How do students conduct research during a pandemic, when face-to-face contact is not permitted?

The 47 IUP students and their faculty mentors in Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Undergraduate Summer Opportunities for Applying Research program (U-SOAR), formerly the Research Experience for Summer Scholars, have discovered how to make it work.

U-SOAR is well into its 10-week virtual experience, which includes seminars with student presenters, workshops for students, and networking opportunities.

The U-SOAR program is offered free and is open to undergraduate IUP students in all disciplines engaged in inquiry-based research. U-SOAR is modeled after the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

This summer's research topics range from studying antibiotic-resistant bacteria to analyzing geological data from Taiwan. Students majoring in English, psychology, geology, theater, dance, applied anthropology, interior design, computer science, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, applied mathematics, political science, special education, and communications media are working on a variety of research projects with 37 faculty mentors.

Philip Colen researching in his bedroom in Indiana

Philip Colen researching in his bedroom in Indiana

Rising sophomore and bio-chemistry major Philip Colen, of Indiana, is doing research at his parents' home in his bedroom. Microscopes and petri dishes have been replaced with textbooks and academic journals.

“With U-SOAR, I can continue to be a part of my lab regardless of whether school is in session or not,” Colen said. “Dr. (Sudipta) Majumdar, my faculty mentor, worked with me to find new ways for me to participate. Rather than be able to perform the actual experiments in lab, I am able to learn about the lab techniques as well as read articles that are based around our research.”

Nationally, summer research programs are viewed as one of the more valuable summer experiences for students. IUP offers students the chance to participate in the experience that links knowledge and skills learned in coursework to real-world research and societal problems. It's common for students to publish their work nationally and internationally or co-author articles in journals or books.

“Throwing this together virtually has been an interesting experience, but it's working,” Rachelle Bouchat, coordinator of U-SOAR and professor of mathematics, said. “I'm leaning heavily on my colleagues to be adaptable and think creatively to define research in this unique learning situation, and the faculty and students are meeting this challenge.

“We're all here to support these students. Watching this unfold as the coordinator, I've been so humbled by how everyone in the program has just stepped up to participate and continue. Students are all succeeding in these ever-changing and, frankly, anxiety-inducing times.”

Currently, Bouchat is hoping to have an in-person, post-U-SOAR gathering with participants and their faculty mentors, planned to be socially distant, sometime in September.

“Being in a research lab was completely new to me, and everything from the topic of fighting bacteria to learning how to perform an experiment was a major highlight of my first year at IUP,” Colen said. “Dr. Majumdar has done a lot for me to be able to have this experience, despite coronavirus and being out of school. We have weekly one-on-one Zoom meetings where he helps me understand the more complicated areas of our research, and he has been extremely accommodating and understanding.”

The 2020 U-SOAR program participants, majors, faculty mentors, and topics are:

  • Erin Adams (psychology), Carrie Cole, “Creating a Mentally Safe Space Behind the Scenes”

  • Susan Adams (geology), Jonathan Lewis, “Reconstructing Taiwan's Metamorphic Core”

  • Alexis Batista (biology, ecology, conservation and biology), Ellen Yerger, “Searching Samples for Beetles Used as a Bio-control Agent in Hemlock Forests”

  • Emma Bouchard (biochemistry), Carl Leblond, “Computational Site Docking of Alanine Racemase Using AutoDock”

  • Ashlee Brady (biology/environmental health), Sanda Maicaneanu, “Diatomite, a Versatile Material for Wastewater Treatment”

  • Parker Chadwick (anthropology), Benjamin Ford, “Analysis of Boat Iconography”

  • Caitlin Chavis (theater), Nancy Pipkin Hutchinson, “Much to Do”

  • Philip Colen (biochemistry), Sudipta Majumdar, “Learning Biochemical Techniques for Research”

  • John Conlen (computer science), Soundararajan Ezekial, “Predictive Analysis Using a Logistic Model and Recurrent Neural Network”

  • Connor Daley (political science), Steven Jackson, “A New Era of Imperialism: Modern Hegemony”

  • Jennifer Freno (art education), Sean Derry, “A Literature Review of Academic Makerspaces”

  • Rohith Gattu (computer science), Soundararajan Ezekiel, “Comparative Study of Dimensional Reduction Methods using Principal Component Analysis and Low Variance Filter”

  • Nia Golden (theatre), Rachel Jackson, “Bringing Light to Social Issues Through Theatre”

  • Sarah Grandinette (biology: cell and molecular), Cuong Diep, “Manuscript for Identifying Peptides That Bind to lhx1a Project”

  • Destiny Haynes (applied anthropology), Amanda Poole, “Understanding Our ‘New Normal': Investigating How COVID-19 is Impacting Black and Brown Americans”

  • Jessica Jones (mathematics, applied track), Sean Derry, “Developed”

  • Rachel Kossler (interior design), Brian Jones, “Soaring Through the Summer with Shakespeare”

  • Adam Lutz (computer science), Soundararajan Ezekiel, “DCNN Optimization Using Multi-Resolution-based Image Fusion”

  • Madeline Mark (biology), Megan Knoch, “Can You Get the Rhythm? A Lesson on Circadian Rhythms”

  • Richard Martinez (anthropology-archaeology), Benjamin Ford, “Maritime Archaeology in Lake Erie: The Canobie”

  • Joshua Merichko (geology), Katie Farnsworth, “Assessing and Quantifying Changes in Rainfall Patterns in Ohio and Pennsylvania”

  • Jordan Penrose (special education K-12), Carrie Cole, “Accessibility and Theater: Best Practices for the Teaching Artist in Sensory-Friendly Theater”

  • Gabriella Pettipas (biochemistry), Avijita Jain, “Antimicrobial Properties of Group 8 and 9 Metal Complexes”

  • Andrea Rivera (anthropology), Victor Garcia, “The Impact of Acculturation: Changing Gender Roles within Latinx Immigrants”

  • Danielle Rosenberger (chemistry), Ronald See, “Building a Single Conceptual Framework for Metal-Ligand Compounds”

  • David Salinas (art studio), David Salinas, “Golden Grates”

  • Micayla Schambura (chemistry), Hao Tang, “Sustainable Solutions to Aquaculture within Aquariums”

  • Casidhe Shetter (English), Gloria Park, “Exploring English in East Asia: Daily Life, the Linguistic Landscape, and ‘English Fever'”

  • Alayna Shoenfelt (psychology), Jennifer Perillo, “An Investigation of Conspiracy Beliefs and Misconceptions Regarding COVID-19”

  • Zebulen Smoyer (environmental engineering), Sajad Hamidi, “Computation Models for Flood Mitigation Systems in White Township”

  • Jacob Spagnol (communications media), Mark Piwinsky, “Alumni Outreach Podcast Series”

  • Virginia Stattel (music education), Matthew Baumer, “A Descriptive Study of Liberal Studies Courses for Non-Music Majors”

  • Sarah Taylor (chemistry: pre-pharmacy), Tim Chung, “Computational Studies in Aryl Nitrene Insertion into ortho or ortho'- sp3 C-H bonds”

  • Vincent Thompson (mathematics), Francisco Alarcon, “Investigating Subtractive Ideals over Finite Cyclic Commutative Semirings”

  • Evelyn Urban (theater), Carrie Cole, “Accessibility and Theatre: Creating a Sensory-Friendly Play”

  • Timothy Valentine (computer science), Soundararajan Ezekiel, “Blockchain-based Information Dissemination Across Network Domains”

  • Amanda Valinotti (dance), Rachel Jackson, “LGTBQ Awareness and Acceptance on IUP's Campus”

  • Arie Van Wieren (biochemistry), Sudipta Majumdar, “Data Analysis and Manuscript Writing for the Characterization of Alanine Racemase from Enterococcus faecium

  • Brooklyn Vest (early childhood education), Lynanne Black, “Development of Social-Emotional Competencies in Preschool Children”

  • Alec Wentz (biology, ecology, conservation and biology), Ellen Yerger, “Research at Home: Searching through Samples for Beneficial Beetles”

  • Katie West (art studio), Sharon Massey, “Tension”

  • Jacob Weverink (theater), Brian Jones, “Production Design Research: A Collaborative Inquiry and Expression of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in 2020”

  • Nikki Wilcox (anthropology/archaeology), Andrea Palmiotto, “Ashmore Farms: An Osteological Analysis”

  • Marissa Willson (anthropology), Abigail Adams, “Access to and Ideologies of Contraception for Women”

  • Chloe Wilson (secondary mathematics education), Brian Sharp, “Developing a Framework for Technology-Enhanced Mathematics Instruction”

  • Lauren Wolbert (theater), Carrie Cole, “Accessibility and Theatre: An Actor's Guide to Sensory-Friendly Performance”

  • Marcos Zegarra (physics/pre-engineering), Robert Major, “Prosthetic's Effect on the Human Condition”