Student-Scholars in Growing Summer Research Program Present Their Findings

Stephen Zubrycky and Melissa Gallardo, Staff Writer and Contributing Writer

What do saxophone reeds, two-dimensional polymers and Facebook all have in common?

These are just a sampling of the topics over 70 Manhattan College students investigated during the college’s summer research program and presented to other students and faculty last Friday.

“We’ve had one of the largest summer research scholars programs this year,” said Anca Pusca, Ph.D. and assistant director of the center for graduate school and fellowship advisement. “We’re hoping that a lot of this research will be the basis for applications to graduate school and fellowships.”

The event consisted of individual research presentations as well as a massive poster session, organized and led by Rani Roy, Ph.D. and director for the center for graduate school and fellowship advisement.

“They’re across a bunch of programs and schools,” Roy said of this year’s projects. The range of projects presented an interesting challenge for her and her office, as they attempted to bring together the different research happening in each of the schools into one unit. “We’re really trying to unify all the programs on campus, which are not all managed by this office.”

Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann
Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

But the number and scope of the projects made the presentations topically diverse. All five schools were represented and the research covered, “a wide variety of fields, everything from the sciences, to business, to liberal arts,” Pusca said.

This year saw about 70 presentations, a marked increase from last year which only saw about 35.

One such topic was especially pertinent for students and faculty alike: the quality and availability of Wi-Fi on campus. In her project, “Drop It Like It’s Hotspot: Manhattan College Wi-Fi Enhancement Initiative,” IT intern Alanna Hupe conducted research on the College’s Wi-Fi system and experimented with new ways of delivering wireless internet to the campus’ many buildings and spaces.

“What we did was we research which models would best help enhance the Wi-Fi in the dorms,” Hupe said. “The goal was basically a faster, more efficient Wi-Fi network, so students would be able to access Wi-Fi between campus locations, as well as in the dorms.”

Hupe scattered routers at strategic places across the school to test the quality. And according to her, “they seem to be working relatively well.” Hupe said that her experiment was especially successful in Overlook Manor and Jasper Hall.

With respect to the continuation of her project, Hupe said, “to the physical aspect of it, this is complete for now, at least for the next few years.” However, Hupe also said that there is room for improvement beyond the physical infrastructure of the Wi-Fi network, citing, “talks of increasing the bandwidth.”

Another experiment of particular interest, especially during Sustainable September, was the collaborative effort between student Adrienne Perea and assistant professor Yelda Hangun-Balkir of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department in the School of Science.

Hangun-Balkir and Perea synthesized diesel fuel from camelina oil and natural waste shells. “With camelina oil, it’s fast growing and it’s short-seasoned, and it’s not used for food in the United States,” Perea said.

Perea said this is the first time a synthesis of this kind has taken place. “It has been done with camelina oil, and also with shells, however, not with camelina oil and the shells together,” she said.

Student Nicole Oliveri experimented on the effects of impacts on the brain, specifically those brought about by car accidents. “I built a brain on the computer and I built a whole head on a finite element model,” Oliveri said.

“When I simulated the crash,” Oliveri said, “I compared it to an equation that’s been accepted by the car crash companies and government agencies to see what’s safe and what’s not.” According to Oliveri, the project proved that the equation was in fact incorrect.

“I want to continue the research, maybe like next year or something,” Oliveri said. “We can try to come up with an equation that does work.” Oliveri also said that her work will be published in a car crash journal in November.

Not all of the projects pertained solely to science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Graduate business student Mark Lounello conducted a project on the benefits of student-run businesses on college campuses.

“It benefits every aspect of college, from students, to professors, to the college campus itself, and it can help the surrounding community,” Lounello said of his findings.

For students, Lounello said, “it provides hands on experience for running a business,” while faculty can benefit through seeing, “how their teachings affect the business.”

According to Lounello, “there’s a committee in the business school who are really pushing for this to go. Hopefully this academic year we can get at least a part of it started up on campus,” he said.

Junior Robert Liberto, a student in the School of Arts, conducted a historical study about student protests and strikes on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s, focusing primarily on the campuses of Manhattan College and Lehman College.

“My research is about the protest movement, and really the height of the protest movement that occurred on college campuses,” he said.

Liberto, using campus sources such as The Quadrangle, uncovered numerous events in the Colleges’ history. “There was actually an anti-war rally going on on the quad,” Liberto said. “They occupied the quad overnight. And this is very strange because at this point Manhattan was a big commuter school.”

Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann
Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

Beyond the occupation, protests took the form of sit-ins, rallies, and even a hanging effigy on the quad.

Caitlin Sullivan also did research with a more liberal arts focus. Sullivan’s research, conducted for the office of mission and Catholic studies, consisted of pinpointing the mission at Manhattan College and finding the role it plays in campus life.

Sullivan plans to take her project to a conference in Minneapolis. She and about ten other students plan to attend a conference at St. Mary’s University, a Lasallian college.

“We have presenters from all over the world,” Sullivan said. “Basically, we present our research, just to a much more global audience.”

Manhattan College plans to make history at this year’s conference. “No other school has ever brought student presenters,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is one of several research students planning to attend a conference or get published, which is one of the goals of the program, in addition to fellowship and graduate school applications.

“A lot of [the students] end up submitting to conferences,” Roy said. According to her, roughly 50 percent of research students went on to attend conferences last year.

It will be difficult to predict the number of students who will go on to conferences this year, since the program is about twice as large as last year. Roy does not however anticipate that the program will continue to grow at such a fast pace for next year.

“I’d expect a similar turnout next year,” Roy said.

With respect to Friday’s event, Roy said, “Really, the students were outstanding.”

And it appeared as though the students reciprocated the sentiment.

“Dr. Rani Roy did a great job of organizing this event and organizing all the grants and providing the housing and it was just a great experience,” research student Gregory Zajac said.

Zajac conducted a study on student satisfaction at Manhattan College.

“The whole concept of being able to take massive amounts of data, and tease through it, and find what makes each group at Manhattan College tick was the most exciting thing to me,” Zajac said.

“I think it’s really intriguing,” allied health major Julianne Becerra said of the event. “I was actually really thinking about [research] because of the fact that my major would be really involved in it.”

At its heart, the research program seeks to transcend the definition of what it means to be a student.

“We want to form these students to think of themselves as more than just students. We want them to think of themselves as research scholars,” Pusca said. “Researchers and scholars.”