Students, mentors dive deep during Summer Undergraduate Research Experience

More than 50 Elon undergraduates were joined by several from other colleges and universities participated this summer in SURE, one of Elon's signature undergraduate research opportunities. 

Mariatu Okonofua discusses her research project, "In Search of Equality: Identity Formation and Activism Among College-age Women," during SURE. 

More than 50 Elon students on Wednesday showcased their progress pursuing in-depth research during the past two months in the Snow Family Atrium during the main showcase for Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences.

Called SURE, the signature Elon program offers undergraduates and their mentors the opportunity to devote time and resources outside of the main academic year to their research passions. Bolstered by a $3,000 stipend, these students work full-time in collaboration with their faculty mentors on projects that often extend across multiple years and lead to publications and conference presentations. 

David Duncan, a recipient of Elon's Leadership Prize, discusses his research, "The Deportation Threat and its Health Impact on Hispanic Immigrant College Students," during SURE. 
“My research is very important to me,” said Taylor Jones ’19, a public health studies major who is working with Assistant Professor Stephanie Baker on her research. “It’s been such a cool experience to really devote myself to my project, working very close with my mentor, and really make good progress this summer.”

Jones is studying how communications between adolescents, their caregivers and their health care providers are impacting the likelihood they will receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which can help guard against contracting multiple varieties of cancer later in life. Jones, who is originally from Winston-Salem, is focusing specifically on the Latino population, she said, since Latina women experience the highest rates of death from cervical cancers related to HPV. 

This summer, Jones has been making headway on her project by meeting with a variety of community and health care groups in Alamance County to help refine her survey questions to ensure that she is able to effectively explore what types of communications are taking place between these three parties (an adolescent, her parent or caregiver, and her health care provider) to see what factors impact whether the adolescent receives the vaccine. 

She’s also worked with partners at Elon and the community to identify potential candidates for interviews and focus groups, and has begun the fieldwork to collect information by talking with health care providers and adolescents. 

Meara Waxman presented her progress on her research project, "Speak I Must! Historicizing a Feminist Linguistic Analysis of the Bronte Novels," during SURE. 
That type of in-depth work is difficult to accomplish during the main academic year when students are also taking classes and are involved in other community, athletics or social activities, says Meredith Allison, associate professor of psychology and the director of undergraduate research. 

“The idea is that they really should be putting in at least 30 hours a week into their research projects during SURE,” Allison said. “This allows them protected time so they can do the work they need to do to get their research done, as well as to have thinking and writing time. For a student, it’s a unique thing. Normally students are juggling a lot of things.”

Selected through a competitive application process, SURE students began their work on May 30, and for most, that work doesn’t conclude with Wednesday’s poster sessions. SURE is often an opportunity to further research projects that are the foundations for honors theses or Lumen Prize research that will continue throughout a student’s senior year. Allison said some students apply to participate in SURE after their sophomore years, which opens up the opportunity to participate in SURE during two consecutive summers. 

Michae Dryzer discusses his work on his project, "Exploring the Effectiveness of Non-Thermal Eletroporation on Deactivating C. elegans Eggs in Wastewater," during SURE. 
As SURE participants, students are also expected to also present during SURF — Elon’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum that brings together more than 200 students from around campus and across disciplines to present their research work. Most SURE participants are working toward the publication of articles in academic journals or presentations at academic conferences. 

“This is such a good opportunity to move their projects forward,” Allison said. 

Unique this year was the participation of students from other colleges and universities. Funded by a grant from the National Security Agency, Associate Professor of Mathematics Chad Awtrey and Sebastian Pauli of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro have been leading a team of nine students from different schools that is focused on computational research on local fields and Galois groups, a research focus for Awtrey. 

Groups of these students participated alongside Elon students during Wednesday’s poster sessions, and Awtrey said the work they have done this summer has “pushed the frontiers.”

“These students have made fundamental contributions to the field,” Awtrey said. 

SURE also presents the opportunity for faculty members to focus more intently on their mentorship relationships, as they often have more time during the summer to devote to guiding the work of mentees and collaborating with them on their projects.

Glenn Scott, associate professor of communications, has worked often with students on undergraduate research and is participating in SURE for the first time this summer. He’s worked with Deirdre Kronschnabel ’19, a journalism major who is examining the interview relationships between journalists and victims of trauma they feature in their work. “Being able to interview those who are normally doing the interviewing creates a really interesting experience,” Kronschnabel said. 

Scott said the time and energy Kronschnabel has been able to devote to her research this summer are invaluable as it is the backbone of her honors thesis. As a mentor, having the opportunity to spend more time with a student to help advance their work is very rewarding, he said. 

“The summer program really gives them pure thinking and doing time when they can make research their number one priority,” Scott said. “I love classroom teaching, I love time in the classroom, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to put that on a shelf and devote yourself to this kind of collaboration.”

Across Snow Atrium, Carter Martin ’20, a sport management major, was explaining the work he is doing looking at how sports betting might migrate to sports broadcasts following recent court decisions reducing regulation. Martin said he’s had ample opportunity this summer to seek the guidance of his mentor, Associate Professor of Sport Management Tony Weaver, as he’s been developing a platform to collect data from sports fans about how they might interact with betting through sports broadcasts. 

“It’s been so great to be able to have that one-on-one experience this summer to really push my research forward,” Martin said.