Summer Research Scholars Prepare for September Symposium

by ROSE BRENNAN & ALEXA SCHMIDTA&E Editor & Features Editor

Each summer, rising juniors and seniors are given the opportunity to conduct research at the college.  This research, overseen by a faculty advisor, is then presented to the college in a poster session and presentation in September of the next academic year.

There are several opportunities and grants that promote summer research at Manhattan College.  The Jaspers Summer Research program selects three students from each of the five undergraduate schools to conduct research in their field of interest.  The Branigan Grant program and the School of Science research program, however, provide further opportunities for students in the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Science, respectively.

Alyssa Zduniak and Gabby Kasper, both seniors in the School of Liberal Arts, worked on a research project titled “Consent Through the Lasallian Lens,” which combined modern feminist theory and the Lasallian tradition to evaluate the actual practice of MC’s consent policy.

“Our project uses the core traditions of our Lasallian heritage, with a strong focus on the Lasallian Values specifically, and modern feminist theory to examine Manhattan College’s consent policy and our school’s current approach to consent education,” Zduniak said.

Zduniak and Kasper’s research will extend beyond the research symposium in September.  They will be presenting their research at the International Lasallian Conference that same month.  In addition, they hope to incorporate some of their research’s findings into the larger framework of MC.

“We wrote our paper in the hopes of getting it in the hands of administration and working towards bettering students knowledge of the consent policy and giving them tools to create permissible sexual interactions,” Zduniak said. “For this project we interviewed students, faculty and [Christian] Brothers on campus in order to understand how people from these various perspectives feel and experience the Lasallian values and the ways in which they believe we can improve in expressing these values. After speaking with interviewees and reviewing Lasallian and Feminist literature, we wrote suggestions that we believe could be a benefit to the school.”

Zduniak’s research experience has taught her to conduct, transcribe and redact interviews; skills of which she hopes to apply in grad school. She was also particularly interested in the new experience of co-writing an academic paper.

“Writing a paper with another student is a really cool experience. Co-authoring papers happens frequently in the professional arena, so I feel very lucky to have been able to have this opportunity already as an undergrad,” she said.

Senior Madeline Hurwitz received one of the three Jasper Summer Research Grants for the School of Liberal Arts.  Her project, titled “Power in the Pastoral: Aphra Behn Through a Feminist Ecocritical Lens,” was advised by English professor Heidi Laudien, Ph.D.

“I looked at specifically five of Aphra Behn’s pastoral poems.  She has … hundreds of them, but  chose five of them and I focused on close readings with them through a feminist ecocritical lens, which is basically just this longer way of saying … I looked at it through a literary lens that focused on the connection in her poems between femininity and nature,” Hurwitz said.

As a part of the program, Hurwitz was able to go to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., where some of Behn’s original manuscripts are kept.  She will also have the opportunity to present her research at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference in El Paso, Texas this October.

After graduation, Hurwitz hopes to attend graduate school and believes the skills she learned during her summer research will assist her for years to come.

“I want to pursue a graduate school program with English literature, so it’s definitely helped me with that, in terms of my ability to time manage and just the finer skills of analyzing literature, but also generally, being able to focus on this long-term project,” she said.

Junior Kimberly Heller received an award from both the Jasper Summer Research Scholars program and the School of Science, titled the Michael J. ‘58 and Aimee Rusinko Kakos award.  Her research, titled “Chromosomal Loci Determination of Nucleosomes Containing a Crosslinker Unnatural Amino Acid,” involved growing yeast cells with abnormal amino acids attached to them.

“In essence, we grew these cells with those tags in an attempt to fragment the DNA and use those tags to determine the position of histone proteins that bind along DNA.  Histone proteins are vital in keeping DNA tightly coiled within cells and also in regulating the function of gene functions,” Heller said.

Heller is using her research to look ahead to her career.

“Like most students studying biology, I was very focused on pursuing a career in medicine, but this research has shown me just how enjoyable and yet challenging scientific research is,” she said.  “I believe the skills I learned in lab are applicable for my career as a student and as a professional working within science or medicine, depending on the route I take.”

Heller plans to continue research with her advisor from the program, Bryan Wilkins, Ph.D.  Aside from the research symposium, she might also do a video presentation on her research to submit for a Women in STEM scholarship from Tacana Systems.

“Overall, my experience with the Jasper Summer Scholars Research Program has been the highlight of my summer and serious game changer for my future pursuits [and] goals,” Heller said.  “Seeing all of the work I completed this summer come together on paper has been an incredible experience.  I am thankful to have been given this opportunity.”

All summer research projects will be presented to the MC community at a poster session on Thursday, Sept. 26 and at formal presentations on Friday, Sept. 27.