Student Scholars Day showcases research, projects

Students discuss research data during Student Scholars Day
More than 400 students participated in the 27th annual Student Scholars Day on April 12 across the Allendale campus.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

More than 400 students across a variety of disciplines delivered their research findings or displayed their projects to their peers and faculty members during Student Scholars Day on April 12. 

In its 27th year, Student Scholars Day originated from faculty interest in providing students with space to share their work, whether traditional research or performance exhibits, said Susan Mendoza, director of the Center for Undergraduate Scholar Engagement

“It’s the diversity of the work that excites me,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza envisions the event growing in the coming years with more students participating as the pandemic finally wanes and with more faculty encouraging class participation. 

To encourage engagement with this year’s presenting students, CUSE included QR codes on the student’s poster, Mendoza said. If a student is unavailable to answer questions from a visitor, they can scan the QR code to leave a comment or question. 

"We're looking at different ways to engage the community and the work,” Mendoza said. “My hope is as we move forward, there will be new ways of engaging with Student Scholars Day, and folks who engage more frequently, maybe move to being presenters.”

History 315

Students present their group presentation during Student Scholars Day
History professor Nora Salas' History 315 class researched the Latino history in Grand Rapids and interviewed subjects to build an oral history of the period.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

History professor Nora Salas’ History 315 class, “Latinos: The Forging of Ethnic Identities,” examined the Grand Rapids’ Latinx history, delving into the cultural and historical significance behind three landmarks and institutions.

Salas’ class of 10 students researched St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, Roberto Clemente Park and the Latin American Council and how the three played pivotal roles in Grand Rapids’ burgeoning Latin community. 

Senior Jocelyn Medina said the class revealed much about a community’s history that had been forgotten. 

“It was really surprising to see the community that actually settled here, and that I had never heard of,” she said. 

Besides poring over archives at the Grand Rapids Public Library, students also built an oral history of the Latin American community by interviewing a person associated with each of those institutions or landmarks. 

Medina said the research experience truly became a collective one for her and the class. Students exchanged their findings and readings with one another, collaborated on archival work and constructed the final project.

“It was nice because people obviously grasp things differently, so we were all reading different articles and passing them around, relaying information and getting feedback to build it all together,” Medina said. 

Salas said it was the first time she constructed the class this way, leading to students presenting at Student Scholars Day.

“In order for students to have this intensive research experience, it’s good to have that SSD structure there,” Salas said. “I view it as a way for students to have those high-impact learning experiences within the context of a class.”

Mary Fergus

Student poses for a photo inside a refrigerated station at her lab.
Biochemistry major Mary Fergus' research was titled, "Exploring the Cross-class Inhibition of Key Antibiotic Resistance Targets in the Multidrug Resistant Pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii."
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Biochemistry major Mary Fergus’ entry into the Student Scholars Day began with her experience in the Summer Scholars Program. 

“That Summer Scholars Program is what drastically changed my career path,” she said. “That was the confirmation in solidifying me wanting to go to graduate school and pursue research further.”

Working with her mentor, chemistry professor Rachel Powers, Fergus has been researching antibiotic resistance in the pathogen, Acinetobacter baumannii. 

The bacteria is equipped with enzymes which break down antibiotics, limiting their effectiveness. Fergus said she’s focused on finding ways to inhibit those enzymes.

“We don't directly work with Acinetobacter just because it is a highly pathogenic bacteria, and we don’t want to get those types of infections,” she said. “So what we do is transform them into E. coli cells and that allows us for a safer study material.” 

The pathogen most commonly occurs in hospital settings, Fergus said, particularly patients who are in long-term care situations. In fact, Fergus was considering a medical career as a physician before she began studying organic chemistry. 

Talking with her professor during office hours forged her a new career path, she said. 

“I was asking them questions about stuff that wasn’t even going to be on an upcoming exam,” Fergus said. “So he started telling me about the kind of research that was happening in his lab and at Grand Valley.”

With her graduation approaching, Fergus said Student Scholars Day was a transformative process for her. 

“Dr. Powers prepared me extremely well, and she has always made us feel like equals to her, and we can contribute to the problem that we're facing,” Fergus said. “That has definitely built my confidence, which can help a lot in your research. If you have confidence in your knowledge and what you're doing, it can drastically impact the progression of your research.”

Jacob Yingling

Jacob Yingling poses for a photo in the boathouse at Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon
Natural resources management major Jacob Yingling's research project was titled "Yellow Perch Fish Conditions in Drowned River Mouth Systems."
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Situated on the ground floor of the Annis Water Resources Institute’s Field Station, junior Jacob Yingling is helping graduate student Tyler Hoyt in the morphological analysis of yellow perch.

Yingling, a natural resources management major, is cataloging and measuring yellow perch from drowned river mouth areas, like Lake Macatawa in Holland. 

“So statistically, there's been no change in body length or mass, but what we are seeing are changes in shape,” Yingling said. “They are changes either in compressing or stretching or they are bending dorsally.” 

Working with Hoyt has enabled Yingling the opportunity to present his own findings at national conferences, most recently before the American Fisheries Society. 

“I’ve gained a lot of valuable tools like developing your own hypothesis, and my writing and presentation skills have definitely improved,” Yingling said. “It’s been super helpful for my career.” 

In September, Yingling also participated in CUSE’s Chalk Art Symposium on the plaza of the Pew Library. Mendoza said the event offered students a chance to present their research, challenging them to communicate their data in a non-traditional format. 

Yingling said it was a challenging assignment to bring his research to life through art.

“I’m fine writing a paper, but to explain it through art and encapsulate everything was really difficult,” he said. “It was really cool though to see the reaction from people walking by and talk about my research to people that may not be interested in it.

“A lot of the time in science, we’re so used to talking about our research to others in our field and don’t really think about the applications to the layman. It’s very important.” 

Student discussing his data during Student Scholars Day
Psychology major Cabdulcasiis Ciise talks about his research with a guest during Student Scholars Day on April 12.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills
Students discuss their research findings during Student Scholars Day
Student Scholars Day "originated from faculty interest in providing students with space to share their work," said Susan Mendoza, director of the Center for Undergraduate Scholar Engagement.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills


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