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

Symposium Highlights Student Research

From facial representation masks and the history of race relations in St. Louis, to quantum mechanics, cancer-cell research and everything in between, more than 50 students presented at this year’s Student Research Symposium on Saturday, Oct. 3.  As one of Homecoming and Family Weekend’s annual events, the Symposium allows students, families and alums to explore the high-caliber research performed at the Colleges.

“(The Symposium) is a unique opportunity for students to share their research experiences with other students and the larger community,” said Associate Provost and Associate Professor of Chemistry Christine R. de Denus, who helped organize the event. “It’s unique because most undergraduates never get the opportunity to present their work.  It is good practice for the students and it also is a chance for them to showcase, especially for their families and other students, the quality of work that gets done at HWS.”

About 350 people circulated through the Vandervort Room in the Scandling Campus Center during the event, as students discussed their posters and research.

“I have to be able to present my project to people who aren’t necessarily science-oriented. Since I want to go into biochemistry in the future it’s a great experience to interact with people about my research,” said Fatima Saravia ’16, a biochemistry major, while presenting her project, “Examining the Function of Unique Bacterial Chemotaxis Residues.”.  Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Biology Patricia Mowery, Saravia examined chemotactic behavior in E. Coli, looking at how the bacteria moves in response to chemical stimulus.

Since its inception in 1987, the Colleges’ Undergraduate Summer Research Program has supported summer scholars like Saravia, who work side-by-side with faculty research mentors to gain laboratory experience and receive guidance from experienced faculty members. The program supports student research in the sciences and social sciences, allowing for a wide academic range of research opportunities. This year, 70 students conducted summer research with 26 faculty members. Many students support faculty publications, while others contribute to national research efforts or have the opportunity to implement community-based research in the Finger Lakes Region.

Adonis Cruz ’16, for example, worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller to conduct anti-cancer research. Cruz explained that his research, titled “Solid-Phase Total Synthesis of Cysteine-containing, Depsipeptide Natural Products and Analogs,” focuses on making anti-cancer compounds by changing the structure of FK-228, a drug used to treat T-Cell Lymphoma, to see how it affects cancer differently.

“It’s really wonderful and there’s such a huge gamut of topics,” said Elana Gitter ’85, P’16, whose daughter, Joy Gitter ’16 presented her research at the Symposium. “The research goes from wage discrepancy to chemistry that I can’t even understand, but it’s very impressive. The kids do really great things at this school.”

Under the mentorship of Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Jack Harris, Joy Gitter worked with a student from Skidmore College to create a comprehensive database of 465 human rights organizations throughout central and northern New York. In addition to the database, they also created a map as well as a narrative of the history of the human rights issues throughout the region. Funded by the NY6 Liberal Arts Consortium, the research group is currently working to make the database available to the public.

Sustainability in the local community and across the Finger Lakes region was also a focus of many student research projects. Several, such as Garret Crowe ’16 and Alex Vitulano ’16, partnered with the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) to contribute to local sustainability efforts. Crowe presented on his work as a data manager and outreach assistant with FLI Watercraft Stewards Program this summer, while Vitulano discussed her work on two local projects – reuse of the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, N.Y., and the addition of ice-climbing at the falls in Ithaca, N.Y. – as the Finger Lakes economic development intern.

“You can spend your entire summer researching something, but the first time you talk through it, you learn what the limitations of your research are. It’s important because you have to be vulnerable and you have to be able to fail and persevere,” said Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis, who collaborated with several research students over the summer.