Beyond the classroom: Grant program opens doors for undergraduate researchers

UMSL student Jason Adair

Jason Adair, a senior anthropology major at UMSL, measures a stone tool with a caliper. The stone tools were used to hunt and butcher meat and were found at an archaeology dig site in Chesterfield, Mo. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Jason Adair never saw himself as the Indiana Jones type. But after learning about uncovered remnants of stone tools and other artifacts that were found in Chesterfield, Mo., the University of Missouri–St. Louis anthropology major got hooked on archaeology.

Adair says he started wondering about the discovered tools, what they were made of and why one type of material was chosen over another. His curiosity eventually led to an outline for the research project “An Analysis of Etley vs. Stone Square-Stemmed Projectile Points.”

And the project earned him a College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant. The college established the grant program in the fall to promote undergraduate research.

Ron Yasbin, dean of the college, says the program not only highlights undergraduate research conducted but also gives students resources to continue, and in some cases, start their research. Yasbin says he hopes the program will entice other students to take on their own research.

“I’ve been so pleased with the program and the response we’ve gotten,” Yasbin says. “Word is spreading. Students within the college want to get involved, and with our students talking to high school students about the opportunities within the college and the chance to do research as an undergraduate, the program is becoming a great draw.”

In its inaugural year, the program awarded grants to seven undergraduate students in several disciplines, including biochemistry and psychology. A review committee of faculty and students selected recipients. Grants up to $1,000 were awarded to each student.

Jason Adair: discovering the past

For Adair, unearthing pieces of history is rewarding, but the real payoff is identifying the discoveries and gaining a better understanding of past human behaviors. That’s why he’s so passionate about his research.

“Often tools are the only surviving remnants, and for their prehistoric makers, they played a major role in facilitating critical tasks such as hunting and butchering meat,” Adair says. “Archaeologists rely on the types and styles of stone artifacts to evaluate in what time periods and in what regions people lived, to understand dietary choices, to assess technological changes and to gain knowledge about patterns of trade and movement.”

The grant program, according to Adair, is a chance for undergraduate researchers to get their feet wet.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and it confirms the high level of commitment by UMSL to ensuring a quality undergraduate education,” he says. “It gives undergraduates an opportunity to perform graduate-level research, which offers them a great stepping stone into graduate programs, careers and their future.”

Patti Wright is an associate professor of anthropology at UMSL. Her research focuses on past interrelationships between people and plants. She advises Adair and says his work will be presented at two conferences.

“With this grant, Jason can continue his work, contribute to our knowledge of past Native American technology and subsistence practices and join the discussion about the usefulness of archaeological typologies,” Wright says. “He has inspired other students to up their research and apply for future rounds of the grant.”

Rachel Hosna: all galled up

Perplexed by the tiny balls that appeared on plants and trees throughout her neighborhood, Rachel Hosna was on a mission to discover what, exactly, the balls were. After learning a little about them in a class, the UMSL biology major began examining the balls – known as insect galls – and has become obsessed with learning everything about them.

“It was love at first sight basically,” Hosna says. “I was really captivated by the different shapes, colors and sizes they come in and how and why plants become susceptible to them.”

That fascination led Hosna to apply for, and receive, a College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant to continue studying the small plant growth.

Hosna’s project, “Diversity of Galling Wasps across Eight Species of Quercus in Missouri,” is overseen by Robert Marquis, professor of biology at UMSL. She began her research in the spring and says she hopes to learn what species of galls exist, how they are distributed among different tree species and how the number of species changes through the canopy of trees.

“Getting funding made my research a reality,” Hosna says. “I think any other student desiring to do research would say that that’s a huge deal, and that chance isn’t always given to undergraduates.”

Erin Martin: green chemistry

As an advanced credit chemistry student at Hazelwood (Mo.) Central High School, Erin Martin was captivated by the mixture of elements that create different chemical compounds but was worried about the harm that could be done in using numerous chemicals repeatedly.

Now a chemistry major at UMSL and self-proclaimed environmentalist, Martin works with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Eike Bauer testing new ways to create chemical products that are cleaner to manufacture, safer for people and do less harm to the planet than chemicals currently available.

“When I came to UMSL, I was interested in chemistry but really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Martin says. “Knowing I wanted something to do with the environment, it was perfect when I discovered Dr. Bauer’s labs and his work on green chemistry.”

Martin’s project, “Designing Iron Catalysts for Greener Chemical Reactions,” garnered a College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant. The project examines various catalysts for chemical reactions. Catalysts increase the rate of chemical reactions and save energy, which eventually conserves natural resources and reduces toxic waste.

“Erin is a great researcher,” Bauer says. “She quickly grasped the essential techniques needed for the project she is working on and is collecting and analyzing the data independently. We expect to publish the data she collected in an internationally recognized scientific journal, and she will be co-author.”

Martin says her research is rewarding – both the act of making discoveries and the opportunity to get her work published.

“One of the things I enjoy most about research is the chance it gives me to be a part of something worthwhile,” Martin says. “The experience is indispensable, and the work itself allows me to further my own knowledge and interests while making a contribution that can be used outside of a classroom.”

This story was originally published in the spring 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.


Short URL: http://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=24823