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Students represent St. Kate's at national research conference

Choua Xiong '14 (left) and Adedolapo Ojoawo '15 are presenting their research on "Building a Better Phospholamban" at NCUR on April 4.
Choua Xiong '14 (left) and Adedolapo Ojoawo '15 are presenting their research on "Building a Better Phospholamban" at NCUR on April 4.
Photo by Sharon Rolenc

Seventeen St. Catherine University students are presenting this week at the 2014 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), held April 3–5 at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

The event is dedicated to promoting undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity in all fields of study. NCUR provides an opportunity for students to hone their presentation skills while sharing their research findings with a national audience.

“Presenting to a national audience is an honor most undergraduate students will not experience. These students are engaging in authentic scholarly activity as they prepare to lead and influence in their chosen fields,” says Biology Professor Cindy Norton, interim director of Collaborative Research at St. Kate’s.

While presenting their work nationally is exciting, for many of the students the research itself was a much bigger draw.

“Doing undergraduate research, you’re working hands-on with the professor. It’s kind of where the rubber meets the road. You’re able to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to issues that interest you,” says Eleanor O’Neil ’14.

O’Neil is passionate about women’s issues and the elimination of poverty. The social work student grabbed the opportunity to combine her passions and studies with a research project focused on a local nonprofit that offers a micro-enterprise program.

“Micro-enterprise programs have largely been used in developing countries as a means of poverty alleviation, and for women to break the cycle of poverty. We wanted to see how it was working in an American context through this nonprofit,” says O’Neil.

For Adedolapo Ojoawo ’15, being involved in undergraduate research helped clearly define her career interests.

“I’ve really enjoyed cardiovascular research, and I plan on specializing in that area when I go to grad school,” says Ojoawo, who hopes to become a physician-scientist after completing an MD–PhD program.

Working in collaboration with Kim Ha, assistant professor of chemistry, Ojoawo and her research partner Choua Xiong ’14 studied the cardiac protein phospholamban.

"We wanted to create variations of the protein that could improve the relaxation of the heart, and potentially be used in gene therapy treatment for heart failure,” says Xiong, who plans to attend pharmacy school after graduating.

This year’s student research presentations represent ten different academic disciplines, as follows:

  • “Parent and Teacher Perceptions of Community Garden Experiences on Fruit and Vegetable Preferences and Intake of Preschool-aged Children: Implications for a Pilot Intervention” by Katrina Groshens and Anna Laitinen, who collaborated with Teri Burgess-Champoux, assistant professor of nutritional sciences.
  • “The Caped Crusader Then and Now: An Analysis of Batman as an Evolving Cultural Icon” by Elizabeth Wambheim. This was a senior honors thesis project done under the supervision of Patricia Montalbano, associate professor of English.
  • “A Microenterprise Program Evaluation in Urban and Rural Minnesota” by Eleanor O'Neil and Caitlyn Wright, who collaborated with Richa Dhanju, assistant professor of social work.
  • “Enhancing the Nutritional Quality of Flour Tortillas: An investigation of Consumer Receptivity to a Fortified Tortilla Product” by Anna Hayes. This was a senior honors project done under the supervision of Teri Burgess-Champoux, assistant professor of nutritional sciences.
  • “Plant Endophytes as Novel Sources of Antimicrobials: Characterizing Fungal Isolates from Alfalfa” by Britta Wass, who collaborated with Dawn Foster-Hartnett, assistant professor of biology.
  • “Appropriation and Identity in William H. Johnson's Self-Portraits” by Heather Kolnick. This was a senior honors project done under the supervision of Amy Hamlin, assistant professor of art and art history.
  • “The Effect of Temperature on Nitrogen Fixation in Freshwater Nostoc in the Hengill Region of Iceland” by Aimee Ahles, who collaborated with Jill Welter, associate professor of biology.
  • “Investigation of the Thermal Wake Beneath Ascending Stratospheric Balloons” by Mara Blish, who collaborated with Erick Agrimson, assistant professor of physics.
  • “Combinatorics in the Sinha Spectral Sequence: Geometry of Knots in Higher Dimensions” by Michelle Johnson, who collaborated with Kristine Pelatt, assistant professor of mathematics.
  • “Building a Better Phospholamban: Structure and Dynamics-based Design to Engineer Therapeutic Mutants for Treating Heart Failure” by Adedolapo Ojoawo and Choua Xiong, who collaborated with Kim Ha, assistant professor of chemistry.
  • “Life in Extraordinary Times: A Study of Muslim Women's Identities in Minnesota” by Ardo Jimale, who collaborated with Hui Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology.
  • “Flowering Phenology of Echinacea Angustifolia in Minnesota Tallgrass Prairie Remnants Over Three Years” by Sarah Baker, who collaborated with Paula Furey, assistant professor of biology.
  • “Mastering Milkweed from Floss to Fashion” by Megan Buysse, who collaborated with Trudy Landgren, associate professor of apparel, merchandising & design.
  • “A Comparison of Methods Measuring Nitrogen Fixation Across a Stream Temperature Gradient” by Jackelyn Goldschmidt, who collaborated with Jill Welter, associate professor of biology.

Summer Scholars

Research projects for 11 of St. Kate’s student presenters at NCUR emerged from the Summer Scholars program, an intensive 10-week experience during which faculty and students collaborate on projects while immersed in a culture of scholarship with other research teams. The program emphasizes meaningful, rich experiences for students in which they make significant contributions to scholarship.

Norton says that students are considered junior colleagues, not just research assistants, and contribute to all aspects of the research.

“Students and faculty meet independently to do their work, but they also meet with other teams throughout the summer in a series of workshops tailored to their needs. Students deeply engage in their own scholarship while learning about their peers’ scholarship in different disciplines,” adds Norton.

Since the program’s inception in 2010, student-faculty teams have presented their scholarship at regional, national and international conferences and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Related content:

"From Students to Scholars" (SCAN, June 2013)

"Dream on Ice: Thanks to generous donor support, a team of Katie biologists spent the summer conducting climate research in Iceland" (SCAN, June 2012)

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April 2, 2014 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Education, Faculty, Healthcare, Leadership, Liberal Arts, STEM, Students