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First Season of Research Experience for Summer Scholars Hailed as a Success

Savannah Irwin explains her research on Alaskan trilobite identification to Dr. Deanne Snavely, dean of Natural Sciences and MathematicsStudents from across departments at IUP presented their research posters at the College Lodge on August 7, gesturing enthusiastically at graphs and figures as they explained ideas they had explored during the new Research Experience for Summer Scholars. The poster session marked the end of the inaugural summer of the program.

Justin Fair, head of the new program, looked from poster to poster as the students presented.

“A lot of cool science happens at the edges where our disciplines meet,” Fair remarked. “The goal is to increase opportunities for undergraduate research, so the idea was to create a program that would foster this.”

The Research Experience for Summer Scholars program emphasizes collaboration and discussion, matching students with professors from throughout the college who can assist them in delving into their personal curiosities. The program also works with the on-campus Writing Center to provide the students with a workshop on relevant writing-related skills such as resume writing for research positions.

“You don’t have to be stuck in a lab all the time, that’s not what science is about,” said Fair.

In that spirit, the program also included recreational activities to bring the students together outside of the lab. Pizza nights (affectionately dubbed Petri Plate Pizza sessions) throughout the summer and a group trip to Yellow Creek fostered a sense of community and allowed for discussion among the students this summer.

Fair recalled a student who had come to him earlier in the summer.

“He had this compound, and he said ‘I just think [the compound] is so cool, I really want to work with it.’ And I said, ‘We don’t have an instrument to study this with,’ and he said. ‘Let’s build one!’ So I said, “Okay!”

Minh Dinh at work in the Fair LaboratoryThis sort of enthusiasm is apparent in both professors and students involved with the program.

“It was great, and the best part was that it was really just a big collection of people who like to talk about science,” said biology student Catherine Zisk, laughing as she stood in front of graphs charting the activity of the mice she had studied over the summer.

“This is a dream come true,” Deanne Snavely said. Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Snavely was brought to tears by the success of the program for the group of students gathered at the poster session. “It changed the course of my life, doing what they’re getting to do, that’s the kind of impact I would hope this will have for these students.”

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