More than 100 Occidental students skipped the family camping trips and lounging by the pool to spend 10 weeks of their summer vacation doing research with faculty mentors on campus in disciplines ranging from biochemistry to politics to music.
July 30 saw the culmination of their efforts during the day-long Summer Research Conference, when the 105 student participants presented the fruits of their hard work in the form of 20-minute talks and poster presentations. Research topics ranged from German self-loathing to the impacts of epileptic seizures on transplanted neural stem cells, to the "scent" of music, to comparing DuBois and Trayvon Martin to the Palestinian diaspora.
"This may be the students’ first experience presenting their scholarly work in a public setting, and it may be the culmination of years of effort," says Scott Bogue, director, Sponsored and Undergraduate Research, and associate dean of the College. "We are very proud of the work they have done, and hope that this experience will help set the stage for their lifelong journeys as scholars and researchers."
Students worked alongside 49 faculty mentors as well as three doctors at City of Hope in Duarte. Disciplines represented included chemistry, biology, art history and the visual arts, mathematics, physics, geology, psychology, cognitive science, economics, urban and environmental policy, sociology, English and comparative literary studies, diplomacy and world affairs, politics, religious studies, history and music.
Eclectic research topics included "The Borrowing Habits of Prussian Estates, 1770-1850," "Development of Bacterial Community Within Neotropical Hispine Beetles," "Connections Between Improved Water Access and Maternal/Neonatal Health in Rural Cambodia" and "Effects of Sedative-Hypnotics on the Developing Brain."
Some of the research these undergraduates are participating in is potentially groundbreaking, with real-world applications.
"The project that I am currently working on is utilizing neural stem cells as a targeted therapy for treating ovarian cancer," says Steve Luu ’15, a diplomacy and world affairs major and biology minor from Ontario, Calif. who conducted research as a City of Hope Fellow. "The therapy that we are using is non-invasive and specifically targets tumors and cancer cells without harming our healthy cells, which is a common side effect when chemotherapy is administered (i.e., hair loss)."
Luu says he decided to participate in Occidental's summer research program "because I felt like doing so would open up opportunities that would aid in my future endeavors toward becoming a doctor, while utilizing the methods and values that I have learned through Oxy's liberal arts education." Luu plans to specialize in preventative medicine and oncology.
"This summer I worked with Professor Levitan studying cross-modal correspondences between music, odor and emotion," says Sara Charney ’15 from South Pasadena, who has been looking into the scents people associate with different forms of music (one conclusion: jazz "smells" like coffee). "Since I'm majoring in cognitive science and minoring in music, I jumped at the opportunity to do research that encompassed both of these interests." Charney plans to pursue an advanced degree and a career in speech-language pathology.
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 underrepresented groups, to consider careers in the scholarly professions.
"This summer I've been looking through 19th-century newspapers to uncover the discourse surrounding Chinese immigrant labor in America," says Sara Safuto ’15, a history major from Glendale who gave a talk on Chinese labor and immigration in the United States from 1860 to 1882 titled "A New Slavery."
"I am currently researching the interactions between our immune cells and Streptococcus pyogenes (the bacteria responsible for strep throat) in order to potentially lead to methods of fighting off the bacteria without using antibiotics," says Josh Snipper ’15 from Las Vegas, who plans to get a Ph.D. in biology/biochemistry in order to pursue a career as a researcher.
Snipper says he decided to participate in summer research "in order to have as much experience in the lab as possible before applying to graduate schools. [I] feel as though having this summer research has allowed me to experience what working in a lab as a career would be like. I hope many other students had and are able to have as amazing experiences as me."
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 stipend of $390 per week.
"For my research, I am looking at how public health organizations use music to provide HIV education to young black adults between the ages of 19 and 29 in Durban, South Africa," Arielle N'Diaye, from South Orange, N.J., explains. "I traveled to Durban to conduct my project, and was funded through the Richter grant." N'Diaye calls summer research "an amazing opportunity where I get to apply the skills that I learned in my classes and to begin to not only consume knowledge, but produce it as well."
Occidental has supported undergraduate research for more than three 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. Sponsors of this summer’s research include the Argonaut Creative Writing Fund, the Fletcher Jones Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the W.M. Keck Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Paul K. & Evalyn E. Cook Richter Trusts and the Union Bank Foundation.
Questions about the summer research program should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.