Redefining the Classroom

Grants boost undergraduate research

Posted: April 29th, 2011

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH VENUE – Lake Superior State University Professor Jun Li instructs students in salmon egg viral analysis inside LSSU's burgeoning Fish Health Laboratory. Second from left is Heather Millard, who used the lab and an undergraduate research grant last fall to study the immune systems of Atlantic salmon. (LSSU/ John Shibley)

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

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Five students have received cash awards to support their undergraduate research projects at Lake Superior State University. Funding for the Undergraduate Research Grant program is provided by an anonymous donor through the LSSU Foundation. The award is competitive and meant to help fund undergraduate senior research projects that are required for graduation.

The award is capped at $500 per project, so up to six students may receive awards each semester for three years. If the program is successful in stimulating a wider variety of rigorous student research, the Foundation hopes to raise further funds to continue it into the future. The deadline to apply for fall semester awards is Nov. 1. Details on the program may be found clicking here.

"For spring 2011, we received 16 proposals detailing a variety of research projects," 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. "Disciplines included chemistry, biology, forensic chemistry, fisheries and wildlife, exercise science, environmental health, geographic information science, and communication."

"Recipients of this round of grants will use the funding to complete research in the biological sciences and health," Keller added.

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 grant recipients deal with a variety of relevant issues that range from metabolic health in women, to why Michigan's state fish, the brook trout, is declining in population.

Shelby LaBuhn
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Shelby LaBuhn, a senior from Ubly, Mich., evaluated which method would best remove two common taste and odor (T&O) compounds during the municipal water treatment process in Fairmont, Minn. The city started designing a new water treatment plant in 2009. LaBuhn's project involved piloting three different technologies: ozone, ultraviolet light/hydrogen peroxide, and granular activated carbon (GAC). After laboratory analysis, it was recommended that the city install GAC in the new plant because it achieved 100% removal efficiencies of both compounds. The grant LaBuhn received underwrote her presenting a research poster at the Borchardt Conference held in Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 23-24. LaBuhn, from Ubly, Mich., is graduating summa cum laude in environmental chemistry. She is class respondent during LSSU's commencement ceremonies on April 30.

Sarah Schulz
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Sarah Schulz will investigate the influence of high and moderate intensity exercise on body mass and resting metabolic rate among women aged 18-40 years of age. Exercise intensity will be determined as a percentage of each woman’s age-predicted maximal heart rate; Schulz's volunteers will be randomly assigned to either the high or moderate intensity group. Every week, volunteers in the high intensity group will perform two, 20-minute bouts of exercise at 80% heart rate max, while the moderate-intensity group will perform three, 30 minute bouts of exercise at 60% heart rate max. Schulz is a sophomore in exercise science from Freeland, Mich.

Brian Marshall
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Studies suggest that aquatic insects hatch prior to spawning salmon to avoid the disturbance associated with spawning activity. It is unknown if this occurs in regions where salmon were introduced. The objective of Brian Marshall's study is to determine if aquatic insects in Great Lakes tributaries alter their hatching timing in the presence of introduced spawning Pacific salmon. Marshall selected Thomson Creek in Manistique, Mich., for his study because aquatic insect hatching timing can be compared above and below a nearby dam. Changes in hatching times might alter the dynamics of both aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Marshall is a junior in fisheries and wildlife management from West Branch, Mich.

Amanda Chambers
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Brook trout are one of only two species of trout native to Michigan. It is highly sought after by anglers, and is Michigan’s state fish. Despite its importance, brook trout numbers are declining in Michigan. Amanda Chambers' study will be conducted on Cheney Creek, a small tributary to the Tahquamenon River that was once considered to have a healthy brook trout population. The goal of her project is to determine the current status of brook trout in this stream and to identify potential factors that may be limiting its abundance and distribution so that, if necessary, restoration work can be conducted. Chambers is a junior in fisheries and wildlife management from Midland, Mich.

Jordan Ernst
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Heavy metal pollution of rivers and streams in the United States is a prominent environmental concern, particularly in the St. Mary’s River, which was designated an Area of Concern by the US EPA in 1985. Despite meeting water quality guidelines, it is possible that many natural waters have metal levels that approach those with the potential for toxic effects in wildlife. Jordan Ernst’s project, in cooperation with the Chippewa/East Mackinac Conservation District, will seek to determine the distribution of heavy metals in the Munuscong River Watershed, which drains an area of approximately 384,000 acres before empting into Munuscong Lake, an embayment of the St. Mary’s River. Ernst is a senior in chemistry from Pickford, Mich.

“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.