Summer Research Pairs Students with Faculty Mentors

In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the plump and buzzing bumble bee on its endangered species list. As an important agricultural pollinator, the news compounded the risk that the already declining honey bee population poses to our food supply.

Yet, many don’t realize that, in addition to honey and bumble bees, there are more than 300 varieties of wild bees just in St. Lawrence County alone. And, their importance to both small-scale and industrial agriculture is only just beginning to be studied and realized.

This summer, Heather Thompson ’19 and Thoin Begun ’18 helped identify 94 of those wild bees in 10 different genera as part of their Ronald E. McNair Summer Research Fellowship. For Heather, growing up in a mostly farming region of St. Lawrence County helped spark an interest in sustainable agriculture.

“As a conservation biology major, I recognize the important role that bees play in agricultural production,” she said. “The bee project has been fascinating because some of the different varieties of bees have features so small that it’s like putting together a huge puzzle.”

Working with Aswini Pai, associate professor of biology, the student researchers sifted through more than 60 journal articles and worked with community volunteers who allowed them to collect samples from their kitchen gardens in the Canton region.

“I sought out Professor Pai specifically because of her extensive research experience,” said Thoin, an environmental studies-biology major and Asian studies minor from Queens, New York. “Now after working on this project, I want to do as much research as possible and hopefully publish in an academic journal, since eventually I want to go on to do my Ph.D.”

While St. Lawrence University may seem quiet during the summer months, nearly 50 undergraduate researchers are living on campus and working alongside their faculty mentors as part of the various summer research fellowships, such as the federally funded McNair program.

View a photo gallery of student-faculty summer research

Nevaan Perera ’18 of Sri Lanka received a University Fellowship, which was supported by the Phelps Family as well as the Daniel F. ’65 and Ann H. Sullivan Endowment for Student/Faculty Research. Working under the direction of Choong Soo Lee, assistant professor of computer science, Nevaan “hacked” into Xbox software, which Microsoft allows, in order to develop a motion-sensing program based one’s gestures – rather than an actual device.

“For example, if someone is giving a PowerPoint presentation, instead of using a clicker you would simply wave your arm a certain way to tell move to the next slide,” explained Nevaan. “My ultimate goal is to use the platform to help people with learning and attention deficit disabilities. People who have ADD, for example, may not be able to learn math using paper-based methods but could excel using a computer-oriented platform.”

The University Fellowship program allows undergraduate students to receive funding for a specific research project while working closely with a faculty mentor. The program aims to promote close student-faculty collaboration outside of the regular academic calendar while enabling students to conduct independent and interdisciplinary research. University Fellows will typically present their research in the fall semester.

View a video of summer research fellows

Summer research opportunities at St. Lawrence are not limited to only the physical sciences either. Emma Greenough ’18, for example, conducted her summer research fellowship on a style of Irish singing known as Sean-Nós.

“I became very interested in Irish music after studying aboard in Cork, Ireland, during the Spring 2017 semester,” said Emma, a music major and religious studies and Hispanic studies minor from Meriden, New Hampshire. “Even before that, I was strongly influenced after seeing two Irish musicians perform at St. Lawrence in Spring 2016. I knew even then that I wanted to study Irish singing and submitted my fellowship proposal while I was abroad.”

Emma, who received support through both the Lorna A. Ness Fellows Fund and the Sullivan endowment, conducted her summer research under the direction of David Henderson, associate professor of and Chair of the Department of Music.

“A lot of people in North America may know and even play Irish music, but not many actually study it,” Henderson said. “After reading Emma’s proposal, I got interested in it myself and have learned a great deal from her over the summer.”

Emma’s passion for her research topic shines through as she speaks about her project, which is as much about the performance of the music as it is conducting literature reviews and listening to dozens of examples of the genre.

“It’s been great working with David,” she says casually. “As I consider myself an ethnomusicologist, it’s nice to have someone here in the same field who uses the same terminology that I’m reading about. Otherwise, I may have had no idea where to start. It’s also been great being here during the summer, so I can just concentrate doing this one thing and this one thing only. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support from the University Fellows program.”

Visit St. Lawrence University's Merit Pages to view all of this summer's University Fellows.