Summer Sleuths


Seeking to uncover the secrets of everything from electrochemical cartilage reshaping to postcolonial public health to Aimee Semple McPherson, 112 Occidental students spent 10 weeks this summer conducting original research with faculty and community mentors.

Their investigations both on and off campus covered disciplines ranging from biochemistry to literature to sociology. July 31 saw the culmination of their efforts in a daylong Summer Research Conference, where the students presented the fruits of their labor in the form of 20-minute talks and poster presentations on campus.

In most cases, students worked one-on-one with their mentors, which included 69 faculty members and four outside collaborators.

"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," said Scott Bogue, associate dean of the College and director of sponsored and undergraduate research. "We are very proud of the work they have done, and hope that this experience will help set the stage for their life-long journeys as scholars and researchers."

Research topics ranged from biking in Beijing to tic-tac-toe strategies to mugshot websites. Community partners included the City of Hope, the Autry Museum and Caltech.

Tina Tran ’14, a biology major from Hillsboro, Ore., worked with Drs. Amy Cook and Ravi Bhatia at City of Hope on a potential route of drug therapy for acute myeloid leukemia. "It was a great opportunity because it let me work in a state-of-the-art facility alongside renowned doctors and researchers," she said. "Oxy doesn't provide any cancer biology courses, so this was a great way to learn more about the topic. I was so fortunate to work in a lab with the most amazing people; they were brilliant yet also so down to earth and helpful. I also mastered a few skills and learned new lab techniques that I can take back to Oxy."

Psychology major Andrea Villalobos ’15, from Los Angeles, worked with Professor Andrew Shtulman to study how parent-child interactions influence children’s ideas about evolutionary theory. "Throughout this process I have acquired many useful skills such as communication, presentation and time-management skills, as well as the ability to code data very, very fast!" she said.

"I had heard that summer research was an amazing opportunity to essentially work as a researcher full time and focus on your projects without having to juggle everything that comes along during the semester," said Maya Herzig ’15, a chemistry and kinesiology double major from Vancouver, Wash., who worked with Professor Mike Hill on electrochemical cartilage reshaping (EMR), a new surgical method to correct cartilage deformities. "Now that we're in our last week, I can definitely say that I've really enjoyed my summer here and being able to do just that. The only disappointing part is learning that it’s true in chemistry that nine out of 10 things you try aren't going to work and you just have to keep trying. But it is REALLY exciting when that last one works."

Media arts and culture major (and music composition minor) Joey Massari ’14 of Palmdale researched neo soul as a subgenre of hip hop. "In my research I've found that by drawing on hip hop's musical ancestry and the African Diaspora, by critiquing the current climate of hip hop and American society, and by reestablishing affirmative politics in the thematic content of hip hop, neo soul music succeeded in restoring a sense of what I call ‘aura’ in my research paper. This ‘aura’ refers to the communal energy, spirituality and authenticity in the art form that had been compromised in recent years by commodification, commercialization and a lack of aesthetic innovation."

Spending the summer studying this subgenre, Massari says, "I now have the tools to not only understand and enjoy hip hop and neo soul to a greater extent, but also to apply the ways I have learned to study this music to any kind of music that I engage with on a professional, academic and recreational level."

Occidental has supported undergraduate research for three decades, in all of the disciplines on campus—the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural and physical sciences. Its lauded 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 Endowment, the Fletcher Jones Foundation, the W.M. Keck Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Union Bank Foundation, among other donors.