It’s a question that Dr. Ben Galluzzo, associate professor of mathematics, has contemplated for some time: What is the value of undergraduate research? Generally speaking, research is a way to engage students in academic activity. It stokes curiosity, sparks creativity, explores possibilities, forges relationships, and applies theory.
But what does it mean at Ship? Galluzzo, co-chair of the Advisory Council for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities, broadly described these activities on campus as establishing an inclusive and innovative atmosphere for students to pursue their passions. “We’re integrating it into the fabric of Shippensburg University. It’s not a strange thing here. It promotes learning, and we’re trying to get everyone to participate.”
But don’t just take Galluzzo’s word for it. Sam Govan, a sophomore biology major with a focus on environmental science and wildlife, spent his summer playing with newts in Michaux State Forest. Alexa Moran and Hannah Violet volunteered with Autism on the Seas, an organization that schedules cruises for families living with autism, as a result of their research. Kristina Miller presented her undergraduate research at a national conference at New York University.
“My research is providing me with real-world examples, not just in ecology, but by helping me develop a better understanding of the overall scientific method,” Govan said. “Now I look at problems with an experimental mind.”
Miller said that the ability to research and present as an undergrad “is awesome.” And Moran discovered through her project that “I want to do research for the rest of my life.”
“This is what we always wanted research at Ship to be—the fact that everyone is doing something valuable and creative,” Galluzzo said.
Research comes in many shapes and sizes at Ship. Sometimes it’s the more traditional lab experiment, while other times it’s the creation of an art exhibition, Galluzzo said. Students work individually, connect with professors, or create projects with classmates.
“It’s a new experience that promotes more activity. It’s a great way to teach.”
Govan knew since he was young that he wanted to spend his life working outdoors. “I really don’t want to work in an office,” he said. “Working outside provides a good opportunity to see the world and do my part.”
During the 2016 spring semester, one of Govan’s professors mentioned that Dr. Tim Maret, professor of biology, and a graduate student were studying the dietary habits of newts. That piqued Govan’s interest, so he asked how to get involved.
By the end of his freshman year, Govan had applied for and received a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant to work with Maret. The SURE grant provides funding for research with faculty over the summer months. Students receive a $750 stipend and free on-campus housing. This year, sixteen projects received grants, for a total of $12,000.
For their project, Govan and Maret studied the dietary habits of newts in vernal ponds—temporary pools of water that provide a habitat for local animals. They researched what the newts consumed while they had access to the ponds, and how they adjusted their diets when the ponds dried up.
“I spent so much time one-on-one with Dr. Maret and learned so much from him,” Govan said.
Dr. Marc Renault, chair of the SURE Evaluation Committee, said the SURE grants are a great way to improve student involvement and help them to connect with faculty. “The projects are a broad range. It really shows the commitment of our faculty to our students, that they would want to continue to work with students over the summer. The fact that they value their input says a lot about our students.”
As the summer winds down, faculty and students who received SURE grants develop poster projects based on their results, then present them during Academic Day at the beginning of fall semester. This provides incoming freshmen with an opportunity to view the projects, ask questions, and think about how they might pursue research in the future.
“They do all this work and then share it on an academic level with a broader audience. It has a greater impact now, because it’s being seen campus wide,” Galluzzo said.
Moran knows exactly what she wants to do with her life, thanks to her research experience. “People think you can only do one thing with a teaching degree. But doing research with Dr. Chris Schwilk showed me I want to teach a few years, then I really want to research.”
Moran and Violet, both senior special education majors, brainstormed several research topics after their collaboration course with Schwilk, associate professor of educational leadership and special education. They chose to focus on the hopes and fears of siblings, parents, and extended family of individuals with disabilities.
This project hit close to home for Moran, whose younger brother is on the Autism Spectrum and has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Tourette Syndrome. While Moran said her mother was very supportive of her brother and his needs, her father could not accept the diagnoses and left.
“I was always interested in how it affects siblings, too,” she said. “It made me more accepting of others, made me more calm in certain situations, and I became a caregiver.”
The trio developed a survey, gathered a large sampling, and did a factor analysis on their results. Many participating families had children on the Autism Spectrum or with chronic illnesses. Although the research group worried about the sensitivity of the topic, parents relished the opportunity to share their feelings.
“When asked their greatest hopes and fears, many responded, ‘What will happen to my child when I’m gone?’” Schwilk said.
“They also showed concern about how other people perceive their child and how extended family perceive their child,” Violet added. “These are uncomfortable things to talk about. A parent’s worst nightmare is a kid getting diagnosed.”
The survey responses were so rich and in depth that the group is developing a book with case studies based on their research. “This is the type of research that leads to books,” Schwilk said. “It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished together.”
Additionally, Moran and Violet traveled to Florida with Schwilk, who is a volunteer staff member with Autism on the Seas. As volunteers, they learned to work with a wide range of individuals who have autism and listen to the needs of their families. Before the start of fall semester, Violet volunteered on a cruise to Jamaica.
“This is giving me the connections to the world to help me succeed,” she said. "It’s giving me insight.”
When a former colleague suggested that the Social Work and Gerontology Department start a research club, Dr. Michael Lyman, associate professor of social work, admitted he thought the idea was crazy. However, ten years later, sociology students continue to churn out quality research projects through the club. At their first meeting in the fall, students determine what they want to research, develop questions, complete a literature review, and design a study. Appropriately, students last year chose to assess research anxiety in social work students.
The group presents it at the annual spring Minds@Work Conference. The conference showcases the culmination of more than 300 research projects across disciplines. Lyman also helps students tap into SURE grants and receives funding from Dr. Jim Johnson, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, to attend national conferences for additional professional experiences.
“At the beginning of the semester, we want to do research, with the end result being to travel to a national conference,” Lyman said. “We’ve been to New York, Singapore, Louisville, Myrtle Beach, and Cincinnati.”
This past summer, social work major Kristina Miller ’17 presented results on “The Research Fear Factor” at New York University. “It was about priming and the power of suggestion. If you mention something to someone, they will start thinking about it,” she said.
In this case, Miller said, they tested two groups with the same basic social work knowledge; however, one group was told the material was on research. Although both groups scored similarly, the group that thought it had research questions spent less time on the test and answered fewer questions. “They didn’t take the time or devote the time to the test,” she said. “This fits our literature that states students are afraid of research and statistics.”
In New York, Miller presented her undergraduate research and had the opportunity to learn from others at the conference. “The school I transferred from was a small, private college that offered nothing close to this,” she said. “I plan to go to grad school, and to say that you’ve collaborated with faculty on a published article is great.”
The one-on-one time that Shelby Sellers, senior English major, spent with Dr. Laurie Cella, associate professor of English, during their research was an opportunity that Sellers said she couldn’t get in class alone. “You get to tap into her knowledge in ways that you aren’t able to in a classroom setting.”
Through a SURE grant, Sellers and Cella focused on developing a sustainable Writing Fellows program. With experience as a former writing fellow, Sellers suggested exploring the student voice in college writing. “Part of my research process was searching for and diving into works written by writing fellows, and there just aren’t as many as there should be,” she said. “I wanted to be able to discuss my experiences candidly and apply research that supported my methods as a Fellow in hopes of helping other Fellow programs in the future.”
Both Lyman and Cella said more relaxed projects enable students to excel with less pressure for a grade. “Shelby has great ideas and so much commitment to student progress. It was a pleasure to see her grow as a scholar and an educator without the confines of a class,” Cella said.
“I love working with the students,” Lyman added. “It’s helpful, too, with research club that there’s no grade, no test, and much less pressure. It’s an opportunity to show that research can be fun.”
Regardless of how it materializes, these research projects impact the student experience. “Our purpose is to continue to encourage growth of student research on campus and across campus, and to understand the value of that growth,” Galluzzo said. “No doubt students will benefit from engaging in these activities in their discipline.”