now more than ever, Trumbower and President Sterritt said, they and the rest of the community are excited to see what the students will have accomplished come the second summer research luncheon, which will be held on July 19 in the Dion Family Student Center.

Follow us on social.