Panel highlights rich undergraduate research experiences


After the Summer Opportunities Student Panel on Nov. 6 in Heth Hall, the panelists (front row, from left: Dan Metz, Melissa Brett, Jordan Eagle; back row: Debra Lustig, Joe Ashley, Cassie Bonavita) relax in a lighthearted moment.

Six RU undergraduate students who did research projects during Summer '14 shared their experiences at the Summer Opportunities Student Panel on Nov. 6 in Heth Hall.

To cap the event, sponsored by the Honors Academy and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS), moderator Joe Wirgau asked the panelists to share advice in less than 10 words with the more than 50 future student researchers at the event.

"Start early," said Joe Ashley, a senior physics student from Purcellville, who spent the summer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology interning on a research project making solar cells cheaper and exploring other applications for them.

"You are more awesome than you think," said Melissa Brett, a senior geology and physics major from San Diego, whose summer fellowship included service on a research team studying the health of the Juneau Icefields in Alaska and Canada.

"Do your best and be enthusiastic," said Jordan Eagle, a junior from Hampton, who spent the summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory as an Educational Outreach Program in Radio Astronomy (ERIRA) scholarship recipient. Eagle worked with 20-meter and 40-foot radio telescopes to weigh the Milky Way galaxy using the Doppler Effect, calculated Saturn's parallax angle to determine its distance from Earth, measured the heat flux of Jupiter and observed rotational frequencies of pulsars.

"You have to take the first step," said Debra Lustig, an art major from Roanoke, whose summer included three months in Europe learning German and hunting down visual remnants of Charlemagne for research on the many ways Europe's first great conqueror is presented artistically through history.

"Get involved and be awesome," said Cassie Bonavita, a senior biology major from Yorktown, who collected mosquitoes in Costa Rica as she looks for a link between the microbial combinations found in mosquito intestines and the presence or absence of the dengue fever virus.

"Show up," said Dan Metz, a biology major from Snowville and the Ecological Society of America's SEEDS Research Fellowship recipient for 2014-2015, who studied an unknown parasite in shore crabs while at University of California at Santa Barbara.

Metz said his career was boosted when he told a faculty member, "I'm bored," and how the admission led to being part of several research projects and the experience and confidence to develop his own research agenda. Lustig recounted how critical to her career the encouragement of her faculty mentor, Associate Professor of Art Carlee Bradbury, had been. Bonavita also talked about how her faculty mentor, Associate Professor of Biology Justin Anderson, had been instrumental in developing the plan, personal statement and budget that led to her receiving funding for her research proposal.

"I got my foundation as a researcher on four projects I sought out at RU," Barnett said and she urged the audience to "realize that you are building your reputation every day."

The panel was unanimous in saying that their experience at RU prepared them to succeed. The panelists recounted the application process for grants, fellowships and internships and RU's resources for beginning a career as a researcher or scholar in the sciences or humanities.

"The impact and significance of doing undergraduate research cannot be overestimated," said Wirgau, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. "Undergraduate scholarship or research with a faculty mentor opens doors a student cannot imagine."

Wirgau encouraged all students who are interested in enhancing their academic experience with a summer internship, research or scholarship experience to reach out to a faculty mentor. He said other resources are available at the OURS office.

Nov 11, 2014