Symposium Highlights Research – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Symposium Highlights Research

During Homecoming and Family Weekend, a Student Research Symposium was held to highlight the work of undergraduates who spent the summer working with faculty mentors. This year, more than 60 students from all class years worked with 25 research mentors in the areas of biology, chemistry, geoscience, environmental studies, physics, mathematics and computer science, psychology and sociology. Their research topics were as diverse as ethanol, salamanders and sushi.

“The quality of work from these research students is extraordinary,” said Associate Provost Christine de Denus. “Many of the findings from the work this summer will be presented in the future at national and international meetings or become research publications in peer-reviewed journals.”

The poster “Photos of Religion,” for example, represented work Jocelyn Canty ’14 and Alexandra Welych-Miller ’15 conducted with Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown.

“They did great work coding photographs taken by 25 Guatemala teenagers and 20 U.S teenagers for the presence or absence of religious symbols,” explained Ashdown. “They also transcribed the interviews about the photographs, and translated the Spanish interviews into English. The poster described this process of coding, which took the two of them many hours of hard, detailed work.”

Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Tom Drennen hired Richie Bonney ’14 after observing Bonney’s performance in one of his classes. The poster of their work “Alternative Liquid Transportation Fuels Life Cycle Analysis Tool” was presented at the symposium.

“I pulled Richie into my research and it was mutually beneficial. Richie got to learn some new skills and I got a hard-working summer research student.  I needed to finish a simulation model that compares the economics and environmental tradeoffs of various liquid transportation fuels. Richie quickly got up to speed and we worked side by side to finish the model. I wouldn’t have finished it without his help,” said Drennen.

Bonney agreed. “It gave me a better understanding of environmental impact. I want to go into environmental policy, so having more of a scientific background on these issues is certainly going to help me understand the pragmatic issues of policy.”

The model will be sent to the National Energy Technology Lab, part of the U.S. Department of Energy. “It’s cool to know that an actual lab is going to be examining this work. Hopefully this model will help them in terms of policy-making decisions,” Bonney said.

Shannon Beston ’14 worked with Finger Lakes Institute Research Scientist Susan Flanders Cushman ’98 for the past two summers and is currently completing an Honors project with Cushman analyzing data that she collected this summer. The poster she presented was titled, “A Two Year Study on Blackspot Disease Prevalence, Abundance, and Population Dynamics in the Seneca Lake Watershed.” Beston is studying a parasite that was found in a few minnow species in small streams, and is examining the effects and mechanisms of this small trematode throughout its life cycle.

“Working with Shannon has been a very rewarding experience for me. Over the past two summers, Shannon has demonstrated dedication to her field and lab work as well as a motivation to find answers that I have yet to see in a student,” said Cushman.  “It is amazing to watch the personal, emotional, and intellectual growth in a student who displays a real curiosity in conducting studies in field biology.”

Abigail Gardner P’14 appreciated the opportunity to see the work her son, Sam Knopka ’14, conducted with Assistant Professor of Biology Bradley Cosentino during her visit to campus for Homecoming and Family Weekend. “I think one of the things Hobart has to offer is that it’s a smaller community where students have the opportunity to partake in research and other activities that may not be available at larger universities,” she said.  “To have that one-one collaboration with a professor as an undergrad is just terrific.”

Knopka presented research titled “Spatial distribution of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) along a forest fragmentation gradient at Finger Lakes National Forest.”

“I believe the opportunities he has been presented with on campus will pave the way for his future, whether it’s going to grad school or entering the field,” said his father, James Knopka P’14.

Mekala Bertocci ’14 studied how sushi can be used as a teaching tool in learning about consumption. “Foods have cultural identities and histories,” she explained, citing her research with Luce Environmental Studies Postdoctoral Fellow Robin Lewis and her presentation, “How can we use sushi to teach about the relationship between globalization, commodities, and consumption?” She said the project was inspired by a course on sustainable consumption she took with Lewis.

“We looked at certain foods and how they interact with places all around the world, including here in the U.S., and that sparked my interest to explore more about the topic and see how other foods gain their identity,” explains Bertocci. “Besides eating a lot of sushi, the most rewarding part was being able to have the freedom to do a firsthand investigation into the subject, as opposed to just reading about it. It was very interesting to go back and explore the cultural manifestation of sushi.”

The event was sponsored by the Office of the Provost.

In the photo above, Chad Hecht ’14 explains graphs from his climatological study, which utilized archived radar, weather, and ice cover data sets.