2020 and 2021 Saints Start Challenge Grant Projects Take Flight

The St. Lawrence University Sophomore Success Initiative is delighted to announce its 2020 and 2021 Saints Start Challenge Grant recipients.   Projects originally selected in 2020 have been ongoing as conditions have permitted over the past year, with a number planning to go forward this summer.   Four additional projects were selected following the 2021 application cycle and are slated to proceed this summer as well.    All projects and participants follow COVID safety guidelines developed in conjunction with the Saints Start team and in accordance with local public health guidelines.   The Saints Start Challenge Grant program funded by the Mellon Foundation enables sophomores to undertake research projects, creative work, volunteer service, or internships that will pave the way for their future success.   Projects involve reflection, mentoring, exploration, and community engagement, along with an opportunity to work closely with a St. Lawrence faculty or staff member.   Here are the 2020 and 2021 Saints Start Challenge Grant projects as described by each of the recipients:

Isaiah Albright ’23 will be exploring Massachusetts as part of his photojournalism project documenting the deindustrialization of the state’s mill towns. These urban centers offered residents high-wage manufacturing jobs, a middle-class lifestyle, and upward social mobility. Due to increased competition, both domestically and internationally, cities such as Holyoke, Fall River, and Worcester lost much of their industry, and continue to struggle today. Isaiah will be using photography and interviews to show the decline and, in some cases, the resurgence of the Massachusetts mill towns. He hopes that this project will provide insight into sustainable local policy and reveal the unique history of these cities. He will be advised through the project by Dr. Sarah Barber, Associate Dean of the First Year and Associate Professor of English.

Susan Choi ’23 will spend the summer as a dental assistant at Associates in Periodontics in Burlington, Vermont where she will be exposed to many facets of dentistry. She will also be rotating around to assist several other dental practices of different specialties in the area and learn the protocols, missions, and techniques of each office. The program will allow her to help treat the teeth of those in the Burlington community and promote awareness of preventative care that has a significant impact on oral health. Through assisting trained professionals, she will learn how to interact with patients and teach the cleaning methods of controlling interproximal plaque, as well as sterilization techniques and dental software. Susan hopes to gain a better understanding of the dental profession and confirmation of her career choice. She is receiving mentorship from Dr. Alice Tarun, Assistant Professor of Biology.

Hannah Duffy ’22:  Hannah will be studying the Eastern Spadefoot toad, a threatened species of toad in Massachusetts that is being reintroduced to its previously inhabited location in the Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary by Massachusetts Audubon researchers Jay Cordeiro and Ian Ives. The toads are a burrowing species and are only active at night, for several weeks in May-June during heavy rain. As a result, the toads have proven difficult to find by field volunteers and researchers, who have been finding on average approximately 20 toads per year. Audubon researchers have released approximately 30,000 toads since 2011 and it is unclear as to whether the reintroduction has been unsuccessful, or if the researchers are unable to find the toads due to their habits. This summer Hannah will be working with Newt, an 11-month old Labrador retriever who has been trained to find and alert to the presence of Spadefoot toads. Newt and Hannah will be conducting both night and day surveys of the area in search for the Eastern Spadefoot toad during their breeding season to gauge the overall success of this species reintroduction.   Hannah is working with Dr. Kristine Hoffmann, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology.

Zemichael Habetgiorgis’ ‘22 summer project in 2020 investigated why low interest rates and reduced tax rates over much of the past decade might pose a significant challenge to the US economy in the long run. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the US has enacted stimulus to bring growth rates back to pre-crisis levels. Going into 2020, the US was in its tenth year of economic expansion though still subjected to increasing stimulus. Even though growth rates did not hit the heights of 4%, there are various indicators that suggest that the economy cannot absorb this much stimulus. Therefore, Zemichael’s research was divided into two distinct sections. The first portion looked at why the US economy may not grow at 4% due to various structural problems involving demographic patterns and reduced trade. The second section considered the risks that come with increasing stimulus such as the encouragement of risky loans (like the kinds that led to the Great Recession). Zemichael received mentoring from Dr. Michael Jenkins, Associate Professor and Co-Chair of Economics.

Alexandra Hill ‘23 will be exploring how the portrayal of mental health in English literature has evolved over the past century, specifically via a mathematical lens. Utilizing statistical and computational techniques to analyze the diction and perform sentiment analysis, she will study the changes and trends in the portrayal of mental health in influential fiction novels from the past century that discuss topics of mental health. The data gathered will then be used to create data visualizations to communicate her findings to a broader audience. Her work will offer insights into the development of how our society portrays mental health via literature and whether or not improvements have been made in our views of mental illness. This research will be conducted under the guidance of her advisor, the Rutherford Professor of Mathematics Dr. Daniel Look.

Gabriela Ferreyra Barrientos ‘22:  This past December Gabriela did a research project in Bolivia and Peru involving in-person conversations with women miners with a research goal of learning more about ecological practices in this industry. The project sought to compare the social, political and economic policies of Peru with Bolivia, especially as Peru has succeeded in implementing ecological mining and Bolivia has not. This research also aimed to explain why mining has empowered indigenous Bolivian and Peruvian women. To carry out this study, Gabriela spent a week in the Socavon mine, Bolivia and another week in Cajamarca, Peru with the mining women, following their daily work routine.   Gabriela developed the structure her project with assistance from Dr. Steven White, Lewis Professor of Modern Languages.

Fernanda Leon ‘22 will be designing and coordinating “Together We Can” this summer, a free, remote professional development conference for female students between 14 to 19 years old, who are studying in her hometown, Oaxaca, Mexico. She envisions the “Together We Can” conference as an accessible platform for young Oaxacan women, who during this event will explore their talents and define their aspirations by learning about professional skills, connecting with successful Oaxacan women and discovering academic and professional opportunities. The world is full of professional and academic opportunities for those who have access to reliable information and strong preparation for them, yet, in Mexico, only 12.2% of women have a degree in Higher Education. “Together We Can” aims to offer women space often neglected for them, to learn more about themselves, to gain confidence in their potential and contribute to the increase of female participation in professional settings. Furthermore, Fernanda hopes that implementing events such as “Together We Can” will be some first attempts for a call to action for policy-makers to question the efficiency of the current educational model in Mexico.  Fernanda is working with Dr. Jeff Frank, Associate Professor and Chair of Education.

Peter Maslan ‘22 will be spending the summer working with a furniture maker in North Carolina to gain a knowledge and understanding of artisanry and fine craftsmanship in the woodworking field. He will work as an apprentice gaining not only further insight into the professional side of woodworking, but will also extend his findings to a larger societal impact. What he gathers from his apprenticeship will provide him with a perspective to address the forces of consumerism on society and the focus on mass production of cheap goods versus quality production intended to last generations. Through his work he will develop an interpretation of consumerist effects as well as the discipline and reliance upon natural resources in woodworking, all leading to a final capstone essay on consumerism in the modern day. He will work closely with his mentor, Dr. Penny Vlagopoulos, Assistant Professor of English, throughout the apprenticeship and in the crafting of the culminating essay.

Hannah Rutkowski ‘21 spent last summer working on a collection of short stories. These writings were developed while listening to varied music genres to see the impact of music on language and content. She then applied research about music and semiotics to her works during the editing process with reflection on how the differing genres changed the way she writes and what she wrote. She sought to gain a more critical understanding of music, which is a very large part of her life, in relation to her writing endeavors as well as gain more professional experience in the editing and publishing processes. Throughout last summer, Hannah worked with Professor J. Michael Martinez, Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry.

Melissa Perez Sancho ‘23 will spend a month of her summer researching the economic security challenges of rural America, specifically the North Country. She aims to understand socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity by focusing on diverse local perspectives. In order to accomplish this, Melissa will incorporate secondary sources along with primary sources such as remote interviews with entrepreneurs, elected officials and local activists. Since Melissa's goal is to highlight local perspectives and democratize knowledge, she will work to publish her findings in the form of one or more digital newspaper articles that will be published by Weave News. Dr. John Collins, Professor of Global Studies, will mentor this research project and assist with preparing the published articles.