Three Keene State College students of 11 applicants have been awarded grants to fund their research projects from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).
Interested students were asked to submit an application, a recommendation and a timeline of their project, according to the Center of Creative Inquiry (CCI) Coordinator and History Professor Nick Germana.
The CCI is co-run by Germana, who represents the the School of Arts and Humanities, and Margaret Smith, who represents the School of Professional and Graduate Studies.
What SURF does
As a coordinator for the CCI, Germana said he oversees all of the different funding programs geared towards undergraduate research.
The idea of the SURF program is to have “a stipend for students so that for the summer, [they] can engage in some kind of a project or creative endeavor,” Germana said.
Students who win the fellowship are paid $4,000 through the summer, “kind of in installments,” Germana described.
He said the money is given so that students can primarily focus on their research projects for the duration of the summer, rather than having to work a job simultaneously.
After the summer is over, the student then has to provide a report for the following year to explain what they’ve done.
When asked what the board of the SURF program looks for, Germana said, “One thing we do ask in the application is to let us know what they expect to come out of this.”
He continued, “We really do want some product, we don’t tell them what it has to be. They need to tell us in the end what they are going to have.”
Germana said that they also require the winners to present in the Academic Excellence Conference (AEC), taking place in April, and winners are also required to submit a proposal to present at the Council of Liberal Arts Colleges (COLAC).
Germana said this is a great opportunity for students because if their proposals are accepted, they get to travel in the Northeast region for conferences.
The awards for the SURF program are the same for each winner.
Germana said the amount of awards varies from year to year, depending on “how much money is in the Provost’s office.”
For this year’s fellowship, two of the awards are funded by the Provost’s office and one is funded from outside donors, according to Germana.
Germana also discussed the rewarding experiences that come out of the SURF program.
“I think this gives students the opportunity to engage in high level research that they don’t have the opportunity to otherwise… Students, especially students who are very interested in graduate school of some kind, this gives them an opportunity to take.”
He said that the student research is “largely independent work that [they] would be doing in graduate school and it is so much more in depth of what [they] could do in class. [They] are pursuing an interest of [their] own… [and] it’s giving them an intense research experience that they really can’t get any other way…the point is for them to have some sort of project at the end.”
Nick Germana’s colleague, health science professor Margaret Smith, also is a coordinator for the CCI.
In an e-mail, Smith stated her role as a CCI coordinator as being “responsible for working together with [her] advisory board to advocate for and advance undergraduate scholarship at Keene State College, to coordinate and integrate the various programs currently supporting undergraduate scholarship and to expand these opportunities for faculty and students.”
She also stated that “each coordinator serves both as an ambassador and a faculty development leader within his/her respective school.”
Smith stated that she believes, “CCI, with the purpose of promoting undergraduate research and creative endeavors, is very beneficial to students.”
Recipient Jessica Vandevord
Chemistry and Biology
One student who is getting ready to experience that “beneficial” undergraduate research process is KSC junior Jessica Vandevord.
Vandevord is majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology.
She said she is very excited to have the opportunity to work on her research and knew it was a great opportunity to do a research project “over the summer as opposed to having four plus classes and having too much work to do [to get it complete].”
Vandevord’s mentor for her research is Professor Brian Anderson.
She said she picked him because he is her inorganic chemistry professor, her advisor and because she has been doing research with him since the spring of her first year.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to do an extensive research project,” Vandevord said, “because during the semester, I dont have the time to put in eight plus hours of research a week, so we had discussed some of my research options and the SURF [program] came up and it was like, ‘Oh hey would you be interested in helping me with my SURF project,’… [Choosing my mentor] was kind of an easy pick.”
Vandevord said she has already started her preliminary research, but the start of her research is for the AEC in April. For the application, she said it was 12 pages written out with an abstract of what she was going to do, the project goals, background and references.
“I have four or five goals that I would like to get done over the summer through the course of my project,” Vandevord said.
She described her application as an extensive, “‘Here’s what I want to do, this is why I want to do it and this is why it is beneficial to you.’”
Vandevord’s project is focused on optimizing reactions.
“I have a synthesis that I’m doing. I’m trying to make a specific product and I’m trying to make the reaction of product the best that it can be, so I’m trying to get the highest yield with the shortest amount of time. I’m going to apply that to an array of different products, because each product has different biological activities and those biological activities will be tested at the end of my summer project,” Vandevord said.
She said that she will be utilizing a “professor’s” lab in the science center where no other classes are taught.
Vandevord noted that she does plan on going to graduate school for chemistry.
She said she is a little nervous to present at the AEC conference, but is also excited.
“This is the same research I’ve been doing since my [first] year, so my classes in chemistry are starting to meet with the research I am doing, so I’m learning more about it and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to put it into words so that my family can understand it and my friends that aren’t in science understand it and I’m so excited to bring it to other people.”
Recipient Geoffrey Edwards
Music Technology and Composition
KSC sophomore and double major in music technology and music composition Geoffrey Edwards is another student who won the 2017 fellowship, but his project focuses on music theory.
Edwards said he first learned about the SURF program when he was in a music workshop class last year.
He said he was interested after his teacher described what the program was about, but he missed last year’s application deadline.
He decided to learn more about the program and started planning his project ideas last summer.
His mentor for his research is Dr. Heather Gilligan.
Edwards said Dr. Gilligan gave him “a really good layout and idea about how [he] should be going about the SURF program, ways in which [he] should be organizing [his] time and what [he] should be studying in order to get the exact goal of what [he] want[s] for this.”
Edwards said they felt that they had a perfect lineup and could make a really great project together.
His project will be the analyzation of a few piano sonatas that he has picked out, “written by earlier composers in the late romantic, classical period, which is roughly around the late 18th [and] early 19th century music,” Edwards said.
He will also be analyzing the modulation and chromatic techniques that these artists use.
“Using what I learned in music theory in school and with the musical seminars I’ve been taking, I’ll be using that to analyze the pieces and I’ll be writing a paper on each one,” Edwards said.
“So after I’ve studied all the pieces that I want to and written about each one, theoretically, I will then be writing my own composition. [It will] probably be a piano sonata and I’m going to…use a little bit of [the 18th and 19th centruy composer’s] approaches to how they piece together their music.”
Edwards said he would like to perform his compositions when he has his composition recital by his final year, but he will also be performing it at academic conferences.
He said he is a little nervous to present and that even as a performer and a music major, he still has anxiety.
The piano is not Edwards’ main instrument; he said his main instrument is first the cello, then piano and he also knows certain chords on the guitar.
Edwards said he will be working on his project from June 1 until the first few weeks of August and then may go home to work, but he plans on spending a majority of his summer in Keene to work on putting his project together.
When asked how he felt about being one of three out of 11 applicants who was chosen for the fellowship, he said he felt very lucky.
“I felt really honored in a sense, the fact that my project was seen as wanted and recommended by professionals to go about and take part in, and it gives me more of a drive now to make it as good as I want it to be, so I’m excited,” Edwards said.
Recipient Lisa Donnelly
The final student who received the 2017 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship is Lisa Donnelly, a 38-year-old KSC student majoring in geography with specialization in Geography Information Systems (GIS).
Donnelly’s mentor is Dr. Christopher Brehme, who was the one who brought the idea of participating in the SURF program to her attention.
“I had seen [the SURF program] on the [KSC] website, but I didn’t really give it much thought,” Donnelly said.
“Then we got together after he got back from the UK for [another scholarship]. When he got back, we talked about different policies. It’s kind of an extension of what he was doing over there.”
Dr. Brehme is her advisor and helped her with a GIS project that she did last semester, and he is working with her to find her an internship.
For her GIS project, she took the database of old guests from where she works (at the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro, Vermont), from a period of about three years and put it all into a table based on zip code and used that to map where all of her guests were coming from.
For her SURF project, she said she is focusing on Landscapes Value Mapping.
She described this as almost “community service because we are going to be serving people at Ashuelot River Park and Greater Goose Pond Forest, mapping where people value different areas of the park.”
After this, Donnelly said, “We’re going to take this data, analyze it and map it, and that’s data that town planners can use to kind of decide where certain places need attention or where improvements need to be made…in general what areas need change… and what parts of each park the people really enjoy.”
Donnelly laughed when asked if she was nervous to present at the AEC conference and said yes, though it is something she has gotten used to.
She said that she presents often in the geography department, and for her senior seminar, she has to present with a group at the Annual Meeting of the Association of the American Geographers (AAG).
She said it felt awesome and kind of unexpected when she found out that she was awarded one of the three fellowships for this summer.
“It’s one of those things you kind of hope for, but you know it’s competitive so [receiving the fellowship] was a nice surprise,” Donnelly said.
Grace Pecci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org