Summer Scholars—all year long

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It feels a bit like a lab experiment, from a mouse perspective. In Curtis Veggie, the partitions rise maze-like, almost to the ceiling. The aisles are crowded with milling students and faculty. You turn, and turn, the passages winding around, with an occasional dead-end, until finally you come to an exit. And there you find waiting for you … food.

Happily, it’s not a lab experiment. (And you’re not a mouse.) What you’re walking around is one of the poster presentations by the Summer Scholars.

There were three such events during August and September, one each for Science; Humanities and Social Science; and Creative Writing and Fine Arts. The arrays of posters in Curtis Veggie for the first two, and the presentation hour at Mulberry House for the last, were open to all students, faculty, and staff.  The attendees learned from the Summer Scholars, who were there to explain their work, but perhaps more importantly—the Scholars themselves were learning by going through the process of explaining their research. (The food part, which is always important, was lunch for all comers, sponsored by Denison’s Gilpatrick Center and Anderson Research Fund.)

As the name implies, Summer Scholars do their original research during the summer for 10 weeks, working in close collaboration with a faculty research advisor. This year, 122 students participated. They received a stipend and housing, along with the personalized insights and assistance of their faculty mentors and the sort of research experience that is usually reserved for graduate-level students.

“We embarked on this journey of learning about it together,” said Beth Neville ’13 about her study of the Newark Earthworks under the guidance of Jonathan Moore, assistant professor of religion. Her focus was “public interest and preservation” in the local community. One of the ways Neville, a religious studies and sociology/anthropology major from St. Louis, researched her topic was to survey local public school teachers on how they teach about the Earthworks in secondary-level classrooms.

Others took faculty research and pushed the envelope in new directions, using the data already gathered by researchers like Tom Bressoud, associate professor of computer science. Jared Gray ’14, a math and compter science major from Delaware, Ohio, took on MapReduce, a program invented by Google in 2004 that lets many computers in multiple locations work on the same problem. Dr. Bressoud’s research on how this program can continue to work when some of the computers break down was developed in some very specific areas by Gray, all of which he says “is how we get your search results in .30 seconds instead of .36 seconds.”

Every tenth of a second counts, you know.

It’s a great opportunity for students—this focused period of research, creativity and collaboration. And the presentation of their work deepens the experience. “These students find they learned things they didn’t even realize they knew as they answer questions from their peers and from other interested faculty,” noted Cookie Sunkle of the Gilpatrick Center.

In addition to the poster sessions and performance presentations, the Science@Denison Visualiation Gallery grows out of ongoing research and the often serendipitous imagery that comes as projects are pursued. Sometimes the images have direct implications for research, and many times they’re just plain cool to see.

So while it may be a summer program, the process actually begins in the previous winter and spring, with applications and proposals (and finding the right match of projects and faculty advisors and endowed funding), then it continues through the summer and into the fall, as students present their results in a poster or talk. And many of these go on to become senior research and honors projects.

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