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Doing Well What They Do Best:
Faculty and Students Learning Together

By Neal S. Burdick ’72 and Lisa Cania M’82, P’07

You’re 16 years old.  You’ve probably started your college search.  You’ll go online, you’ll talk to friends, teachers, counselors.  You’ll make visits. You’ll consult guidebooks.  If you check out the 2010 edition of the The Princeton Review, you’ll discover St. Lawrence University is one of the nation’s best institutions for undergraduate education, in the top 15% of all colleges and universities in America.

If you open the guidebook and read what students have to say, you’ll understand why President Fox considers faculty-student relationships among our best strengths. St. Lawrence got glowing reviews from students surveyed, especially in academics and quality of life on campus:

“The faculty-student relationship is at the core of the St. Lawrence experience, even more today than ever before.”

Students at St. Lawrence love their professors. “All of my professors have been extremely accessible and willing to help out if I’ve ever had questions. The quality of the professors is very high”; “The professors for the most part are very receptive to feedback and love teaching their students”; “if you’re showing effort, they will do everything they can to help you.” “Showing effort” might be the operative phrase; “one could coast through…by choosing easy classes. However, there are plenty of opportunities to really challenge yourself and succeed with the support of grants, professors, and advisors.” Students rave about the small class sizes, “even lectures, and not only does this contribute to a more comfortable, discussion-based learning experience; it ensures that every professor is available and interested, at almost any time.”

The faculty-student relationship is at the core of the St. Lawrence experience, even more today than ever before. Several students and faculty took time from their collaborative summer research to expand on this relationship.

Exploring Roots and Growing Wings

Somphone Sonenarong ’11 Bristol, CT
Mathematics major

“This summer I had the opportunity to work with Donna Alvah of the history department in researching America’s involvement in the Lao Civil War (1953-1975). I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and analysis of the war and more importantly, I had a great time discovering my family’s history and retelling the same story to Donna.

“ At SLU, the student/faculty collaboration is very supportive and family-oriented. Faculty members are willing to assist students in achieving their academic potential. For instance, I am math major but I am also very interested in Lao history since I am of Lao descent. Donna encouraged me to do research in Lao history.

“ Besides pursuing my academic interests at SLU, I interacted with professors outside of the classroom by having lunch, coffee, and even hamburgers. Faculty members are very concerned about the students and try to help them as much as possible. It is very common for SLU students to interact with their professors about their academic interests and personal background.

“The research I developed during this fellowship is the basis for my future studies. In the fall, I will expand upon this research while I study abroad at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is going to be my first time to travel to Thailand and neighboring Lao. When I am there, I will meet family members and gather more primary accounts of the effects of the American war by conducting interviews with Lao and Thai people. I am excited for this upcoming year and proud for the opportunity to conduct research in Lao history as an SLU Fellow.”

Her Summer Rocked

Katie Hoskinson ’11, Scotia, N.Y
Geology major

One of only 122 undergraduates nationwide awarded a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship, which provides financial help with research in two academic years plus an internship in summer 2010.

“I worked with Prof. Antun Husinec and Kyle Marvinney ’11 at the North Dakota Geological Survey Wilson D. Laird Core and Sample Library at the University of North Dakota. Our research was funded by a grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and was entitled ‘High Resolution Sequence Stratigraphy of Ordovician Red River Formation, Williston Basin, North Dakota.’ The St. Lawrence team analyzed Red River formation carbonate rock cores drilled in North Dakota since 1951, when oil was discovered in the state. We plan to present our research at the 2010 Northeastern Geological Society of America Regional Meeting as well as the 2010 American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Convention in New Orleans in April. I also anticipate continuing this research into an honors thesis.

“This opportunity has enabled me to obtain invaluable field and research experience in sedimentology and stratigraphy, and expanded my knowledge of the applications of geology. Professor Husinec is a talented geologist and an outstanding mentor, and working with him has been inspiring and pivotal.”

Singing the Praises of Collaboration

Dorothea Ehrhardt ’10, Manhasset, NY
Music major
Daniel F. ’65 and Ann H. Sullivan University Fellow

“[Collaborating with faculty] is a great way to further your education in a personalized way. It’s a lot of fun being able to work on a daily basis with people who are really skilled and experienced in your area of interest and who genuinely want to see you succeed and will do everything they can to help you get there.

“My project was ‘Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang: An Integrated Approach to Performance.’  I approached Barry Torres, director of vocal music, because he’s very knowledgeable about vocal performance, which is a lot of what this fellowship is about. I’ve been taking voice lessons with him for two years now and find him to be an effective teacher, and because he knows what my goals are as a singer. I approached Barbara Phillips-Farley because she is experienced with musicological research. I knew that working with her would keep me on track and help me improve my own research skills.

“This summer will influence my studies in the next year because I’ve improved my ability to perform music, which will assist me especially in student recitals and choral concerts throughout the year. I’ve also improved my ability to conduct research, which will surely make a difference for my classes.”

Barbara Phillips-Farley
Instructor in Music Performance

“Getting to study Schubert songs with Dorothea Ehrhardt, who was as interested in them as I, was a real treat. We approached these pieces from many angles—studying the scores, singing/playing them, reading what others have written about them, listening to recordings. It’s the way I believe every musical study should be done, but we don’t always have the luxury of time and resources to do so.

“‘Dora’ has done fine analytical work in the two classes she has had with me. I was delighted for her to have the chance to study deeply this worthy set of Schubert songs as well as to learn some of them for performance. I don’t often get to coach over a longer period of time: usually I work with students who are preparing performances in the final stages. It’s useful to be reminded of the earlier stages in preparation, too.”

No Better Feeling in the World

Praveen Chatani ’10, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Neuroscience Major
Phelps Family University Fellow

“Every day spent in the lab is a new learning experience, and it is my firm belief that every lesson learned is valuable in its own respect. The faculty at St. Lawrence are more than happy to take on student researchers; from the tales of my friends at other universities, I think it is safe to say this is an uncommon thing. When in the lab, it is extremely important that a student feels comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and learning from minor stumbles. The faculty at SLU do an excellent job of maintaining this comfort level. Professors here know that research should be fun, exciting and challenging.

“I have been working with Professor of Neuroscience Joe Erlichman, my faculty advisor, now for almost a year, and I can safely say that he takes as much interest in his students’ futures as they themselves do. My research this summer ‘The Novel Use of CeO2 Nanoparticles to Reduce Ischemic Brain Injury,’ will continue in the fall as my Senior-Year Experience, though I can safely say that I am a much more organized, thorough student because of it. This summer has taught me that scientific research can be extremely frustrating—it is seldom easy, always painstaking, and at times it refuses to cooperate—but the moment it goes right, there really is no better feeling in the world.”

Teaching and Learning at the Same Time

Emily Humphrey Dixon
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

“Because there are no graduate students or postdoctoral fellows here, faculty depend on undergraduates to be competent research assistants. This encourages faculty to devote the necessary time to training undergraduates in how to do research and in the specific field they are studying. Students begin their preparation for participating in faculty research programs in courses at every level of the curriculum by learning scientific techniques, how to design experiments, and how to analyze data. Because of this, by the time they finish their junior year they are ready to help design and carry out real, publishable research projects. After a period of training, students become partners in my research by generating data, choosing questions to answer, and designing experiments.  By the time they graduate, I often value their opinions and input very highly.”

Inspired by People and Place

Phuong Le ’10, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Economics and Mathematics Major
Daniel F. ’65 and Ann H. Sullivan University Fellow

“I knew I wanted a small college where students receive full attention from professors in an intellectually challenging environment and surrounded by natural scenery. I was captivated by pictures of the campus on the Web site; I remember seeing Herring-Cole peeking through the cherry blossoms and thinking I could see myself sitting there, indulging myself in a good book.

“I have found that understanding my natural surroundings has led to several research opportunities while at St. Lawrence. As a University Fellow, I am in the midst of a project titled ‘Nature Versus Nurture: The Social and Economic Impacts of the Adirondack Park on Local Communities.’ I have a keen interest in environmental preservation and economic development. Last year, I focused on ecotourism in the poorest part of Vietnam. This year, I was happy to figure out a way to pursue that topic looking at the backdrop of St. Lawrence, the North Country and the Adirondack Park.”

Neal Burdick and Lisa Cania have been professional partners, office mates and friends for over 22 years.

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