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Hundreds of undergraduates gather to describe their summer projects

​Students perform "Women of Consequence," which tells the stories of the lives and contributions of  several African American women of the 1800s--the subjects of the students' summer research projects.

If safety goggles and lab coats are all that pop into your mind when you hear the word "research," you really need to get to the University of Delaware's next Undergraduate Research and Service Scholars Celebratory Symposium.

The eighth annual event on Aug. 10 had record numbers of undergrads mixing it up on all four floors of the Patrick Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (ISE) Lab, talking about their projects -- everything from algae blooms to the Zika virus, from the solar wind to the surface of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, from the beliefs of a young man on Wilmington's West Side to molecular interactions related to Alzheimer's disease.

The work of almost 500 students from more than two dozen universities was represented in posters, oral presentations, displays, even in the dance of "Women of Consequence."

Getting into research and service as an undergraduate opens doors some students say they never considered before.

"I didn't know I was interested in urban bikeshare projects until I worked on this," said Olivia Rogal, a public policy major, during her oral presentation. "Now it's something I'm passionate about."

The growth of the program makes good sense to its primary convener, Iain Crawford, faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning and now president-elect of the Council on Undergraduate Research, a national organization with members representing more than 900 colleges and universities.

"UD was an early adopter of undergraduate research in the 1980s, and it has a long history and profound faculty culture of encouraging undergraduates in research," said Crawford. "And that continues to gain nationally and internationally as one of the leading best practices in undergraduate education."

Telling stories of 'anonymous' women

Through the lens of arts-based research, a group of UD students explored the lives of African American women from the 1800s, women who contributed to the political landscape of America and found ways to have their voices heard even as they faced barriers to serving as political leaders and advocates.

Student scholar/artists in the "Women of Consequence: Ambitious, Ancillary, Anonymous" project spent the summer conducting research on some of these women, who included writers, teachers, activists and poets. The students, working with Lynnette Overby, professor of theatre and deputy director of UD's Community Engagement Initiative, and Gabrielle Foreman, Ned Allen Professor of English and professor of history and of Africana studies, presented the results of their research at the symposium.

They also performed a dance that included original choreography, music, poetry and visual images to illuminate the stories of the women whose lives they studied. 

Overby described "Women of Consequence" as a work in progress that will continue to be developed and performed in coming months.

​Melissa Tedone (left), book and library conservator at Winterthur Museum, talks with Claire Martin, an art conservation and art history major, about materials from Carton Moore Park’s book “An Alphabet of Animals.”

Preserving the past

Claire Martin, a rising UD senior from Buffalo, New York, said she was a bit nervous when she started work on irreplaceable materials at Winterthur Museum, such as the dust jacket from Carton Moore Park's An Alphabet of Animals. The book and related drawings are part of a collection recently donated to the University of Delaware Library by Victorian literature expert and UD Senior Research Fellow Mark Samuels Lasner.

"It's not often that undergrads have a chance like this," Martin said, "and I am thankful to Mark for that opportunity."

Martin, who has a double major in art conservation and art history, worked with her adviser Vicki Cassman, associate professor of art conservation, and was supervised by Melissa Tedone, book and library conservator at Winterthur Museum.

Such materials are not placed in anyone's hands recklessly, of course, but Tedone had met Martin during a book conservation course she taught at UD.

"I was very impressed by the students," she said. "They were energetic, engaged and their work ethic was amazing. I was so impressed with what they accomplished and that is where I met Claire. When I was asked if I would supervise her, I said, 'Of course.'"

In addition to stabilizing the dust jacket, which was deteriorating, Martin's project -- her senior thesis -- includes research into Moore Park's life and work.

"Claire Martin gave a wonderful presentation on her work, which is both a research project on a largely unknown (and somewhat mysterious) artist as well as a practicum in conservation work,” Samuels Lasner said. "Making the collection available to students is a major reason why it’s here at UD."

Making connections

The daylong symposium drew students from more than 24 institutions and support from 20 community partners, including nonprofit organizations, music schools, four Delaware municipalities -- Laurel, Leipsic, Seaford and Wilmington -- and three major regional medical facilities, Christiana Health Care, Fox Chase Cancer Center and Nemours Biomedical Research.

That was impressive to Hal White, professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry, who was on hand to see what students were up to.

"Involvement with so many institutions -- it's really important," he said. "They're finding ways to expand opportunities."

Scores of faculty mentors and graduate students also support this effort, helping students grasp the rigors, protocols and potential of original research. Some shepherd multiple students and in that category, Mark Mirotznik, professor of electrical and computer engineering, led the pack with 12.

"I really enjoy working with these incredibly bright students," Mirotznik said, "and they did some very cool stuff in a short time."

Article by Beth Miller and Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape, Kathy F. Atkinson and Doug Baker

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Some 500 undergraduates from UD and other institutions presented the results of their summer research and service projects at an August symposium on campus.

​Some 500 undergraduate students presented the results of their summer research and service projects at an August symposium at UD.

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