New Research for STEM Freshmen

Students present their research during the Undergraduate Research & Engagement Symposium in April 2014. Natalie Battaglia // Flickr

Freshmen at Loyola will now be able to participate in undergraduate research thanks to a new $1.9 million grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The First-Year Research Experience allows Loyola freshmen to work with professors in eight different areas of study within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is an organization dedicated to advancing scientific interest in students and scientists across the country.

Dr. Linda Brazdil, the director for Loyola’s Center for Science and Math Education, was one of the people responsible for writing the grant proposal in the fall of 2013, with the goal of keeping underclassmen, specifically freshmen within the STEM majors, interested and motivated to finish their STEM degree. The university received the grant on Sept. 1, 2014.

“The idea behind the program was that a lot of students come to the university and say that they’re STEM majors, but we see a lot of drop off,” said Brazdil. “The Howard Hughes Medical Institute wanted to see what we could do to help students persist in those degrees, and what we know works is that if students are involved in research, they tend to stay.”

The program aims to provide students — especially women, first-generation college students and other underrepresented groups — the opportunity to be involved in one of eight different areas of research. Students with a wide range of GPAs and those with no research experience were also chosen, Brazdil said. This allows many different types of students the same chance of being involved in research.

The eight sections are math, statistics, physics, environmental science, microbiology, computer science and two sections of chemistry. While there are currently only 80 freshmen in the program, Brazdil hopes to double that number for next year’s students, who are currently applying to be in the program. They will be selected and placed into new Learning Communities in San Francisco Hall starting in the fall.

Because it is the first year of the program, current freshmen applied during the 2014 fall semester. With the help of professors and faculty, Brazdil placed 80 of those students in 10 UNIV 102 courses during the spring 2015 semester. The sections, which each have 10 students, are based on the students’ interests. Within the courses, students hear from speakers as well as learn more about their particular area of research. The 10 professors facilitating the courses are the same ones who will supervise the actual research that will take place for three weeks starting in May.

“I have enjoyed learning about all the different techniques used in research and learning more about genetics,” said freshman Caitlin Nicolai, a forensic science and biology major. “Being a scholar in the biology focus has given me a better grasp of how genetics play a major role in many of our diseases today and as well as genetics as a whole.”

Shanzeh Daudi, a freshman who is involved in statistic research, learned about the program from her entry-level biology class and is excited for the summer session.

“I wanted to participate because it is a great opportunity for research, and as a freshman, these opportunities are gold,” said Daudi, a psychology and international studies double major. “I’ve enjoyed learning about research methods I had little knowledge of before, and utilizing them to research things I am really passionate about.”

Some students will be at Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus during the three-week research period. Others, such as the computer science students, will be designing apps, according to Brazdil.

Nicolai will be working in a lab on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus this summer.

“I am studying the effects of melanoma and whether or not genes have a big role in this type of cancer,” she said. “I am very excited to run the experiment I have been planning all semester, and I hope to get great results.”

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