Redefining the Classroom

Grant awards underwrite undergraduate research

Posted: January 18th, 2012

UPDATE: The deadline to apply for spring research grants is Feb 1; click here for details.

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH TABLEAU – A recent production of Shakespeare's Macbeth spreads itself across the main stage of Lake Superior State University's Arts Center in sault Ste. Marie, Mich. LSSU fine arts student Eric Cairns landed an undergraduate research grant to present an original independent film production on the main stage in April. An anonymous donor provides funding for the grants through LSSU's Foundation office. Two other students received grants for senior thesis research in the natural sciences. (LSSU/ John Shibley)

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

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Three students have received cash awards to support their undergraduate research projects at Lake Superior State University. An anonymous donor through the LSSU Foundation provides funding for the Undergraduate Research Grant program.

The award is competitive and targeted to help fund undergraduate senior research projects that are required for graduation. 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.

"An area of pride for our university is the incorporation of student research into the academic programs," 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.

"The availability of the undergraduate research funding has given students access to funding for research projects that otherwise may not have been possible," says Keller. "The LSSU Foundation has been instrumental in helping to raise the funding for this program. We hope to continue this competitive process for many years to come."

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 topics range from an original production to be presented on the LSSU Arts Center main stage, to how common the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can affect humans, is in animal shelter cats.

Eric Cairns
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Eric Cairns (Traverse City, Mich.) is producing an original short-feature film for his senior-year project. “Violet” is a feature film about an 18 year-old girl who is an honor student in her high school in Chicago on the verge of winning a scholarship to go to medical school. Violet’s world is suddenly turned upside down when her mother Monica decides that the two of them will move from the big city of Chicago to a small town called Northport in northern Michigan. Violet encounters many obstacles and she overcomes her self obsessed mother, the burdens of moving, and the pressures of school in order to come to a new sense of self.

Hannah Connor
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Hannah Connor (Brighton, Mich.) continues research on a common parasite in cats that can jump to humans. Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular parasite that typically infects cats and rodents. However, humans can also become infected if they eat contaminated food or water, or if they accidently ingest the eggs found on cat feces in litter boxes. Infected humans with healthy immune systems are usually asymptomatic, however if a pregnant woman becomes infected, a miscarriage, stillborn, or birth defect can result. In this study the blood and feces of cats will be analyzed from a local animal shelter to determine how many are infected. The serum will be separated from the blood and sent to J.P. Dubey, a T. gondii expert with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and subjected to a modified agglutination test to check for T. gondii. Feces from shelter cats will be analyzed with a fecal floatation technique to determine if oocysts (the common infective stage to humans) are present. This research will help us determine how prevalent T. gondii is and how likely humans are to contract it.

Matt Elya
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Matt Elya (Harbor Springs, Mich.) is examining the crucial contributions fish make to the food webs of Michigan streams. Migratory fish contribute nutrients during spawning runs to many Great Lakes streams, which often stimulate growth of algae, the base of stream food webs. Historically, native fish species have had spawning runs in great numbers, but their populations have declined while concurrently non-native migratory fish numbers have increased. As a result, stream food webs may be changing. This project will compare the amount of nutrients provided to Great Lakes streams by a native species — the white sucker — against non-native species, Chinook and Coho Salmon, and ultimately expand our knowledge on their impact to Great Lakes tributaries.

“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."

The deadline to apply for next semester's award is February 1. Details on the program may be found by running a Web search for "LSSU Undergraduate Research Committee."

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.