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After 10 weeks of intensive research activities, 35 undergraduate students from Bowling Green State University and Owens Community College presented the results of their work at the Science, Engineering & Technology Gateway Ohio (SETGO) Summer Research Roundup.
Funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, the SETGO Summer Research program provides students with the opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty who serve as role models and mentors. Students learn to conduct research in an environment that stresses collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving. They join informal weekly forums in which scientists inside and outside of academia discuss the latest advances in their own research, career opportunities in STEM fields, and pathways to graduate school. The Research Roundup is the culminating activity at which students present a poster on their research project.
Students undergo a rigorous application process before being accepted into the research program. “Due to the intensive nature of this program, I only accept one SETGO student each summer,” said Dr. Vipa Phuntumart, an assistant professor of biology. “The student must not only have excellent grades, but he or she also needs to show me they are serious about scientific research by being prompt to the initial interviews and engaged and perceptive during the lab review.”
Jennifer Hojnacki, a junior biology major, was pleased she met the selective criteria and was able to work with Phuntamart. “I was able to lead a study that will contribute to important research about soybean pathogens.” Phytophthora sojae is a soybean pathogen. It has large economic impact causing an annual loss of $1-2 billion in damages. Hojnacki’s research project, Novel Transcription Factors in P. sojae using Yeast 1 Hybrid, focused on examining the gene sequencing of yeast associated with this pathogen. “The more we understand how gene expression is regulated, the better it can be controlled in order to prevent a greater loss of soybean crops,” she said.
“It is exciting to see students so early in their careers conducting meaningful research,” said Dr. Moira Van Staaden, a professor of biological sciences and director of SETGO. “Based on National Science Foundation recommendations, we are reaching out to students early in their studies and are very impressed with the level of sophistication, problem solving and effort they bring to responding to the high expectations.”
Van Staaden mentored junior biology major Josh Haughawout in his research project, Behavioral Characterization of Sound Perception in an African Cichlid. “In addition to learning the intricacies of laboratory research and working with a research team, I also learned you don’t always find the answers you expected,” Haughawout said. “Instead, I discovered an entirely new group of questions to ask about the cichlid fishes of the African Rift lakes which are economically important to the local people of that area.”
Asking questions was a key theme of the symposium. From investigating the origins of ice nucleation active bacteria in Lake Erie to the development of composite nanoparticles exhibiting exciton-plasmon interactions and the feasibility of using waste vegetable oil generated biodiesel, BGSU students are tackling some of the biggest scientific questions of the day. “After all,” Van Staaden said, “Real scientific breakthroughs only happen when someone challenges the status quo.” As many students continue their collaborations with their faculty mentors this fall, the possibilities for inquiry and discovery are limitless.