Students enjoy summer research at U

Amy Olson

Laughter filled the air as the smell of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs wafted in the breeze Friday behind Bailey Hall as more than 100 students gathered for a picnic.
Students from the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program came to the picnic for a good meal and a chance to talk to each other about their summer research projects, which began in mid-June and end in August.
The summer life science program is hosting students from 65 college campuses across the country, including Puerto Rico. The University-run program matches faculty members with students who have similar research interests. The program is designed to give students training in basic research methods of life sciences.
The program began in 1989 with just 16 students. In nine years, the number of student participants has grown to 102, including 10 University students, said Verna Holoman, program director.
About 100 University professors currently volunteer for the 10-week program.
Jim Holte, a program faculty mentor and professor of electrical engineering, said matching interests can be challenging.
Holte said joining someone’s research project already in progress is usually difficult. But Christy Fellas, a senior from Pacific University who is majoring in biology, said it can also make the research fun.
“It’s cool to come here and jump in on someone’s project,” Fellas said.
Fellas is researching how fish farmers can use waste water to grow plants like tomatoes and lettuce hydroponically.
Melissa Tenpas, a senior at Carroll College in Wisconsin who is majoring in art and biology, said the faculty mentors are quite willing to help students. Tenpas is working with Professor Mark Hove of the College of Natural Resources to study the behaviors of fresh water mussels.
Tenpas and Fellas said their professors place a lot of trust in the students with whom they work. Tenpas said this makes her feel good about the research project and her ability to contribute.
Other research projects students are working on include topics from forest diseases and pollution control to human diseases, like liver failure and cancer.
Carl Johnson Jr., a sophomore chemical engineering student from Michigan State University, is working to perfect the new artificial liver.
“It’s already been developed, but we’re working to make it better,” Johnson said.
Most students work on faculty projects or parts of projects, Holoman said. Each student in the program earns a stipend for working between 40 and 50 hours each week.
But the summer program is not all work and no play, said John S. Anderson, a faculty coordinator for the program and biochemistry professor. Students spent the first two days of the program on a social retreat at the Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, where they got to know one another on a more casual basis.
The combination of doing research with faculty members and getting to know other students fosters a friendly environment in the program, Tenpas said.
“This is what I thought college would be like,” she added.
Admittance to the life sciences research program is competitive. Research seekers must submit letters of recommendation from faculty members and a personal statement in addition to filling out a six-page application. Some phone interviews are conducted when necessary and high academic standing is a must. Holoman said more than 600 students applied for the program this year.