August 24, 2018

SURI: Summer Undergraduate Research Institute

This summer, 19 WCU students worked one-on-one with faculty as they undertook research projects through the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Institute (SURI).

This is the fifth year of the program, during which participants spend five weeks (June 4 through July 6 this year) conducting research and scholarly or creative work full-time (40 hours/week) under the direct supervision of a faculty member. The opportunity is open to all class years (graduating seniors must be accepted to WCU for graduate studies) and students can initiate their own projects or can assist professors with current research. They may extend their study for an additional three weeks and this summer, 12 students chose that option.

From economics to nutrition to social work, the students’ majors were as varied as the specific topics studied.

Junior public health major Alissa Schroeder assisted Chiwoneso Tinago in the latter’s research to improve mental health support for adolescent mothers in Harare, Zimbabwe, which has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Schroeder’s role was to complete a literature review, conduct interviews via phone or internet with mental health providers in Harare, and complete a report on available resources. Schroeder was one of two students Tinago took to the 2017 American Mock World Health Organization (AMWHO) Conference at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

Three juniors won honors for their work.

First prize: Education major Marissa Elizardo examined “Teachers’ Perceptions of Technology's Impact on Lesson Planning and Student Behaviors” with Jacqueline Van Schooneveld, assistant professor of early and middle grades education. In her SURI application, Elizardo noted that there is little research on how technology impacts teachers, so she designed and administered a survey to practicing teachers and conducted interviews with them.

Second prize: Spanish and English major Lisa Patrick translated a story from Spanish to English and suggested, “The response of the reader to the translation of a work should be the same as a [person who reads] the story in the original Spanish.” Under the tutelage of Maria-Eirini Panagiotidou assistant professor of linguistics, Patrick studied “Putting Thought into Translations: Exploring the Role of Cognitive Poetics in Translation Studies.”

Third prize: Aamir Amanullah studied “Understanding Gene Expression in Plant and Human Diseases” with Teresa Donze-Reiner, assistant professor of biology, who collaborates with Dr. Benjamin Reiner at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Amanullah was able to work at WCU and at Penn with both professors on advanced PCR, flow cytometry, next-generation sequencing of human DNA and supercomputer-based bioinformatics. This project, entitled L1 retrotransposons in schizophrenia, is designed help further elucidate the genetic basis for developing schizophrenia.

Experiences such as these that faculty provide through WCU's SURI program enable undergraduates to experience mentoring and even acquire skills equivalent to those traditionally reserved for graduate-level students at research institutions.