Dozens of St. Thomas undergraduate students spent their summer months doing hands-on research on an incredibly diverse range of subjects.

St. Thomas’ Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program provides a wide range of grant funding, so students are paid professionals for their work and research. This year, 42 Young Scholars, three community-based researchers and two sustainability scholars from 13 different majors dove deeper into their respective fields.

The Newsroom caught up with a couple of them in their closing weeks of research to find out more about what they studied and how it’s benefiting their academic careers.

Alexandra Morrison

Title: Effects of zebra mussels (Dressena polymorpha) on lake littoral energy dependence and trophic position.

Major: Environmental science/biology

Faculty mentor: Kyle Zimmer, Biology

Grant: Young Scholars

How would you describe what you’re researching this summer?

This summer, I have been studying three different lakes to see how zebra mussels change lake food webs, mainly through energy source dependence and trophic position. The three lakes I am studying are Ida, which has recently been infested with zebra mussels, Carlos, a long time infested lake, and Elk, which does not contain any zebra mussels. Specifically for this study, I am looking to see if the mussels push the lake food web to rely more near shore habitats and ultimately alter the trophic position of key species.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve found so far in your research?

The most interesting thing I’ve found so far in my research is seeing how different infested lakes are in terms of water clarity. Zebra mussels feed on deep water zooplankton, which causes the water to be much clearer than non-infested lakes.

What has been the most valuable part of having funded research be part of your undergraduate experience at St. Thomas?

I have learned so many new things by participating in a funded research project that I would not have learned otherwise. It really provides a hands on approach to learning that you do not always get in the classroom.

What have been the biggest benefits of getting to work closely with an academic advisor like you have this summer? 

One of the biggest benefits to working closely with an academic advisor is being able to get a first hand look at what someone experience in that field is like. I’ve been able to see what the daily work is like and also meet many new people I would not have otherwise.

Kiana Schuchard

Title: The Legacy of Adoption: Investigating the impact of biological children on identity development among transracial, international adoptee parents, and parents’ reflections on their children’s identity development

Major: Neuroscience

Faculty Mentor: Jean Giebenhain, Psychology

Grant: Young Scholars

How would you describe what you’re researching this summer?

I am researching the “the legacy of adoption” by investigating identity development among adolescent and adult children of transracial, international, adoptees. I want to discover the extra layer that being the child of an adopted parent adds to their identity. I am interviewing the children of adoptees in order to learn the impact of a parents’ adoption and racial/ethnic/cultural identity on their identity development. As the child of a transracial international adoptee myself, I find a firm resonance in this project and am excited to uncover the stories of children like myself.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve found so far in your research?

The current understanding of the impact of parents’ adoption on the children of adoptees is virtually non-existent. Much discourse exists in regard to the developmental challenges faced by adoptees during adolescence, but not by their children. My research has revealed the intergenerational effect that adoption has and all of the different realms that are affected: personal and family identity, racial socialization, relationships with extended family and friends, and the impacts of neighborhood, local community and school environments. I look forward to continuing to analyze the content of the interviews to discover what themes emerge, on which we will base recommendations for applications and future research—including common questions and conflicts that may need to be addressed within further research or scenarios involving transracial adoption.

What has been the most valuable part of having funded research be part of your undergraduate experience at St. Thomas?

I have gained rewarding hands-on experience by interviewing and learning the stories of those impacted by adoption. The Young Scholars grant program has given me the funding I need to explore in depth an inquiry I am passionate about that has not yet been researched. Through this experience I have been able to utilize a variety of resources that St. Thomas has to offer that otherwise would not be available to me.

What have been the biggest benefits of getting to work closely with an academic advisor like you have this summer?

My faculty advisor Dr. Giebenhain has been a wonderful mentor and extremely helpful in guiding me throughout the entire process of my research project. She has facilitated my advancement of skills and knowledge within the field of psychology and academia altogether, and has also significantly aided my career interest development. Dr. Giebenhain has provided me with resources and advice that I would not have even known to look for in the first place, so I am excited to continue working with her during my experiences at St. Thomas.

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