Undergraduate researchers present at Summer Scholars Showcase

Jillian Ashton, a Summer Scholar who researched water quality on the Grand River with her Faculty Mentor Peter Wampler. (Courtesy/Office of Undergraduate Research)

Jillian Ashton, a Summer Scholar who researched water quality on the Grand River with her Faculty Mentor Peter Wampler. (Courtesy/Office of Undergraduate Research)

Ysabela Golden, Laker Life Editor

Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Grand Valley State University’s Office of Undergraduate Scholarship was dedicated to providing their student scholars with the summer research experience. Safety precautions were enacted, program schedules were shifted, and in-person research plans were transitioned to virtual environments. Months later, on Sept. 10, these efforts came to fruition through the Summer Scholars Showcase, an annual presentation of Grand Valley’s undergraduate research.

“Undergraduates engaging in original research is the pinnacle of education at GVSU,” said Robert Smart, the Vice Provost for Research Administration. “Scholarship requires more than experimentation and deep study — students must have tenacity, courage and patience.”

This year’s Showcase was entirely virtual, hosted on the Symposium platform where student presentations are still available for interested members of the GVSU community.

“We have 44 scholars, who are presenting their research in both the oral and poster format,” said Faculty Mentor David Geenan. “They represent six unique programs — Student Summer Scholars, Modified S3, McNair Scholars, REACH Scholars, Library Scholars, and Beckman Scholars. An important part of the research process in which these scholars are engaged is the opportunity to disseminate their work to their colleagues.”

The undergraduate scholars were able to share their research in one of two ways. They could upload a presentation to Symposium ahead of the Sept. 10 Showcase, or they could give their presentations live during the three hour Zoom conference on the day itself.

The first of the eight researchers to give a live presentation was Jakob Benjamin, one of the Student Summer Scholars. His research focused on analyzing how spaceflight changes the Candida albicans, an organism common to the human microbiome. Like many of the undergraduate scholars whose initial proposals included more lab time than the new standards set by the coronavirus allowed, Benjamin had to adapt his project to a mostly virtual setting.

“It taught me how to trick myself into getting my work done in a better way – I was able to become more excited about the research that I was doing, and I found myself enjoying reading about how organisms behave differently in zero gravity,” said Benjamin. “I think this research has really given me a good base for doing research in my career after GVSU.”

One researcher who chose to give her presentation as a pre-recorded video on the Symposium hosting website was Jodilyn Jenkins, a participant in the Library Scholars program who works at the Mary Idema Pew service desk.

“When I first started working with the office of undergraduate research and scholarship, I learned that my research topic could be about anything as long as it connected to benefiting libraries and their users,” said Jenkins. “I ended up writing a literature review on exercise dependence — to maintain my initial audience, I created an online guide to performing empirical and scholarly research. I used my literature review, and the steps I took to get there, as an example.”

Other topics on display at the Summer Scholars Showcase ranged anywhere from water quality in the Grand River, to the intersectionality of race and mental health, to the genetic structure of lava lizards. Though their subject matter varied, all the undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors were united in their willingness to adapt their projects unexpected circumstances.

“Showcase is a celebration of their summer research,” said Robert Smart, the Vice Provost for Research Administration. “The world around us may be unclear, but our mission remains steadfast – creating knowledge is the business of a university.”