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Early Discoveries - Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Hands-on research opportunities for undergraduates have long been a tradition at Saint Rose.

Ashley Richardson, Calvin Elmore, and Charles Saez are each Saint Rose seniors, each tackling a scholarly question. Richardson, a Jane Austen scholar, is exploring the staying power of “Pride and Prejudice.” Elmore is examining factors that keep men of color from teaching. And Saez wants to develop a chemical reaction that could one day be used in drug discovery.

“I am learning things I wouldn’t be taught in class, but that I need class information to actually understand,” said Saez, one busy morning last summer, as he worked in a Science Building lab on a material he hoped to use in an experiment. “I know I wouldn’t get to do this at a lot of other colleges.’’

Saint Rose students have always gone beyond simply learning about the sciences, humanities, education or business to exploring them in depth — a philosophy that took root when the College was founded a century ago. Today, Saez, Richardson, and Elmore are among scores of students at any one time pursuing educational opportunities tailored to them.

Professors across campus build research and other hands-on experiences into classes. They co-author papers with their students, guide them through independent studies and internships, and help them prepare presentations before the Eastern Psychological Association, National Communication Association, American Speech- Language-Hearing Association, and other prominent organizations.

“I love the fact that we have undergraduate research available to students across the College regardless of major,” said Christina Pfister, an associate professor of education who supervises student research. “I love the fact that students can work with faculty. It might be on something the faculty is interested in, or it might be something the student is interested in. It might be both.”

At the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, dozens of students present findings on topics ranging from mass-media messaging to molecular dynamics. Every year, the College also publishes a Journal of Undergraduate Research, featuring student papers selected by a faculty editorial board. Throughout the year, Saint Rose students take their studies overseas, during faculty-led trips.

But it is during the summer that Saint Rose students really focus on coveted projects.

Among them is Ashley Richardson. An English adolescence education major, she used a College research grant last summer to examine the explosion of books, videos, comics, and graphic novels inspired by “Pride and Prejudice” more than 100 years after its publication.

It was during an English class with Professor May Caroline Chan that Richardson learned the classic novel had a such a great pop-culture following. She wanted to know more.

“I found almost nothing and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to do the job myself,’” said Richardson, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature and teach high school or college.

Thanks to the College grant, she attended conferences on Austen adaptations, viewed and read scores of them, and met with some of the authors. So why are there so many?

Many writers and designers, Richardson explained, see that they can profit from Austen’s immense fan base. “Others,” she added, “are attempting to tell a classic tale through their own eyes and make it more relevant, or to right a social injustice.”

Already, her Austen paper and survey are being circulated among fan groups and scholarly organizations. Richardson looks forward to expanding her study of adaptations. She credits Professor Chan, her research supervisor, with keeping her on track.

“Working independently can be challenging,” Richardson said. “I am lucky to have an enthusiastic mentor in Dr. Chan. I kept a research journal she was able to respond to that helped me look into information I might not have considered.”

Another summer grant recipient, Charles Saez, also worked closely with his professor, Patrick Jokiel. One morning in a Science Center lab, the two brainstormed on how to prepare the basic material, or substrate, for the chemical reaction they were trying to achieve. Previous methods had failed. Saez had just six weeks to work on the project.

“This makes everything else I’ve done in organic chemistry look like child’s play,” said the student, who hopes to enroll in a dual M.D./ Ph.D. program. “I have to think continuously. It’s way beyond the scope of what I learned in my classes, but without them, I’d never be able to do this.”

He said he chose Saint Rose in part because he wanted to work closely with professors, something he saw that friends at other colleges were not doing.

This particular project grew out of ongoing work by Jokiel, an organic chemist who tries to devise methods that can be used in drug discovery. He said Saez was getting a realistic look at scientific research.

“The results Charles comes up with could provide additional understanding of the reaction we are developing,” Jokiel explained. “Ultimately, it could provide a useful tool for drug-discovery chemists. He’s seeing that it’s not always a straight path.”

While Saez benefited from a professor’s expertise, Calvin Elmore’s research was driven by his own need to figure something out. Growing up in the diverse, small city of Peekskill, New York, Elmore loved school. He had had few male teachers, though, and all but one of them was white.

Elmore wondered what drew him, an African- American man, into a field African-American men largely avoided? Why were men of color apt to work as hall monitors and lunch aides – or as school principals and superintendents – but not as classroom teachers?

When Elmore’s Saint Rose research proposal was accepted, Professor Pfister agreed to supervise. Doing so would benefit not only her student but also her own practice as an educator.

They decided to gather data through interviews and focus groups of male, nonwhite teachers. Elmore ultimately contacted 15 teachers from Albany to New York City.

He learned that as students, these men had often been put off by bias in the curriculum. They were also uncomfortable joining a system they felt excluded from.

“Understanding this can lead to better teacher recruitment. It can help the teacher education departments become sensitive and compassionate to those who are not in the majority population,” said Elmore. “Understanding this research helps us all.”

  • By Jane Gottlieb

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