SUNY Oneonta’s campus is anything but quiet this summer, with 40 students engaged in research projects covering a wide array of disciplines, from anthropology to sport sciences.
With the help of 16 faculty members, students from 15 different majors are getting hands-on experience, working in the lab, mentoring local children and more as part of their research. They will present their findings during a special showcase Sept. 8-15 in Hunt Union.
This is the most robust and discipline-diverse Summer Research Fellowship Program the college has ever offered, according to Kathy Meeker, director of the Grants Development Office. Nearly $90,000 in Student Research Grants was given to support students in their research. Through financial support from the College at Oneonta Foundation, 30 student participants received stipends of up to $3,000 each, in addition to project-related funding and campus housing.
“Being able to engage in experiential learning like summer research is a life-changing opportunity for students because it’s a chance to use their knowledge in a real-world setting,” Meeker said. “Many of these students will have their research published and go on to become experts in their field. It also helps them decide whether they want to pursue higher education after graduation and facilitates indispensable relationships with faculty mentors, as well.”
In the basement of the Physical Science Building, two students carefully observe and analyze dental replicas from chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and monkeys, checking the surface of the teeth for enamel defects, which reflect growth disruptions during the animal’s life. They’re working alongside Assistant Professor of biological anthropology Kate McGrath, who has done extensive research on the topic.
McGrath says the project, called “Measuring the effect of early life stress on great ape bone and tooth development, will “form the most comprehensive analysis of skeletal stress markers in our closest living relatives.” Three students are involved.
“I never knew before I met Dr. McGrath that your teeth grow like tree rings,” said Jillian Clarke, a senior majoring in anthropology and history. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so this experience has shown me that I actually like doing research!”
Without the students’ help, McGrath would not be able to analyze her existing datasets this summer, as planned, affecting future external grant applications with the Leakey Foundation and National Science Foundation. The project will have all kinds of practical applications, she said, including helping us understand how stress affects development in human beings.
Sports and Self-Esteem
Outside on the Red Dragon soccer field, area girls ages 9 to 11 took part in a four-day summer sports and life skills camp in mid-July called “Getting a Move on Girls Sports” to empower young women and help them “feel confident in their ability to participate in sports teams without the bias of societal views.” It was part of a research project called “Implementation of a Life Skill Curriculum in a Youth Sport Setting” that three Sport & Exercise Sciences students are working on alongside Assistant Professor Katherine Griffes.
Students’ work included preparation and training for, as well as hosting, the sports camp, overseeing the entire curriculum, and supervising counselors and campers. With the camp successfully finished, their work will now focus on data collection and analysis.
Senior Kelsey Terrell said hosting the camp was “one of the most amazing experiences I have had at Oneonta, between watching the counselors and campers grow together, experiencing the highs and lows with the campers and really learning about their experiences as young women.”
Witnessing students realize the value in their coursework and see the impact they can have on their community, “was so rewarding,” Griffes said.
In the Lab
Inside a Physical Science laboratory, the seven members of SUNY Oneonta’s 2022 iGEM team are hard at work on their project “CyanoSpectre” – engineering a cyanophage "toolkit" that other synthetic biologists can use to make it easier to genetically engineer and build beneficial properties into cyanobacteria. Their faculty mentors are Associate Professors Kelly Gallagher and Jill Fielhaber and Professor Bill Vining.
The team – made up of biology, chemistry and biochemistry students – will travel to Paris in late October to compete in the iGEM Grand Jamboree, an annual event showcasing the projects of more than 400 multidisciplinary teams from 40 countries around the world. Until then, their progress can be followed on the college’s iGEM website.
This is SUNY Oneonta’s fourth iGEM team and third time competing in the Grand Jamboree. Liam Buchanan, a biology major and senior, has been on the iGEM team since his freshman year.
“What keeps me coming back is just the atmosphere and the opportunity,” Buchanan said. “As an undergrad, it can be hard to find research. As a first-year student involved with iGEM, I was doing things and learning techniques that I hadn’t even learned about in class yet. Being able to come to a lab and have at my fingertips the same opportunities that a research institution would allow me to have has been incredible.”