Students share research findings at Summer Scholar Showcase
A summer of research and investigation yielded more for senior Isabelle Villaneuva than she could have imagined. The summer not only opened her eyes to her educational possibilities but also instilled a sense of confidence that she had not seen before in herself, she said.
“I get really stressed having to be a leader,” Villaneuva said. “Taking the reins on this project and being independent, I’ve gained confidence in myself as a scholar and a leader. I’ve seen a lot of personal growth. It’s been a great 12 weeks.”
A senior studying communication sciences and disorders, Villaneuva participated in the Student Summer Scholars Program, delving more into a project that began during the fall semester of 2021.
Villaneuva and other students will be presenting their findings during the Summer Scholars Showcase at 4 p.m, September 8, in the Grand River Room of the Kirkhof Center.
Susan Mendoza, director of undergraduate scholar engagement, said five summer research programs — Student Summer Scholars, Modified Student Summer Scholars, Math REU, McNair Scholars and the MI-STEM Forward Research Internship — will be presenting at the showcase.
"The event is designed to celebrate the work of our undergraduate students who have participated in summer research programs, and share that work with the university community, donors, and the scholars’ families and supporters," Mendoza said.
Villaneuva’s research focuses on bibliotherapy and its implementation by teachers in speech-language pathology. Bibliotherapy helps students connect with a book’s characters who may share similar traits with the student.
As an example, Villaneuva said, if she was working with a student who had a stutter, she could read and engage with the child through a book where the main character also has a stutter. The character may reach an understanding through the story’s development that they are not defined by their stutter.
Coupled with planned activities by a teacher, therapist or librarian, the student can find similarities with the main character and build connections.
“The patient can then understand there are others out there like them,” Villaneuva said. “It’s really tied to emotional aspects and self-image.”
Working with her mentor, communication sciences and disorders professor Cara Singer, Villaneuva developed a bibliotherapy course this summer that will be implemented over four weeks in a Head Start program for preschool children.
Villaneuva said her work with Singer has opened a gateway she was not expecting.
“I think prior to my research I was pretty fixated on being in a classroom with children and focused on language development,” Villaneuva said. “But over this 12-week program I have really understood the importance of research and grown to love this curiosity aspect. Now, I’m actually considering getting a Ph.D. This research has opened my eyes to what I can do.”
Like Villaneuva, biomedical sciences senior Evan Sidebotham found his summer research to be most illuminating in more ways than one.
Thanks to grants from NASA and the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, Sidebotham has been working with biomedical sciences professors Derek Thomas and Ian Cleary. Their research is looking at how spaceflight affects a particular fungus’ genetic structure and its ability to form biofilm and infections in humans.
These types of biofilms and their infections can create problems for hospitals, especially for immunocompromised patients, or those on an IV or using a catheter, said Sidebotham, who is heading to medical school next year.
“Hospitals spend millions of dollars to fight these infections through antibiotics. These infections are something I’ll have to treat as a doctor. The more you can understand these organisms, the better and more specific treatments you can have to attack them,” Sidebotham said.
Through his research, there were moments of self-discovery as well, Sidebotham said.
“You have to really think about what you’re doing and not just go through the motions,” he said. “I really learned about critical thinking. I had to be very detail-oriented, and I learned that through some of the failures I had.”
Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.