Faculty mentors, student researchers collaborating in third year of summer research program

Abigail Robertson (left), an incoming freshman from Pilot Mountain, and WCU senior Savannah Mosteller of East Bend prepare samples of bodily fluid on a microscope slide, which will later be used in data collection with a laser. Robertson, Mosteller and Geraldine Monjardez, forensic science research scientist, are conducting laboratory work through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program that is part of a long-term project to develop surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy-active swabs to allow for rapid identification of bodily fluids at crime scenes.

The impact of product placement in movies on college-age individuals, the effects of inadequate cellular access on emergency medical services in rural areas and an examination of the function of an enzyme that copies and repairs mitochondrial DNA are among the topics being investigated during the third year of Western Carolina University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Ten teams, each of which include a WCU faculty mentor and a current student, are spending eight weeks on campus – Wednesday, May 30, through Wednesday, July 25 – conducting in-depth research into a variety of topics. Each team is being joined in its work for two weeks – Monday, June 11, through Friday, June 22 – by a Summer Scholar, an incoming freshman who will be enrolling in WCU’s Honors College this fall semester. Incoming freshmen with stellar academic profiles were invited to apply to the program, and those chosen were matched with the teams of faculty members and current students based on their academic interests.

The faculty members and current students are receiving stipends for their research work, and all the students earn three credit hours with an honors designation. The program, open to all WCU undergraduate students, is administered through the Honors College and directed by Bill Kwochka, associate professor in WCU’s Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Kloo Hansen, undergraduate research coordinator in the Office of the Provost.

Trevor Burkholder, a sophomore from High Point, is a member of a research team that includes Daniel Hutchinson, a Summer Scholar from Matthews, and Jayme McGhan, director of WCU’s School of Stage and Screen. Their research project, “Movie Product Placement and Its Effects on Two Individuals of the Collegiate Age,” is expected to provide data for Burkholder’s planned documentary film on product placement in all types of media.

Burkholder, who is majoring in stage and screen, said he became aware of the summer research program last December and originally had considered researching how food companies persuade customers to buy their products, regardless of how unhealthy they are. “After meeting with my faculty adviser, I realized that I need to pick something closer to my major with a concentrated subject group,” he said. “Product placement is often how food companies achieve their evil goals, and college students are a very accessible demographic for me, as a researcher. Thus, product placement in films and how it affects the purchasing habits of 17 to 24-year-olds was born.”

Lorien Helm (seated), an incoming freshman from Franklin, and Amanda Storm, assistant professor of biology, conduct laboratory work to purify a plant protein so it can be studied in controlled experiments. Helm, Storm and WCU senior Natasha Kreiling of Fayetteville have been working together on a project through the university’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Data is being collected through an analysis of the market trends of companies whose products are showing up in Hollywood films, including in the new movie “Uncle Drew,” Burkholder said. Another method for collecting information includes screening films for an audience of college students, surveying their feelings toward brands that may or may not be in the film, and following up with them later about their purchasing habits, he said.

Brooke Wilson, a Summer Scholar from Marion, has been working with Emma Hand, a senior from Concord majoring in emergency medical care, and faculty mentor Jackson Deziel, assistant professor of emergency medical care, in a project titled “The Effects of Inadequate Cellular Access on Emergency Medical Services Efficacy in the Rural Setting.” With cellular access and internet connectivity considered to be essential elements contributing to the success of communication between dispatch centers, first responders and hospital emergency departments, the project is exploring the consequences of inadequate cellular access on emergency medical care.

Wilson said she applied to participate in the summer program as “a chance to get acquainted with how college works.”

“Although this program is basically school work in the summer, there is a great advantage and gain to the program,” she said. “Aside from learning from research and getting a class done, I will be earning three honors credit hours. I think it is a really great opportunity.”

The eight other research project titles are listed along with team members (faculty mentor, current student and Summer Scholar):

“Development of High-Quality and Mono-Dispersed Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles with Varied Amounts of Europium Metal Ions with Potential Microbial-Resistant Properties”– Channa De Silva, associate professor of bioinorganic chemistry; Savannah Bolick, a junior biology and chemistry major from Gastonia; and Emma Auch of Shelby.

“An Investigation of the Role of Religiosity in the Self-Diagnosis of Pornography Addiction” – Davidde Jong, assistant professor of psychology; Casey Cook, a junior from Shelby majoring in psychology; and Payton McKnight of Murphy.

“The Role of Internet Memes as Propaganda in White Nationalist Movements”– Charles Fagan, instructor of political science and public affairs; Sawyer Hatch, a junior political science major from Hendersonville; and Isabella McMahan of Forest City.

“Exploring the Unique ß-amylase2 and Its Novel Potential Binding Partner”– Amanda Storm, assistant professor of biology; Natasha Kreiling, a senior from Fayetteville majoring in biology and chemistry; and Lorien Helm of Franklin.

“Investigating the Effects of Dryness on the SERS-signal of SERS-active Swabs Over Time Using Low Concentrations of Crystal Violet and Seminal Fluid”– Geraldine Monjardez, research scientist in forensic science; Savannah Mosteller, a senior majoring in forensic science and political science from East Bend; and Abigail Robertson of Pilot Mountain.

“Where You Stand is Where You Sit: The Impact of Framing on Health Care Policy in the U.S.”– JoBeth Shafran, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs; McKenley Webb, a sophomore history major from Greer, South Carolina; and Cassidy Barbee of Gerrardstown.

“Determining the Structure and Function of the Unique Regions Found in the DNA Polymerase Gamma of Cryptococcus Neoformans”– Jamie Wallen, assistant professor of biochemistry; Lindsey Farris, a senior from High Shoals majoring in biology and chemistry; and Matthew Morgan of Kernersville.

“Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus: Understanding Attitudes Toward Confirmative Consent Policies” – Tasha Youstin, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice; Samantha Griffin, a junior psychology major from Raleigh; and Mary Whaley of Jonesborough.

Near the conclusion of this year’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, the current students will present a symposium for a campus audience to talk about their projects and findings.

For more information about the program, contact Bill Kwochka at 828-227-3673 or kwochka@wcu.edu, or Kloo Hansen at 828-227-2010 or kchansen@wcu.edu.