What Summer Break? Students and Faculty Spend Their Offseason Conducting Research

What Summer Break? Students and Faculty Spend Their Offseason Conducting Research


Each spring, dozens of students at the College are awarded grant funding to pursue significant research as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF) program. For 2016, some 30 students are being funded to pursue projects as diverse as developing an app to track the health of dolphins, examining how the video game culture exploits the female form and refining a 3D medical imaging device that facilitates taking images to help test for cervical cancer. Here’s a brief look at some of the more engaging projects that students will be pursuing by way of this program during the coming summer months.

SURF grant research often entails work in the field, with projects ranging broadly across all academic disciplines.

Hospitality and tourism management major Rachel Dors ’18 will be working with professor Steve Litvin on a study of the use of websites by tourists who are seeking restaurant options. “A lot has happened in this space since 2005, the last time such a study was conducted here at the College,” says Dors. “I hope that my research will add substantial new data and set the stage for future research in this area.”

Luke Shirley ’17, a religious studies major, will be working with Todd LeVasseur and Zeff Bjerken (both professors from that department) on a project examining sustainability in the Ladakh region of India. “The purpose of this project,” writes Shirley, “is to gain insight into sustainable learning and working initiatives in the remote Himalayan landscape of India’s semi-autonomous region, Ladakh. Because of the recently acknowledged impacts of climate change, remote mountain communities such as Ladakh are facing intensifying environmental and social justice issues. This project will examine the how sacred lands around Leh, the capital of Ladakh, help provide structure for sustainable lifestyles, and how Western ideas and development are impacting the long held social and environmental balance of this area.”

Elyana Crowder ’17, who is majoring in astrophysics, will be working with physics professor Joe Carson on his 3-D medical imaging devices. His research group designed and partially fabricated a 3-D imaging device intended for minimally invasive screening and therapeutic monitoring of cervical cancers. This device can be used by someone with limited training, and the images can be uploaded to a server for examination by an expert at a remote location.

Political science major Courtney Eker ’17 will be working with Jen Wright (from the psychology department) and Chris Day (from political science) to examine a curious sociopolitical phenomenon in Cambodia. Since the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has remained in his role despite massive power regime shifts and much political unrest. “During my study abroad trip there last summer,” says Eker, “I noticed there was widespread popular support for the prime minister, even when his arguably dictatorial rule has contributed to, if not directly resulted in, massive, country-wide poverty, abysmal education and health care and political suppression. I will examine how such an authoritarian political system doesn’t necessarily result in poor developmental outcomes.”

Shannon Haas ’17, an English major, intends to work with professor Tim Carens to explore the depiction of women in the video gaming culture. “Feminist scholars have examined much of the current media landscape and its representation of the female sex,” explains Haas, “but few have extended this analysis to video games. It’s my belief that no aspect of contemporary popular culture deserves more attention from feminist critics than the video gaming world. I hope to produce a conference length essay on the topic and then find a conference where I can present this work.”

Students who participate in summer research projects characteristically present their work at the beginning of the fall semester.

Kerry Wischusen ’18, a biochemistry major, will work with Leslie Hart (a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance) on developing an app that can quickly assess the health of bottlenose dolphins. The app is intended as a convenient and accurate means of getting a “snapshot” of a dolphin’s health by comparing real time measurements (i.e. weight, hormone function and blood abnormalities, etc.) to known reference intervals. Wischusen and Hart will present this research at the 65th Annual International Conference of the Wildlife Disease Association in Ithaca, N.Y., this summer.

For more information on the many SURF grants awarded this year, visit the office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.