Research on FYRE

June 12, 2017 by Greg Katski

A group of first-year and transfer students at Missouri University of Science and Technology got their first research experience during the spring 2017 semester thanks to a new program funded and sponsored by the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business.

The program is tied to Missouri S&T’s experiential learning initiative, which requires every student to be involved in some sort of applied or hands-on learning, from joining a design team to studying abroad.

In its inaugural iteration, the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) program paired nine faculty mentors with nine students in an apprentice-style research partnership.

Dr. Kate Drowne, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business expects the number of students and faculty research advisors participating in the program to jump to 20 in 2018.

The inaugural group of participating students and faculty included:

  • Lauren Steele, a history major, who completed a research project called “Monologues of Women in STEM prior to 1950.” Her advisor was Dr. Jeanne Stanley, associate professor of arts, languages, and philosophy.

    Steele’s project involved researching women who were active in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields prior to the 1950s and writing about them in the form of a play monologue. Steele’s monologues will be included in Stanley’s original play, The S.T.E.M. Monologues, to be performed at Leach Theatre in November.

    “Lauren is an outstanding researcher,” Stanley says. “I believe that Lauren learned to give her research an imaginative ‘voice’ in the monologues. I was thrilled to work with her.”

  • Taylor McNamee, a sophomore English major from Licking, Missouri, who is in the midst of a research project called “Cultural and Linguistic Variation on Campus: Developing a Language Attitudes Survey.” Her advisor is Dr. Sarah Hercula, assistant professor of English and technical communication.

    McNamee is developing a language attitude survey to be administered to students, faculty and staff on campus during the fall 2017 semester. Survey participants will listen to audio examples of linguistic data and answer questions about their perceptions of the recorded speakers.

    “The FYRE Program was a fantastic experience for me, and I hope it continues to be successful in the future,” McNamee says. “It truly is a wonderful way to get students early into the field of research while being under the tutelage of a mentor.”
  • Sarah Skinner, a physics major, who completed a research project called “Construction of Scanning Tunneling Microscope.” Her advisor was Dr. Yew San Hor, assistant professor of physics.

    Skinner learned how to construct a home-built scanning tunneling microscope and used it to produce images of objects that can not be seen with the naked eye. She gained research experience in obtaining surface topography, characterizing surface structure and analyzing experimental results.

  • Emily King, a sophomore chemistry major from Perryville, Missouri, who conducted a research project with Dr. Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of chemistry and associate dean for research and external relations in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business.

    King learned about the mechanisms of Ma’s proprietary P-Scan instrument. The P-Scan is a fast, point-of-care method for checking urine samples for biomarkers of the protein pteridine. Ma’s research shows that higher levels of certain pteridine metabolites occur in urine samples from women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

    “When I first saw the P-Scan I remember being amazed at how much potential this relatively small instrument had in saving lives,” King says. “The opportunity that I was given through the FYRE program to optimize this method of urine analysis gave me a passion for urine that I never imagined in a field I had never heard of. When I began college last fall, I did not expect to have the chance to possibly affect thousands of people.

    “I feel that I was driven to want to work with Dr. Ma because of a moral obligation to make the world a better place,” King says. “I've had a friend and a grandmother pass because of their battles with cancer and I've always felt that there has to be a more proactive way to battle cancer on a large scale. When Dr. Ma came to my Intro to Chemistry class and gave an overview of his research, I knew that I had to find a way to become a part of it.”
  • Samantha Cottrell, a sophomore psychology major from Steeleville, Missouri, who conducted three research projects with the collective goal of understanding student experiences at S&T. Her advisor was Dr. Jessica Cundiff, assistant professor of psychological science.

    Cottrell’s first project was focused on creating a survey to examine student experiences with gender bias. Her second project involved analyzing written responses from students about their concerns when they first came to S&T.

    “We learned that most students enter S&T with concerns about belonging and fitting in and about succeeding academically, but that these concerns fade over time,” Cundiff says.

    Cottrell finished the semester by analyzing written responses from students about their experiences with student organizations.

    “We found that students are more likely to join organizations that make them feel welcome, and that provide professional development and skills-building and resume-building,” Cundiff says. “This information will be used to design a workshop for student leaders on campus so they can learn how to better recruit students to join their organizations.

    “Samantha played an integral role in coding and analyzing the written responses, and synthesizing the data into meaningful conclusions and recommendations that can be used on campus,” Cundiff says. “I am very impressed and proud of her efforts and accomplishments as a FYRE student.”

  • Sara Johnson, a sophomore psychology major from St. Louis, Missouri, who did a research project called “Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Academic Integrity.” Her advisor was Dr. Amber Henslee, assistant professor of psychological science.

    Johnson’s research involved a literature search of academic integrity among college students and was part of a larger study investigating academic integrity among freshman engineering students at S&T by Henslee and Dr. Gayla Olbricht, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics.

    Johnson learned how to conduct a literature review of scientific psychological research and how to begin technical writing of a professional manuscript.

    “The FYRE program was a great experience for me,” says Johnson. “I learned so much from Dr. Henslee and was afforded opportunities I could not have imagined just a few short months ago.”

    “I thought the FYRE program was a big success,” Henslee says. “I could not have been more pleased with Sara.”

  • Libbie DeStefano, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Diamondhead, Mississippi, who did a research project titled “The 2016 Presidential Campaign: Understanding Constructs of Gender and ‘Outsider’ in a National Campaign.” Her advisor was Terry Robertson, associate teaching professor of speech and media studies.

    DeStefano used quantitative content analysis to explore advertisements from the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns, studying differences in style, content, design, visual effects, aggressiveness and character issues.

    She helped in the creation of an advertising database used to review and code the ads and a content analysis coding instrument and coding book used in the research. She also helped to compile the data set used in the analysis. DeStefano hopes to have a research paper based on the data written by the end of the fall 2017 semester.

    “I learned just how much of an influence politicians and their behaviors have on everyone else, which is something I had not entirely considered because I have always been a more technical person,” DeStafano says.

    “Libbie was simply outstanding as a young research assistant,” Robertson says. “I feel like we learned much about the media's influence on the election, as well as the image the candidates wanted to create about themselves. Libbie was an incredible asset to the project. Simply stated, I couldn't have done it without her.”

    DeStafano says she chose to work with Robertson after taking his public speaking course.

    “His enthusiasm for the research is what led me to want to join him,” she says. “He was a wonderful, dedicated professor and I knew that would translate well for the research project.”

  • Isabelle Kersting, a junior English major from Flint Hill, Missouri, who did a research project called “Generic Mutation in the Eighteenth Century.” Her advisor was Dr. Rachel Schneider, assistant teaching professor of English.

    Kersting did a distant reading—a data-driven approach to look at large masses of texts to identify trends—of the literary subgenre of the print fragment in the 18th century. Literary fragments are works inadvertently left unfinished or never completed by their authors. Kersting collaborated with Schneider, building a database around relevant texts, generating mapping strategies and learning how to use the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).

    She learned about the intersection between literary studies and the broader field of digital humanities, says Schneider.

  • Molly Baker, a psychology major, who did a research project titled “Objective Detection of Sleepiness Using Physiologic Measures.” Her advisor was Dr. Matt Thimgan, assistant professor of biological sciences.

    Baker helped Thimgan and his research team develop a simple, objective and inexpensive metric to assess human sleepiness in workplace settings. She also helped Thimgan administer a sleep study of 10 subjects. The subjects were asked to complete a survey, cognitive tasks and physiologic activities twice a day, twice a week.