Redefining the Classroom

Six students receive inaugural undergraduate research grants

Posted: January 21st, 2011

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH – Two Lake Superior State University students conduct research in LSSU's Environmental Analysis Laboratory (EAL). The lab supports undergraduate research projects in biology, chemistry, even criminal justice and forensic science. The EAL's full-time PhD staff and part-time student workers are also a resource for governmental agencies, such as the EPA, and private companies. (LSSU/John Shibley). (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Six undergraduate students were recently named as the recipients of the first Undergraduate Research Grant awards at LSSU. Funding for the grants was provided by a private donor through the LSSU Foundation. The award is competitive and meant to help fund the student’s undergraduate senior research project.

Currently, the award is capped at $500 per project, so up to six students may receive awards each semester for three years. If the Undergraduate Research program is successful, the Foundation hopes to raise further funds to continue it into the future. The deadline to apply for the spring semester funds is Feb. 4. Details on the program may be found clicking here.

"The grants help our students fund research projects that may otherwise not be able to be completed because of the costs associated with research," says Dr. Barb Keller, Dean of the College of Natural, Mathematical and Health Sciences and also the Chair of the Undergraduate Research Committee that awards these grants. "Recipients of this round of grants will use the funding to complete research in the biological sciences, environmental health, and the performing arts."

Undergraduate research has always been a vital part of the student experience at LSSU. In fact, the University mission and vision statements emphasize its role in helping students develop their full potential, as well as contributing to the growth, dissemination and application of knowledge beyond campus. Students who graduate from Lake State must first demonstrate and apply their knowledge in the form of a senior project that is evaluated by fellow students and faculty. Many of these projects become posters and papers presented at professional conferences. Open sessions held on campus each semester share research results with the public as well.

"For many students, a senior thesis project is their first pass through rigorous university-level research," says Keller. "Now we add another first-time opportunity by making an undergraduate research grant available. The selection process itself provides our students with skills that may not only fund, but steer the research they go on to conduct as graduates."

LSSU's undergraduate research grant application process has students define their project's timeline and submit a detailed accounting for materials and supplies, printing costs, software, project-related travel, and other related expenses excluding student wages. Each line item also requires a formal justification as to how it relates to the project's final outcome. Student applicants must also disclose other potential funding sources, be they departmental, state, or local - even expenses covered out of pocket.

Finally, if animal or human test subjects are part of the study, a full research plan must be submitted to faculty oversight committees that verify certain standards of laboratory care and research ethics.

This semester's inaugural grant recipients explore a variety of relevant issues that range from the effect of "Cat Lady's Disease" on mouse brains, to what could be a ground-breaking study on how a bacterium has an impact on salmon aquaculture operations in the Great Lakes.

However, one recipient's senior project doesn't even fall into the realm of science.

Cheryl Baudoin
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Cheryl Baudoin, a senior from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., has adapted Diane Gilliam Fisher's Kettle Bottom: A Book of Poems into a performance that uses the LSSU Arts Center Black Box Theatre. This venue offers an intimate space for experiencing the lives and trials of coal miners and their families during the 1920-1921 coal mine wars of West Virginia. The production - conceived, adapted and directed by Baudoin – will be presented on Feb. 17, 18, and 19. Baudoin is finishing a dual major in communication and history with a minor in humanities.

Heather Millard
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It's already known that the bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida poses a major threat to Atlantic salmon, an important species for both sport fishing and aquaculture on the Great Lakes. What Heather Millard's research seeks to understand is twofold: first, the mechanisms that make this bacterium a pathogen and, second, how the fish's immune system responds to A. salmonicida over time. Fish will be infected with the bacterium and blood samples will be taken at various time intervals after injection and then used for analysis. A better understanding of the pathogen-host interaction between A. salmonicida and Atlantic salmon could help minimize mortality of cultured fish. Millard is a senior in biology from Plainwell, Mich., with a pre-professional concentration.

Jessica Koisara
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Pacific salmon are important to the ecology of streams. They migrate annually to hundreds of Great Lakes tributaries to spawn and die. This event typically disturbs stream bottom organisms and contributes nutrients. The role salmon play in stream ecosystems in their native ranges, waterways that feed into the ocean, is well understood. Yet on the Great Lakes, where salmon have been introduced for more than 50 years, this role is still unclear. Jessica Koisara's project hopes to determine how introduced Pacific salmon affect a main food resource - stream-bottom algae - in Great Lakes tributaries. The study might demonstrate a decrease in algal biomass, which has the potential to alter stream food webs. This potential factor should be considered in management of Pacific salmon. Kosiara is a senior in biology from Alpena, Mich.

Nicole Powers
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Amphibians are experiencing worldwide population declines, yet little research is testing the negative effects of common chemicals on their populations. Nicole Powers' study observes the effects of glyphosate, a chemical ingredient found in many household and commercial herbicides such as Roundup. Powers is following the agent's affects on amphibian egg survival and tadpole mutations resulting from adult exposure in the fall and egg exposure during development. Using lab experiments and field observations, she will estimate egg hatch success and the percent of tadpoles mutated from two collection sites at Portage Point, near Escanaba, Mich. One site was treated with Roundup in the Fall 2010; the other collection site was not treated. Powers is a senior in fisheries and wildlife management from Holt, Mich.

Lauren Benedict
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Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that affects distinct behavioral centers of the vertebrate brain. In mice, it is known to cause the animal to lose its fear of cats, allowing them to be eaten. Mice are an important vector in spreading the parasite to other cats, and then potentially to humans. Recent studies have linked the parasite to human infections that lead to schizophrenia. Taxo sufferers also get so acclimated to cat urine and feces odors in homes have been overrun by cats, hence a syndrome called "Cat Lady's Disease." Lauren Benedict will look at how Taxo affects mice. What portions of the mouse brain are infected by the parasite? Are certain areas of the brain more highly infected than others? If so, she plans to compare the areas infected against behaviors controlled by that portion of a mouse's brain. The study should yield a better understanding of how Taxo is able to change mouse behavior. Benedict is a senior in biology from Grand Blanc, Mich.

Gina Fitzgerald
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Finally, Gina Fitzgerald's project measures the potential for human exposure to heavy metals in inexpensive toys. Children often swallow small toys, which may result in exposure to heavy metals such as lead and cadmium that are commonly used in paints by manufacturers in developing countries. As part of her study, each toy will be acid extracted in conditions that simulate the human stomach. Fitzgerald then analyzes "stomach contents" to determine the mass of each heavy metal that a child could be exposed to through ingestion. She hopes that the project will increase awareness of risks that children face when playing with inexpensive toys that may contain extractable heavy metals. Fitzgerald is senior from Columbus, Mich., studying environmental health.

“We are very grateful to receive a gift that will help to fund an undergraduate research program. There are many opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty on research, however there is always a challenge to fund such a program,” says LSSU Foundation Executive Director Tom Coates. "The anonymous donor determined an area they wanted to support and made this opportunity possible."

Anyone who wishes to support the undergraduate research fund can contact the LSSU Foundation office at (906) 635-2665 or make a contribution through the LSSU Foundation online giving form.


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Dr. Barb Keller e-mail, 635-2185 ; Sharon Dorrity, LSSU Foundation, e-mail, 635-2665.