A decade ago, the College’s Summer Research Program kicked off its inaugural year with just eight faculty members and 11 students. Today, the program represents a broad range of disciplines and is attracting a growing number of participants.
During the 2010 program this summer, 20 students worked with 17 faculty members on projects ranging from cataloging historic architecture in Lynchburg to creating a plan to reduce the College’s greenhouse gases. The result was an eight-week program that provided students and faculty with the opportunity to focus on research and share methodologies and results with the entire College community.
“One of the biggest benefits of the Summer Research Program is the opportunity it presents to bring all of these people together from different disciplines,” said Peter Sheldon, physics professor and director of the program. “Everyone is able to share not just their results, but how they do research in a close community setting.”
Student and faculty research projects are selected through a competitive proposal process. During the program, which was established through a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, students work one-on-one with professors in active laboratory and field studies, and receive housing and a stipend for their work.
Special seminars with guest speakers enrich the learning experience, and students share the progress of their research through casual forums and more formal oral presentations at the end of the session.
For Nick Marshall ’11, summer research was an opportunity to learn more about the historic architecture surrounding the College.
Rivermont Avenue, on which Randolph College is located, was designated Lynchburg’s largest historic district in 2003 by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“This project allowed me to step back and realize how amazing the district is,” Marshall said. “I gained a better appreciation of both the College and where it’s situated in Lynchburg.”
Gerry Sherayko, a Randolph history professor, is Marshall’s faculty mentor and president of Friends of Rivermont, a community organization dedicated to preserving the district’s history. The research conducted by Sherayko and Marshall this summer is helping create the first comprehensive record of the history of the district. They researched and categorized the area’s structures and the people who lived, worked, studied, and worshipped in them.
The majority of the original homes and buildings remain standing, largely unaffected by recent development.
“It’s amazing how many of these buildings are still here from pre-World War II,” said Sherayko.
Marshall, a history major, said architecture has always interested him. “As someone with an ‘historical’ mind, I view structures as necessary pieces of the historical record that represent a lasting statement of the people who built them and of the people who used them,” he said.
Sherayko said the project will significantly expand Marshall’s experience as an historian. “By working with primary and archival sources, and engaging with the public, Nick is honing his history research skills, which will better prepare him for his senior research and for his career after graduation,” he said.
Qingping Yu ’13 and Tatiana Gilstrap
When most people think of earthquakes in the United States, the West Coast typically comes to mind. Earthquakes are not frequent in Virginia, but they do happen. Using Randolph College’s own seismograph, Tatiana Gilstrap, an environmental science professor, and Qingping Yu ’13 began investigating alternative methods for identifying and locating local seismic events this summer. Their research is the first step in a larger study.
“I have been interested in earthquake engineering and geophysics since I was in high school,” said Yu. “I am really curious about the science of earthquakes.”
The pair worked with semblance analysis to study the microseismicity of Central Virginia. They used the seismograph at Randolph’s Riding Center, one of a number of seismic stations throughout the state operated by Virginia Tech.
For decades, the College’s music department has sponsored performances by students, faculty, and guest artists. The events were recorded on reel-to-reel tape and stored in the Lipscomb Library. Some of 200 plus tapes are nearly half a century old, and their sound quality is degrading. Under the guidance of Randall Speer, a Randolph music professor, Christine Gnieski ’13 and Karl Speer ’12 are cataloging the performances, digitizing them, and converting them to compact discs.
This is the second year of the painstaking project. Ultimately, the performances will be made available to the community at large through an online library catalog.
“This project bears considerable significance in preserving primary historical data related to the musical heritage of this institution,” said Randall Speer. “When these materials become available to students and faculty, we will have a very valuable resource, unique to this institution.”
His students agree. Gnieski found it intriguing to listen to the tapes and to relate to what students were experiencing decades ago, while Karl Speer enjoyed the span of music. “To be able to go through the music produced at this College, to hear that evolution, that growth, is a wonderful thing,” he said.
When the College became the first school in Virginia to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2006, the institution agreed to create a plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses and ultimately approach “climate neutrality.” A student’s work is now moving the College closer to that goal.
“I’m very passionate about the environment,” said Ludovic Lemaitre ’11, who is working to develop the plan with Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies. “Such research will benefit me because the environmental field is getting larger and more competitive every day, but a climate action plan is something very unique and valuable for a college student.”
A climate action plan is a detailed description of strategies that an institution plans to use to reduce direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. The emissions result from a range of common activities on a college campus, like travel, laboratory activities, and landscaping. Climate neutrality is a long-term goal that is attained only after several decades of using a range of planned mitigation strategies.
Warren said Lemaitre’s work on the plan will give him valuable experience in sustainability planning and make him proficient in a number of practical skills, including energy analysis, data compilation and presentation, communication, writing, and creative collaboration.
Using science to understand cryptology was the focus of summer research for Thawda Aung ’13 and Yesem Kurt, a Randolph mathematics professor. The duo used the software program Mathematica to look at cryptology, the study and practice of hiding information. Aung researched how common ciphers were encrypted, how to break their codes, and methods for better encrypting information so that only those with the key can decode the messages.
“I was fascinated with the subject,” Aung said. “It blends together many theories from math and computer science.”
Aung’s calculus, physics, and graph theory courses helped him understand some concepts in cryptology related to math, such as linear algebra and how algorithms work.
“The Summer Research Program is a great opportunity to teach students about one of the most relevant and recent applications of mathematics and to better prepare students for a career in academia,” Kurt said. “Thawda is an outstanding student who is determined to study mathematics and physics. I strongly encourage him to do so because with his enthusiasm, diligence, and talent, I am confident he will be a successful scientist or mathematician.”
Lynchburg, like other localities in Virginia, is prohibited by state restrictions from expanding city limits beyond the current 50-square mile footprint. So city officials are taking stock of vacant land in the city to determine the best future use. During this year’s Summer Research Program at Randolph College, Louise Searle ’12 and Erinn Sudol ’12 worked on a research project that provided city officials with information that will help them make land-use decisions. The two juniors worked on the project with their Randolph faculty mentor, Rick Barnes, a psychology and environmental studies professor. He is also a member of the Lynchburg Planning Commission.
“The city’s planning office has already started a vacant land analysis,” said Barnes. “They’re looking at it from a development perspective: which of these properties would be appropriate to direct a developer to build something on so the city can increase city tax revenue. We’re looking at it more from an ecology perspective, in terms of conservation of green space within the city. We’re providing information that will help the city make a decision about the appropriate mix between developed areas and natural areas in the city.”
The students used data from the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze Lynchburg’s vacant land layout and apply principles of conservation development. Their secondary aim was to develop a tool for urban ecosystem planning that can be applied in other small and medium-sized cities.
Barnes said Searle and Sudol gained valuable experience in collecting and analyzing data to support local land use decisions. By working closely with city staff and local landowners and developers, they gained a greater understanding of the functions of city government and the relationship between local government and private landowners.
“I’m interested in the relationship between environmental quality and quality of life, and so many factors that affect quality of life are determined by development,” said Searle, who is creating her own self-designed major in sustainable communities.
Sudol, a psychology major with an interest in environmental conservation, was drawn to the project because it incorporates both of those interests. “I hope to better understand what I would like my focus of study to be as well as to gain valuable research skills,” she said.
Julianna Joyce ’13, a communication studies major, worked this summer with Jennifer Gauthier, a communication studies professor, on Gauthier’s extensive examination of the representation of indigenous people in films made by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), which was created in 1939.
Gauthier’s hope is that her research results can be formatted into a book project that will be accepted by a publisher in the field of Canadian and Native studies.
Her research indicates that some of the NFB’s early documentary films about Canada’s indigenous peoples that were made by non-natives tended to reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate myths. After the creation of the Indian Film Unit in 1960, native filmmakers began to make their own films and tell their own stories. The goal of Gauthier’s project is to map the changes in cinematic representations of First Nations people over the last 70 years, paying particular attention to why the changes have occurred and what significance they have for indigenous peoples and their culture.
It was an opportunity for Joyce, who had little knowledge of documentary films, to immerse herself in how such films are made and the manner in which the subject matter is presented.
“This project offers Julie a unique opportunity to expand her film knowledge,” Gauthier said. She credits Joyce with having a keen eye for visual insights and great potential as a film scholar.
“I have an insatiable love for film, every aspect of it,” said Joyce, “and being able to reach a deeper understanding of the film’s meaning and then communicate my ideas and findings with those who also have a love of film truly enlivens me.”
Jerry Wells ’12, a double major in creative writing and psychology, blended his academic interests this summer while working on a number of writing projects with Beth Schwartz, a professor of psychology and assistant dean of the College. Schwartz has been involved in ongoing research related to teaching and learning methods.
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is considered one of the most energizing areas of research in the field of higher education. Wells participated in the College’s Summer Research program by contributing writing, editing and research work on four of Schwartz’s SoTL writing projects.
The projects include:
“I am confident that Jerry will gain a great deal from his involvement in the writing, editing, and developing processes involved in the publication of these books and chapters,” Schwartz said.
Writing in the field of psychology is a career option that intrigues Wells. “I could see myself entering that field in the future,” he said. “I have always considered it an impressive feat to publish work in general.”
Rosha Poudyal ’11, a biology and math major, worked with faculty mentor Kurt Seidman, a professor of chemistry, on an ongoing summer research project to better understand the nature of byproducts of peroxynitrite chemistry that may be responsible for causing oxidative damage in host organisms.
Peroxynitrite is considered to be an important microbial agent generated by phagocytic cells associated with host defense. The uncontrolled formation of peroxynitrite acts as a biological toxin that reacts with a variety of biological compounds.
Poudyal’s research involved computerized theoretical calculations. “That’s an advantage in a sense,” Seidman said, “because you can model things with a computer and quantum mechanics that you can’t do in a laboratory.”
“Oxidative damage can harm your body, so if we know exactly how it works, or what mechanisms it goes through, we can try and prevent it,” Poudyal said. “We’re looking at different mechanisms and energy changes.”
Math majors Guan Wang ’11 and Richard Coultas ’11 spent the summer exploring new insights into the non-repetitive nature of state graphs and integer sequences.
“It’s pattern analysis, and I like looking at patterns,” said Coultas. “This is giving me an opportunity to work in my field.”
Wang, who is a double major in math and economics, said he is “particularly interested in this subject because it’s a relatively new branch of math. I’m hoping to find something new.”
That is certainly a possibility, according to the students’ faculty mentor, Marc Ordower, an associate professor of mathematics at Randolph. “The fact that this subject is relatively new, certainly less than 50 years old, means that it doesn’t carry a lot of conceptual baggage,” he said. “Two really sharp undergraduates have as a good a chance at discovering something original as a graduate student or a professional mathematician.”
The project was composed of two closely related problems: isolating the properties of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, which results in the non-repetitive nature of the shortest paths between states; and attempting to strengthen the notion of non-repetitiveness to apply to block sums of integer sequences. The students combined computer experimentation along with a pencil-and-paper approach to conduct their research.
“It’s exciting to be able to explore something new, to find out some interesting results that no one did before,” said Wang. “I did not know an undergraduate student could have such an opportunity until I learned about Randolph’s Summer Research Program.”
Since she was in high school, Lindsay Wood ’11 has been interested in the religious portrayal of women in Christianity.
Wood, who is a double major in religious studies and biology, expanded on that interest this summer by undertaking a feminist-critical analysis of the 2nd century, apocryphal text, the Acts of Thecla. The work recounts the experience of a young Iconian aristocrat, Thecla, who rejects the patriarchal household in favor of an ascetic Christian lifestyle. Twice, she miraculously escapes martyrdom in the gladiatorial arena. Climactically, she baptizes herself and, with the blessing of St. Paul, takes up an apostolic commission in Asia Minor.
Wood is also studying ancient Greek at Randolph, which helped her interpret the text of Thecla in its original language. “I am interested in further analyzing the text, in addition to other texts, to look at the gender construction of women and to examine whether or not they were sources of empowerment for women,” she said.
Wood worked on the research project with faculty mentor Gordon Steffey, a religious studies professor. “While scholarly study of the Theclan traditions is a burgeoning field, much remains to be done,” he said.
Wood also sought to complete a research paper for submission to a refereed or peer-review journal for undergraduate research in religious studies.
“I hope to get more experience doing feminist reconstruction,” said Wood. “I want to go on to study this kind of thing in graduate school.”
Anneka Freeman ’11 first became interested in eco-poetry as she sought to express her feelings about the increasing amount of development around her once rural home. “Poetry helped me verbalize and address a helpless frustration with the changes I had no ability to stop,” she said.
This summer, Freeman, a creative writing and political science major, helped Laura-Gray Street, an assistant professor of English at Randolph, finalize the manuscript of a collection of poems with the working title Earth’s Body: An Ecopoetry Anthology. It includes poems by 20 th and 21 st century American poets who share a range of environmental and ecological concerns. Street is co-editing the manuscript with Ann Fisher-Wirth, a professor of English at the University of Mississippi. This summer, Freeman helped Street organize the final poetry selections, obtain copyrights, write introductory material, and perform other duties to prepare the manuscript to send to the publisher by the end of the year.
“Annie gained hands-on experience with the process and products of real-world publication with an outstanding academic press that will be invaluable to her as she moves into the working world in her particular areas of interest,” said Street.
Freeman considers herself primarily a prose writer, but turned to poetry as a way to express her concerns and frustrations about pollution, development, and environmental destruction.
“I have always held a special place in my heart for nature poetry, and indeed for ecopoetry, though I did not have a name for it at that time,” Freeman said.
Kathleen Conti ’11 spent the fall of 2009 studying abroad at Moscow University. That experience led to her 2010 Summer Research Project on the Russian Federation government’s timing and purpose of using collective memory literature to portray former Russian leader Joseph Stalin as a heroic figure in modern-day Russian society.
Conti is a global studies and history major. Her research examines this re-Stalinization effort under the leadership of current Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and former President Vladimir Putin. Mari Ishibashi, an associate professor of history, served as Conti’s faculty mentor.
“We examined why and how such memory matters in politics and what forms of mnemonic practices are being utilized in altering the previously accepted official memory to something new,” said Ishibashi. “It is our argument that Putin and Medvedev deemed it necessary to selectively remember the ‘achievements’ of Stalin in order to revive the grand Soviet legacy, bolster nationalism ,and specifically justify their non-democratic methods of governance in Russia.”
Conti and Ishibashi note in their research how Stalin’s images have been appearing on souvenirs designed for younger generations, and that he was ranked as the third most popular Russian in a nationwide poll taken in 2008. Another effort to preserve Stalin’s memory occurred in 2009 at the Kurskaya metro station in Moscow, one of the busiest stations in the world. An inscription honoring Stalin that had been removed decades ago was put back in place as part of a renovation of the train station.
“The most important thing for Kathleen in this project is to learn about each step involved in the political science research methodology with an emphasis on case study via qualitative analysis,” said Ishibashi.
Conti believes the research is important because it examines the rapid changes in Russian government and society concerning their view of history.
“This research allows me to utilize the knowledge I have gained through my education at the College, successfully employing my majors of global studies and history,” she said.
Peter Sheldon, Courtney Collier ’12, Meredith Humphreys ’12, and Peggy Schimmoeller
When the College’s Summer Research Program debuted a decade ago, one of the initial projects focused on a program to motivate teachers and students in math and science. Ten years later, the project remains. This summer, 60 local elementary and middle school teachers came to campus to take part in hands-on training in how to excite their students with new, more interactive teaching approaches.
The Science and Math Links: Research Based Teaching Institute was bolstered by a $120,000 grant from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The grant is designed to help local school systems meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
Peter Sheldon is a Randolph physics professor and head of the Summer Research Program. He and Peggy Schimmoeller, an education professor, worked with Courtney Collier ’12 and Meredith Humphreys ’12 to teach hands-on instructional techniques that are effective in improving students’ achievements to local teachers. The p articipating teachers practiced the techniques during the week-long institute.
“I understand the importance of having hands-on, fun activities in a classroom at an early age,” said Collier. “I am excited to work to help make this happen in more public school classes.”
Humphreys, an education major, wants to be a teacher and make science fun for students. “This will give me information to make science a more enjoyable subject for myself as a teacher as well as fellow teachers,” she said.
Other Randolph faculty that participated in the project included Tatiana Gilstrap, assistant professor of environmental science and physics, Yesem Kurt, assistant professor of math, and Kathy Schaeffer, an associate professor of biology. Woody McKenzie, an associate professor of education at Lynchburg College, also participated in the project-directing team.
“The participating teachers overwhelmingly had positive things to say about the hands-on activities and about the Randolph faculty,” said Sheldon. “The teachers remained engaged for the week, and most look forward to coming back next year. The overwhelming sentiment was that this hands-on institute was unlike most others since we actually experienced activities throughout the week, and the teachers found this a worthwhile way to learn. This is exactly what we are trying to pass on to them to use in their classrooms.”
Making things glow can be fun and interesting. But it can also lead to important discoveries on how to detect the amount of oxygen that is present in a range of applications.
“Oxygen measurements are something that people are very interested in,” said Bill Bare, an associate professor of chemistry. He served as a faculty mentor for Poojan Pyakurel ’11 as she worked to uncover ways to improve the techniques for using luminescent compounds.
When a compound absorbs a photon, the amount of energy in the compound increases. When that energy level decreases, it emits a photon, which glows. Bare describes the effect of the increased energy as putting the luminescent compound in an excited state.
“The interesting property is, while they are in that excited state, they can interact with other things,” Bare said of the compounds. “They can interact with the solution that they’re in. They can interact with biological molecules. The way they interact during that period impacts the photon that they re-emit. So when you excite them, they might in one solvent re-emit blue light and in a different solvent re-emit red light. You can tell things about the solvent properties based on the color of the light.”
The compounds can also be used to detect oxygen. “Oxygen tends to interact with that excited state in a way that it quenches it, causing it not to emit light. If there’s no oxygen around, it will emit a lot of photons and appear very bright,” said Bare. “But if there’s a little bit of oxygen around, it gets quenched. The compound emits fewer photons, and the light you see is a bit dimmer.”
In the last 10 to 20 years, applications for luminescent sensing have been developed for measuring oxygen in the air, on surfaces and even in intravenous samples, noted Bare. Typical testing methods involved dissolving the luminescent molecules in a variety of solutions. But the test probe and solutions couldn’t be reused. Pyakurel’s project focused on researching new testing methods using silicon dioxide polymers and fiber optics to create test materials that can be used over and over again
“I really like working in a lab,” said Pyakurel, who is majoring in chemistry. “It’s pretty interesting, and I think I would like to continue it, if I can conduct similar research for graduate school.”
Mexican author Juan Rulfo published only 300 pages of fiction while he was alive, yet he is considered one of the most revered Latin American writers of the 20 th century. Lis Chacon ’13, who plans to major in Spanish, examined the themes in Rulfo’s highly-praised novel and collection of short stories. She worked with faculty mentor Chet Halka, a professor of romance languages, during the Summer Research Program. It was as much an opportunity for Chacon to learn some research and scholarly writing skills from Halka as it was an exploration into Rulfo’s work and its cultural impact, she said.
Rulfo has been the subject of critical praise since his works were published in the 1950s. “Although he only wrote 300 pages, there are probably 300,000 pages of criticism out there,” said Halka.
Rulfo’s book of shorts stories , El Llano en llamas, which was translated into English as The Burning Plain and other Stories, was published in 1953. The stories are centered on the harsh life in rural Mexico around the time of the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero Rebellion.
“His life was very much like the lives of the people that he wrote about so well,” Chacon said of Rulfo, who by the time he was 10-years old, was an orphan.
Rulfo’s short novel, Pedro Páramo was published in 1955 and is about a man who discovers he is in a ghost town after traveling to his recently deceased mother's hometown. Noble Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez said the book, which has been described as magical realism, was influential to restoring his creativity when he was going through a period of being unable to write in the 1960s.
“The novel that this fellow has written was very experimental for its time,” Halka said.
Cryptology with Mathematics
Thawda Aung ’13 and Yesem Kurt, assistant professor of mathematics
Science and Math Links: Research- Based Teaching Institute
Courtney Collier ’12, Meredith Humphreys ’12, Peter Sheldon, professor of physics and astronomy, and Peggy Schimmoeller, professor of education
A Climate Action Plan for Randolph College
Ludovic Lemaitre ’11 and Karin Warren, associate professor of environmental studies
A History of the Rivermont Historic District
Nick Marshall ’11 and Gerry Sherayko, associate professor of history
Earth’s Body II: An Anthology of Contemporary American Ecopoetry
Anneka Freeman ’11 and Laura-Gray Street, assistant professor of English
Four Writing Projects in Psychology
Jerry Wells ’12 and Beth Schwartz, professor of psychology
“Burn Her Who Is No Bride”: A Feminist Assessment of Theclan Traditions
Lindsay Wood ’11 and Gordon Steffey, associate professor of religion
Non-Repetitiveness As It Applies to Shortest Paths in State Graphs and to Integer Sequences
Richard Coultas ’11, Neo Wang ’11, and Marc Ordower, associate professor of mathematics
Using Semblance Analysis to Study the Microseismicity of Central Virginia
Qingping Yu ’13 and Tatiana Gilstrap, assistant professor of environmental science
Screening Indigeneity: The National Film Board’s First Nations Films, 1939–2009
Julianna Joyce ’13 and Jennifer Gauthier, associate professor of communication studies
Memory As a Political Strategy: The Politics of Stalin Remembrance in Russia
Kathleen Conti ’11 and Mari Ishibashi, associate professor of political science
Sustainable Urban Development in Lynchburg
Louise Searle ’12, Erinn Sudol ’12, and Rick Barnes, professor of psychology and environmental studies
Investigation of the Properties of Luminescent Transition Metal Compounds in Silicon Dioxide Polymers and in Ionic Liquids
Poojan Pyakurel ’11 and Bill Bare, associate professor of chemistry
The Presence and Absence in the Works of Juan Rulfo
Lis Chacon ’13 and Chet Halka, professor of romance languages
Randolph College’s Musical Heritage: Exploring and Preserving Decades of Musical Performances at Randolph- Macon Woman’s College
Karl Speer ’12, Christine Gnieski ’13 and Randall Speer, associate professor of music
A Theoretical Investigation of Oxidative Pathways of Peroxynitrite
Rosha Poudyal ’11 and Kurt Seidman, professor of chemistry