North Central College - Naperville, IL

Students, faculty collaborate in summer-long research

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Associate Professor of Biology Jonathan Visick and Juan Perez ’13
Associate Professor of Biology Jonathan Visick and Juan Perez ’13

For eight weeks this summer, North Central College students participated in hands-on research on campus, working one-on-one with faculty and collaborating with other students. Some 38 students and 12 faculty advisors took part in the College’s Summer Undergraduate Research Colloquium (SURC). Their work represented a range of academic disciplines with students majoring in biology, computer science, biochemistry, psychology, chemistry, English literature, radiation therapy, athletic training, theatre, human resource management and Spanish.

On Aug. 1, many of those students shared their research with the campus community during a poster session. Among those presenters were biochemistry major Juan Perez ’13 and biology major Rachel DiPietro ’15. They worked with Biswajit Saha, visiting assistant professor of chemistry, on her faculty research project concerning silver(I)-catalyzed regioselective cyclization.

For DiPietro, getting to work directly with professors in her field and other areas of science was a highlight. “To explore my area of study from the perspective of different fields of science was a great experience. It broadened my learning.”

Perez liked the hands-on discovery and felt like a real scientist. “Over eight weeks, you experience the whole process of research, how your efforts, plans and adjustments on a daily basis play into the larger picture,” he says.

Nancy Peterson, professor of chemistry and coordinator of undergraduate research, says, “Students do all of it. They don’t give up their samples or tasks to someone else to do. They actually run the instruments and do the work themselves and collaborate with others, both faculty and students, working in their field.”  

Monique Feurdean ’14 and Colin Westman ’13, both biology and Spanish majors, worked with Christopher O’Connor, visiting assistant professor of biology, on a project that interested Feurdean, in particular. Since high school, she’s been intrigued by neuroscience. “I jumped at the chance to study how proteins function and neurological development. This experience taught me about techniques and methods of research and helped confirm I don’t want to solely do research, but expand into the field and practice of clinical neuroscience.”

The 38 students who took part in SURC 2012 are Zunara Arif, Mary Blaha, Scott Blaszak, Jill Brunner, Jackie Campbell, Jen Crawford, Michelle DePasquale, Samantha DeWerff, Joel DiBernardo, Rachel DiPietro, Andrew Dubois, Monique Feurdean, Danny Garcia, Valerie Gravelle, Joe Guenther, Tasha Hobbs, Adam Kleinman, Ethan Knowlton, Raymond Koenig, Aaron Langer, Colin Loeffler, Megan Malone, Gianna Medina, Juan Perez Jr., Katy Reese, Carissa Rosine, Matthew Russell, Sara Ruzicka, Mike Schelthoff, Megan Schrock, Sarah Scurto, Cassandra Shaker, Storm Styles, Chelse Sullivan, Aye-Myat-Myat Thinn, Kelsey Vandenberg, Collin Westman and Brandon Wood.

The 12 faculty who worked with the student researchers are Jeffrey Bjorklund, Paul Brandt, Martha Bohrer, Mary Jean Lynch, Stephen Johnston, Christopher O’Connor, Nancy Peterson, Gregory Ruthig, Biswajit Saha, Patricia Schacht, Daniel VanHorn and Jonathan Visick.

Undergraduate research has long been a priority and integral part of a North Central education, resulting in increased numbers of students pursuing independent and collaborative scholarship with faculty and a wider variety of academic fields being represented. For example, the number of students participating in the prestigious National Conference on Undergraduate Research rose from two in 2005 to 45 in 2012 and many more participating in North Central’s annual Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research.