Spring 2013

What's Happening @ Elon

Students, professors cherish relationships built through undergraduate research

Written by: Caitlin O’Donnell ‘13

When Sarah Lentz ’13 arrived at Elon, she never imagined she’d graduate four years later having completed a 70-page, multi-chapter thesis.

“I can’t articulate how awesome it’s been to work on something I love so much my four years at Elon,” she said. “I knew I’d be doing something like this with my time, but never thought I’d be doing it this big and it consuming my life this much, but in a good way.”

Now at the tail end of a multi-year project exploring the intersection of letter writing and masculinity in the works of Jane Austen, the English and Spanish double major said she couldn’t imagine her Elon experience without undergraduate research. And, in turn, without the guidance of her research mentor, English Professor Janet Meyers.

“It’s been amazing to work with Dr. Meyers,” Lentz said. “She’s been a huge inspiration to me and I really look up to her.”

The close working relationship between Meyers and Lentz is no anomaly, but rather characterizes the undergraduate research experience at Elon. While the funding and length of projects differ, all require students to work with a faculty mentor during the completion of their research.

Morgan Gregg ’13 met her mentor, Assistant Biology Professor Yuko Miyamoto, as a first-year student. They first worked together on a presentation for Elon’s Spring’s Undergraduate Research Forum and, from there, the partnership expanded into immunology research that has spanned Gregg’s entire time at Elon.

“I never formally asked her, we just started doing research,” Gregg said. “We established a mutual respect for each other. She’s good about letting me flail around on my own until she knows when I’m past the point of frustration.”

The opportunity to work with students at an individual level is a unique benefit of undergraduate research, Miyamoto said, noting that she only works with two to three students a year.

“In a 20 year career, I will probably only have 40 research students, compared to having 75 students a semester,” she said. “For me, having a research student means that he or she will potentially be one of the 40 total in my lifetime of teaching.”

For the students, research provides a sense of ownership, Miyamoto said.

“Research progress is dependent on the student’s own motivation and desire to get things done, with guidance from the faculty mentor,” she said. “But since the mentor doesn’t do the actual collecting of data, it’s on the shoulders of the student to make it happen.”

Erica Young ’13, who conducted research into the effects of supplement 5HTP, said it was challenging to collect data for her project while balancing work as a full-time student. Under the guidance of Associate Psychology Professor Mat Gendle, Young worked with 80 participants who took the supplement to measure the impact on their executive functions such as planning and decision-making.

And while Young doesn’t plan to pursue research opportunities after graduating from Elon, she said her relationship with Gendle has been foundational to her own professional development and he has been instrumental in her ability to network.

Gendle, who typically works with three to five students each semester, said he treats them the same as he would treat a master’s thesis student during what he describes as a collaborative process.

“There is a huge ownership role,” he said. “What’s great about that, then, is that when they go off to graduate school, they are really well prepared. They don’t have a learning curve.”

For those considering undergraduate research, Lentz’s advice is simple: find a project you’re passionate about and a mentor who will challenge and guide you.

“If you’re not passionate about a research project, you’re not going to be able to sustain yourself through it,” Lentz said. “It’s like dating someone. You’re going to fall in love, then out of love, then back in love again.”

Where to Start?

The university offers numerous opportunities for research, ranging from class projects to the Lumen Prize, as well as multiple means of gaining funding for projects.

“Elon clearly puts a lot of time, money and effort into the undergraduate research experience, which I love,” Gregg said. “So why shouldn’t students take advantage of that?

“It shows that you have independently motivated yourself to put something together and that says a lot about a person’s character and work ethic.”

Admissions Calendar

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Nov. 10

Early Action

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April 11 Explore Elon -- Open House for juniors
April 13 Maroon Monday*
April 17 Phoenix Friday*
April 24-25 Rising Phoenix Weekend (for those accepted under Final Decision plan)


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Visit our website (elon.edu/admissions) to find out more about application deadlines and notification dates.