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Broadening Horizons

Summer Research at Muhlenberg

By Alex Johansen ’04

It’s still winter in Allentown, but some members of the College community are already looking ahead to the summer. The 12 weeks of summer break can mean many different things to students and faculty. Whether it’s extra time to earn money, a chance to see old friends, or an opportunity to advance individual learning, the months of summer are an essential supplement to each academic year. This, the longest break in the Muhlenberg calendar, has provided many students a great opportunity right here at the College – a summer research grant.

Summer research grant recipient Stephanie Zettel ’05 (right) and Christopher Martin ’05 work on a project studying soil pollutants.

Many students complete work on research at the College during the summer, but only a select few receive grant money specific to their individual research. These students receive a $2,500 stipend for their summer research and are relieved of other obligations such as jobs or summer courses during the period of their grant. The students each receive one course credit for their research, along with free College housing during the eight week process. Throughout the summer, these students work closely with the faculty member(s) who sponsored their proposal.

In the summer of 2003, six grants were awarded to students chosen from an application field of 17. Each grant applicant must submit an abstract, a grant proposal and at least one letter of support from a faculty supervisor. The Faculty Research and Development Committee evaluates all of the student proposals, ranks them and makes a recommendation to Carol Shiner Wilson, dean of the College for academic life, of the students who should be awarded a grant from the College. Each proposal is critiqued on the basis of its feasibility, well-grounded goals and style of the written work.

Applications for summer research grants come from all areas of study. In past summers, there has been research done on photography, history, English studies, biology, chemistry, art and performance theatre. In 2003, the recipients were Greta Bergstresser ’05 (art), Shawn Havey ’05 (history and chemistry), Emily Kluger ’04 (biology), Robert Saenz de Viteri ’04 (theatre and English), Karen Seapker ’04 (art) and Stephanie Zettel ’05 (environmental science and biology).

Zettel, whose research project was titled “Phytoremediation of Chemical Pollutants from Soil,” says she became interested in the program after a suggestion from her professor Dr. Jason Kelsey, assistant professor of environmental science, while working on research during the spring of 2003. The most tedious process of the proposal, she says, was her written work. “It was approximately seven pages and I had seven drafts,” she explained. In the end, working hard on the proposal was worth it. “All the revisions really helped me focus my research,” she says.

After receiving a grant for research, which covers all costs related to the work, each student takes at least eight weeks to complete his or her research. In fact, though the grant pays for eight weeks of work, the entire process can encompass the better part of the summer and continue into the fall. Zettel, for example, worked on her research well into the fall for a presentation in October. In all – from choosing a topic, writing the proposal, doing the research and presenting her work – Zettel has contributed much more time than the eight weeks of research funded by the grant.

According to Shiner Wilson, who oversees the summer research grant program, the value of summer research lies in the opportunity for students to expand interests they’ve developed in class. “Individual research allows students to advance knowledge to a deeper level than the students have found [in class],” she says, noting that the existence of such a thriving program attracts excellent prospective students and improves the College’s academic reputation.

Advancement of knowledge gained in a summer of research works on several levels for each of the students involved. Aside from gaining a deeper knowledge and involvement in their subject matter, students gain an awareness of career options in their respective fields of study. For upperclassmen, research grants make students stronger applicants for graduate school, professional school, post-graduate awards such as National Science Foundation grants or Fulbright Scholarships, or for jobs in their selected field of work.

At Muhlenberg, “our faculty members, students and staff work together in an attempt to create the most engaged learning and teaching environment possible,” says Shiner Wilson.

The summer research grant program contributes to this vibrant approach to teaching and learning. This program highlights faculty and student collaboration in creating a college environment that encourages all members of the community to learn at a deeper level.

As the summer months approach, students again will spend long hours preparing proposals in hopes of receiving a summer research grant. For many, successful summer research may be a defining scholastic experience, the critical time when personal interests and academic study combine to create an individual project. It is the summer months when students and faculty engage in experiences that enrich the traditional college experience, whether of learning or teaching. There is opportunity at Muhlenberg for both.

Alex Johansen is a senior majoring in communication and political science. He currently serves as presidential assistant in public relations.


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