Test the Waters

RISE awards help students afford academic and creative opportunities

The U.S. Virgin Islands with their balmy, 70-degree temperatures might be the perfect place to relax during the winter. But for Timmy Songer ’12 and six other Randolph College students enrolled in a new environmental forensics course, the island of St. John was a place to work.

Led by Kathy Schaefer, a biology professor, the group spent a week in December wading in the island’s streams as they collected water in plastic vials. They then tested the samples for E. coli and other bacteria, hoping to discover if those micro-organisms were impacting the coral reefs around the island. “Everybody always tells you to get a job that you like,” Songer said. “If there was any job I would like, it would be going out in nature, exploring, and finding new things.”

The research trip, which Songer and many of his fellow students paid for with grants from the Randolph Innovative Student Experience (RISE) program, offered important field experience. “It means a lot to me because if I didn’t get the RISE award, I wouldn’t be going on this trip,” Songer said.

The College created the RISE program to help students pursue research projects and experiential learning opportunities. Eligible juniors and seniors can receive up to $2,000 to conduct research or pursue other scholarly or creative activities. So far, students have used RISE grants to study abroad; attend conferences; purchase lab equipment, computers, and art supplies; and travel for research.

“This is direct from the College to the student,” said Dennis Stevens, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “We want them to find interesting ways they can learn, and then we want to support those opportunities.”

Adam Eller ’13 used his RISE grant to fund a 24-hour trip on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. He helped a research team collect water and soil samples to test for traces of man-made chemicals. “You can learn about any topic in the classroom. But I don’t think you ever get an understanding of what that career actually would be like until you go out into the field,” he said.

Samantha Wittie ’13 is using her RISE award to take classes at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, this semester. The international experience and the marketing classes she is taking there are helping her prepare for a career in public relations and marketing. “For the school to give money through the RISE program is awesome,” she said. “It makes it much easier to study abroad.”

Stevens said the RISE award is a different way for the College to show its commitment to students. “We really treasure the intellectual and creative growth of our students, and we want to support it any way we can,” he said.