Stevenson’s science students find research opportunities

Stevenson University students are provided with a number of opportunities to learn about their fields of study beyond the classroom. For students in the Beverly K. Fine School of the Sciences, research is key. Not only do these students gain experience useful for their varied majors – such as biochemistry, applied mathematics, environmental science, and biochemical engineering – they also gain valuable life experience through their respective research projects.

As Dr. Meredith C. Durmowicz, Ph.D., Dean of the School of the Sciences, put it: “[Research is] what scientists do, so when students are able to do independent research, they are essentially learning by doing and being scientists. I think that’s the main reason and the most important thing that students get out of it.” Indeed, while students are developing their knowledge of the sciences, they are also developing skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, which are essential for any career path.

There are three types of research students can participate in:

  1. Course-based: defined by The University of Waterloo, Canada as: “Objective of project/data collection is for the student to acquire skills involved with conducting academic and scholarly research in a rigorous manner.”
  2. Independent: explained by Dickinson College as research with a goal “to answer a question, not simply to gather information.”
  3. Capstone research: which is, essentially, the equivalent of a final project, with myriad facets pertaining to one’s field of study as an undergraduate student, including data, data analysis, presentation, etc.
The Beverly K. Fine School of the Sciences at Stevenson University offers many opportunities for students to learn beyond the classroom. (Photo from Stevenson.edu)

Stevenson University Biochemistry Major Samantha Rea spoke on independent research that she hopes will make a lasting impact on the world. “The project I’m working on is mainly focused on finding an inhibitor to a molecule called ‘Mth2,’ which is involved in the Krebs Cycle. It’s basically a way to find a target for cancer therapeutics.”

Working alongside her mentor, Dr. William A. Harrell Jr., Ph.D. and Assistant Chemistry professor at the School of the Sciences, Rea has been studying ways to treat various cancers. She credited her previous work in cancer research, as well as her interest in organic chemistry, as to what drew her to this project. “Cancer is just a horrific disease, so if we could find any sort of treatment, that would be interesting to me,” Rea added.

Another student, biochemistry major Alexia Smith, is working with mentor, chemistry professor Dr. Timothy Dwyer, Ph.D., to research protein behaviors, which perform the majority of the work in humans’ living cells. Understanding cells can’t happen without first understanding the proteins that operate within. “I chose [to work with] Dr. Dwyer because it was the most interesting [topic] to me and I knew I would enjoy working with him,” said Smith. “I would like to go to medical school after undergrad and will be able to apply my research knowledge easily in that setting [as well].”

Despite some research opportunities being adjusted to accommodate COVID-19 protocols, students have still been able to do some form of research. “Our courses still did the research-based experiences; they just did different ones, or they were more virtually-based,” said Dr. Durmowicz. “Same thing with our faculty’s research: they are continuing their research as best they can.”

No matter the area of study, students are encouraged to pursue ever-changing research opportunities while at Stevenson. “Doing research is different than being in a classroom, or even being in a lab class in a lot of ways, because you’re also learning about yourself and gaining confidence,” Dr. Durmowicz explained. “We’re always looking to expand the opportunities, whether that’s new projects or new courses that integrate these approaches.”

More information on SU’s various research-based programs can be found on the Beverly K. Fine School of the Sciences here.

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