Students Present Summer Research

More than 100 Occidental students spent 10 weeks of their summer vacation doing research with faculty mentors on campus in disciplines ranging from chemistry to politics to art. 


August 3 saw the culmination of their efforts during the day-long Summer Research Conference, when 96 of the 123 student participants presented the fruits of their hard work in the form of 20-minute talks and poster presentations. Physicist Dr. Patricia Alireza, '94, H'10 gave the keynote address. 

Research topics ranged from development of a tuberculosis vaccine to finding a better treatment for hemophilia to the reality of homeownership in America. Disciplines represented included chemistry, biology, art history and visual arts, mathematics, physics, geology, psychology, cognitive science, economics, urban and environmental policy, education, kinesiology, sociology, English and comparative literary studies, diplomacy and world affairs, politics, religious studies, history, and music.

"I knew it would be an amazing experience to work side by side with a professor in the lab and learn from their years of experience," said Ashley Noone ’13, a biology major from Anaheim who explored using stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease. "I also liked that I would be working full days in the lab for 10 weeks, giving me an opportunity to experience what life as a research scientist is really like."

"My goals were to understand the theoretical basis of democracy promotion as U.S. foreign policy, to understand the events and motivations of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and to identify the role of the U.S. for promoting democratic principles during President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime," said Meagan McGinty ‘13, a politics major who researched the recent "Arab Spring" revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The topic had piqued her interest during the school year, but with a full load of classes, she didn’t have time to explore it. "Summer research offered me the freedom to identify my interest and investigate what really happened," she said.

Olga Ramos ‘12, an economics major from Ontario, Calif., decided to explore the real cost of driving. "When people think about the cost of driving, they usually think solely about their own personal costs, such as the cost of gasoline," she said. "What people don’t realize, however, is that driving also has many costs to society as a whole, such as pollution, noisy streets, congestion, time and money lost in idling in traffic due to congestion, health-related issues such as asthma and heart attacks, and billions of dollars spent annually on road maintenance and construction."

The objectives of the summer research program at Occidental are to sponsor faculty/student collaborative research; provide an academic alternative to nonacademic summer jobs; increase students' preparation for leadership roles in professions and/or public service; create an intellectual community with opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange; enrich the academic experience of the most capable and promising students; and encourage good students, especially students from under-represented groups, to consider careers in the scholarly professions.

Sara Damore ‘13, a biology major from Phoenix, discovered what she hopes will be a lifelong passion while studying the effects of storm drain runoff on fish and other invertebrates off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. "If I could continue to learn about the human impact on specific ecosystems and take part in the conservation and management of these resources for the rest of my life, I would be thrilled."

Fellows are expected to work full time on their research and are not permitted to hold other jobs during the fellowship period. Support is provided by the College and by endowments, grants, and gifts from many sources. The program is highly selective, and some preference is given to students who are completing their junior year and have had no prior summer fellowship support. Summer research fellows receive a (taxable) stipend of $390 per week. All Summer Research Program participants are eligible for subsidized on-campus room and board. Applications are due in February.

Close collaboration between fellows and faculty mentors are essential features of the program. To promote discussion among student researchers, regular meetings of fellows in affiliated disciplines are organized by the faculty area coordinators. Cross-disciplinary exchange is facilitated by the scheduling of lunchtime plenary gatherings, featuring guest speakers, lab tours, and roundtable discussions.

"My parents were pushing me to get a summer job," joked Miranda Sieg ‘13, an East Asian studies major from Seattle who explored segregation in L.A.’s Chinatown. "Undergraduate Research seemed perfect, a job doing what I’m good at – reading, conducting research, and writing. It was also a really good opportunity for me to learn something outside of my field."

Occidental has supported undergraduate research for more than two decades, including all of the disciplines on campus -- the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural and physical sciences. The Summer Research Program has helped place the College at the forefront of national liberal arts colleges. The program is sponsored by the Ford Foundation Research Fellows Program, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, among other foundations and donors.

Questions about the summer research program should be directed to the URC at