Tag: research

December research projects expand across disciplines for faculty, students

Sophia Driessen ’22 transplants leafy greens from their sponge starters to new soil growth media while working Dec. 10 on a hydroponics research project in the Briggs Hall greenhouse at Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

While much of the Lawrence University campus has been quiet since Fall Term ended, there has been a bustle of activity happening in and around academic research projects.

In Briggs Hall, you can find Sophia Driessen ’21, Erin Szablewski ’21, and Catherine Wagoner ’22 working daily with Relena Ribbons, assistant professor of geosciences, on new hydroponics research. With work both in the lab and in Briggs’ small greenhouse, the students are getting a chance to do hands-on research that both boosts their resumes for graduate school and gives them insights into possible career paths.

“This work is valuable to me because it allows me to strengthen my independent learning and working skills,” Szablewski said. “Additionally, it is helping me to learn and grow in the research process, helping me in my graduate school application process. I was drawn to it because of its hands-on, interdisciplinary nature.”

They’re not alone. In all, 26 Lawrence University students—15 on campus and 11 remote—are working during December with 18 faculty members on research in disciplines stretching across campus. Each student applied for and received a $1,200 stipend for three weeks of work between the Fall and Winter terms.

“This is the third year for December research, but with a significant innovation,” said Peter Blitstein, associate dean of the faculty and associate professor of history. “For the first time, we are using internal funds to support projects in the social sciences, humanities, and fine arts, in addition to using funds from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation grant for work in the natural sciences.”

The December program began in 2018 with funding from Sherman Fairchild for physics, biology, chemistry, geosciences, and neuroscience research. This year, faculty in economics, the Conservatory of Music, English, mathematics, religious studies, and Mudd Library are participating.

The University is investing more than $37,000 in the expanded program, covering the students’ stipends as well as room and board for those on campus.

“This is the greatest number of students we have supported for December research in the three years we have had this program,” Blitstein said.

Elizabeth Becker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Elsa Hammerdahl ’22 are collaborating with a St. Joseph’s University graduate student in researching mating habits of the monogamous California mouse. This species is notable because it’s believed that fewer than 5% of mammals are exclusive, an affinity known in animal behavior research as “pair-bond,” Becker said.

“While in some species, these pair-bonds are thought to form within 24 hours of cohabitation, other studies indicate that this process may take up to a week,” she said. 

This project continues research that Becker started at St. Joseph’s, the Pennsylvania school where she taught and led the Behavioral Neuroscience Program before joining the Lawrence faculty earlier this year.

“By manipulating the cohabitation period and then measuring a range of affiliative and aggressive behaviors in partners, we aim to establish an accurate timeline and create a formal operationalization for pair-bond formation in this species that can be used in future studies,” Becker said.

Ribbons and her three students, meanwhile, are doing hydroponics research that is supported by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) and the Lawrence University Research Fellows (LURF) program.

“The chief aim is to test out and pilot this new experimental setup with an eye toward future experiments to examine microbial communities that grow in the soil growth media,” Ribbons said of the research. “Students have been experimenting with what types of plants we will grow, starting within the leafy greens category to test out Swiss chard, Russian kale, and buttercrunch lettuce. Currently we are growing about 300 baby leafy greens in three replicates of the hydroponics manifolds.”

Wagoner, a geoscience and environmental studies major, said the work ties in nicely with her interests and career ambitions.

“As an avid science and nature enthusiast, I was naturally drawn to this research project,” she said. “These past few weeks have offered unparalleled experiences and knowledge that might be difficult to obtain in a typical classroom setting.”

An added bonus, she said, is working alongside other women with a shared passion for science.

“Aside from the inherent educational value of our project, it feels very empowering to be working and learning alongside three other women in a field largely dominated by men,” Wagoner said.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Note regarding WSGC: 1) this material is based upon work supported by NASA under Award No. RIP20_11.0 issued through Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, and 2) any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Harrison Symposium Showcases Student Research

With subjects ranging from capitalism in contemporary China, to red-haired women featured in the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to building a better oarsman, the Harrison Symposium recognizes the outstanding research done by Lawrence students in the humanities and social sciences.  The 13th annual Harrison symposium will be held Saturday, May 15, 2010, in Lawrence University’s Main Hall.  Presenters are nominated by faculty and invited to submit abstracts of their research papers.  Based on the abstracts, students are selected to present their work at the symposium in the format used for professional meetings of scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

Welcome Reception
8:45  Light Refreshments – Strange Commons in Main Hall
9:00  Welcome by Provost and Dean of the Faculty, David Burrows

Session One: Panel A, Main Hall 201
Moderator: Professor Barrett
9:15   Kelsey Platt: “Space for the Individual”
9:45   Melody Moberg: “Radically Subversive Domesticity: The True Implications of Rachel Halliday’s Kitchen”
10:15  Alicia Bones: “Aunt Jemima and Aunt Chloe: Moving Within and Outside of the Mammy Myth”

Session One: Panel B, Main Hall 211
Moderator:  Professor Tsomu
9:15   Lindsey Ahlen: “The Impact of Local Media on West African Political Systems and Figures”
9:45   Carolyn Schultz: “Managing Crises: The Arab-Israeli Conflict from the Perspectives of the Johnson and Nixon Administrations”
10:15  Jihyun Shin: “Capitalism in Contemporary China”

Session One: Panel C, Main Hall 216
Moderator:  Professor Carlson
9:15   Marie Straquadine: “Objects of Desire: Women with Red Hair in Rossetti’s Paintings”
9:45   Sarah Young: “Shamanism or “Stubborn Rationality”: Joseph Beuys and the Dilemma of Post-War German Masculinity”
10:15  Dani Simandl: “Girls Gone Wild, String Instrument-Style: Performing Instrumental Music for a Popular Culture”

Session One: Panel D, Main Hall 401
Moderator:  Professor Frederick
9:15   Elizabeth Nerland: “No Middle Ground: The Rise and Fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee”
9:45   Caitlin Williamson: “Ojibwe and Canis lupus: cultural, historical, and political influences on contemporary wolf management in the Great Lakes region”
10:15  Gustavo Guimaraes: “Latin American Ethnicity; Not So “Black and White”

Session One: Panel E, Main Hall 404
Moderator:  Professor Williams
9:15   Nicholas Miller: “Building a Better Oarsman: Conceptual Integration and Motor Learning in Rowing Instruction”
9:45   Madeline Herdeman: “Cognitive Models and the Partisan Divide: A Study of the Debate over Health Care Reform”
10:15  Alex Macartney: “A Democratic Purge?: The United States and the Denazification of Austria, 1945 – 1950”

Session Two: Panel A, Main Hall 201
Moderator:  Professor Thomas
11:00  Nicolas Watt: “Ethics in Dostoevsky: A Narrative Analysis of The Idiot”
11:30  John Bettridge: “Tabari, Ghazali and Qutb: The Development of Modern Qur’anic Exegesis”
12:00  Christopher McGeorge: “Subverting Morality: Idealization in Victorian  Art and Literature” ~ 2009 Harrison Award Winner

Session Two: Panel B, Main Hall 211
Moderator:  Professor Vilches
11:00  Jennifer Gabriele: “Federico García Lorca: La obra escrita y plástica de Poeta en Nueva York y la autorrepresentación polifacética”
11:30  Elizabeth Hoffman: “La maternidad, el espacio público y feminismo: Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo”
12:00  Matthew Ingram: “La Construcción del Género: La Lucha Lingüística entre la Biología y la Identidad Social”

Session Two: Panel C, Main Hall 216
Moderator:  Professor Jenike
11:00  Rebecca Hayes: “Misconstruing Misogyny: Reworking the Witchcraft Trials of Early Modern Europe Beyond the Limits of Second Wave Feminism”
11:30  Harjinder Bedi: “Social Poetry of Adzogbo: Context and Meaning of a West African War Dance”
12:00  Michael Korcek: “Drag Kinging in Amsterdam: Queer identity politics, subcultural spaces, and transformative potentials”

Session Two: Panel D, Main Hall 401
Moderator:  Professor Rico
11:00 Katie Van Marter-Sanders: “The Various Reinterpretations of the Sultana Tragedy”
11:30  Jennifer Roesch: “The Hindenburg: A Disaster Waiting to Happen”
12:00  Kaye Herranen: “Artists’ Responses to the Firebombing of Dresden”

Lawrence University Researcher Finds Support for Supreme Court Decision Arguing Diversity Benefits College Academic Discussions

A visiting professor at Lawrence University will present his research into the benefit of ethnic and racial diversity in college academic discussion groups at the Posse Foundation, 14 Wall St., New York City, December 2, 2009, at 11:30 a.m.

Robert J. Beck, visiting professor of educational psychology at Lawrence, completed analysis of 16 transcripts of academic discussions involving 61 students in the college’s Freshman Studies program. Two classes with 25 percent diverse students were compared to two non-diverse classes. Beck’s research resulted in a paper, The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number: An Experimental Study of the Effects of Racial and Ethnic Diversity on Liberal Arts College Discussions.

“We were able to do a carefully controlled quantitative study in undergraduate classrooms where all students were reading and discussing the same works,” Beck said. “All the students took part in interpretive discussions intended to voice meanings about “Great Books” including Plato’s “Republic”, Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, works by a scientist (Einstein) and a composer (Messiaen).”

Among the findings:

  • Students in the diverse classes spoke nearly twice as much as students in the non-diverse classes.
  • Students in the diverse classes contributed nearly 70 percent of the total number of words in the discussion, while in the non-diverse classes students spoke a little less than half the time.
  • The diverse classes had a significantly larger average number of students who spoke in the development of themes of the discussions.
  • About three times as many students in the diverse classes interacted with each other than in the non-diverse classes.
  • Students in the non-diverse classes referred more often to the works in providing evidence and used more complex arguments, but only four students contributed one-third of all arguments.
  • Students in the diverse classes expressed more opinions and referred to personal experiences in making their claims.
  • Diverse class students were more responsive to other discussants’ statements: they followed up with proportionally more high-level questions, re-phrasings, and agreements and a greater number of elaborations/clarifications.
  • Approximately 25 percent of the students in the diverse classes also included evidence backing their opinions, whereas less than 10 percent of the students in the non-diverse classes did so.
  • There were no differences in participation between diverse and non-diverse students in the diverse classes.

“As measured by several criteria, we concluded that the diverse classes provided more value –the “greatest good to the greatest number” — to students than the non-diverse classes,” Beck said. It is more effective to facilitate wide participation and let everyone into the discussion and then support increased levels of critical thinking, rather than to let a few students dominate at a high level and pretty much freeze everyone else out. We will need to do research with larger samples to see if these patterns hold up.”

Funded by the Spencer Foundation, Chicago, the research project was organized to test Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s majority opinion in Grutter vs. Bollinger, 2003, that diversity contributes to the benefit of all students. The associate justice argued that diversity leads to educational benefits for all because of a “robust exchange of ideas” (U. S. 539, 17). These benefits are “important and laudable,” because “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting” when the students have “the greatest possible variety of backgrounds” (U.S. 539, 17).