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Summer research: animals, cancer, media and more

July  29, 2013

This summer nine Augustana students are participating in full-scale scientific research projects under the guidance of their faculty advisors, gaining experience to utilize in graduate school and careers after college. Each summer research project is funded through an Augustana Summer Student Research Fellowship.


Hannah Bohn, a French and anthropology major from Conifer, Colo., is doing research in Ireland. Her research explores how the Irish tell the story of the Troubles, an ethno-political conflict that took place in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Through this research, she has the opportunity to carry out ethnographic fieldwork while immersing herself in the Irish culture.

"What is so exciting about this fieldwork is that the outcome is based on the stories of the people I meet," Bohn said. She is working with Dr. Carrie Hough, an assistant professor in the sociology department. Bohn noted that she has been able to share with her advisor her "triumphs and obstacles."


In an on-campus lab, senior biology major Jimmy Wiebler, a native of Davenport, Iowa, has been collaborating for more than a year on a research project with Dr. Tim Muir, a biology assistant professor. They are studying the cold-conditioning response in Vertebrate Ectotherm. Specifically, Wiebler and Dr. Muir will work to determine the thermal dynamics necessary to elicit the cold-conditioning response in hatching painted turtles by changing the duration at which they experience a subzero temperature before a subsequent cold-shock.

This research project will allow Wiebler to discover something new about animal physiology and how it has adapted to withstand such extreme environmental conditions. Wiebler suspects that turtles possessing the highest levels of brain and liver glucose will be the most cold-hardy. In working with Dr. Muir, he said, "I have been able to learn many of the generalized techniques useful to a biologist, as well as some tricks of the trade I wouldn't find in any textbook.". This project will be combined with a complementary project from last year led by Manisha Kumar '13, and ultimately will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.


A pre-medicine and biochemistry major from St. Charles, Ill., Christina Scribano is conducting a research project alongside Dr. Scott Gehler, assistant professor of biology, on the molecular mechanisms involved in breast cancer metastasis. Specifically, she will be looking at how semaphorin3A (Sema3A) and nerve growth factor (NGF), two cell signaling molecules, interact to regulate breast cancer cell adhesion (through their interaction with collagen) and ultimately breast cancer cell migration.

Findings from this research will further the understanding of breast cancer adhesion mechanisms and their relationship to metastasis, and could present potential new therapeutic targets for breast cancer treatment. Throughout this project, Scribano will analyze and interpret data, draw conclusions, acquire new scientific knowledge, and learn what other researchers have shown through exposure to primary scientific literature. "She is instinctual in her experimental technique," said Dr. Gehler of his research partner, "and she asks probing questions about the findings of her research."


Inspired to do a project on the Quad-Cities Muslim population, senior business administration major Hiba Ansari, a native of Clinton, Iowa, is combining the disciplines of geography and business statistics to initiate new programming to match the Muslim community demographics.

Her faculty advisor, Dr. Mamata Marmé, advising coordinator and instructor of business administration, encouraged Ansari to attach her interests to a relevant community matter; she chose the Muslim population in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, which is rapidly growing without accurate count or accommodation of demographic changes. Among her goals are to renew the contact directory of Quad-Cities Muslims and help initiate new programming such as camp retreats and other refugee integration efforts.


A native of Caledonia, Ill., Stuart Casarotto is spending the summer before his senior year working on a research project that relates closely to his engineering physics and environmental studies majors. Alongside Dr. Joshua Dyer, assistant professor of physics, Casarotto is conducting analysis of Erickson Residence Hall's current state of sustainability using an engineering-based computer program called Revit.

The end results will be used in a report to Augustana administration to aid in future renovations, which will include current conditions of the building and specific costs for renovations.


Christina Kunkel, a senior English major from Peru, Ill., is participating in a project that will provide her direction as to whether critical media analysis may be the area of research she would like to pursue. Alongside Dr. Wendy Hilton-Morrow, associate professor of communication studies, Kunkel's project involves the investigation of how women in positions of power are being portrayed in the high fantasy genre in contemporary media.

She is conducting an in-depth analysis of HBO's hit series, "Game of Thrones" in order to consider what stereotypes and social norms are being represented and reinforced to large audiences, focusing on the construction of gender, femininity and power relations within the hegemonic context of the show. "Kunkel will come away from the summer with an exceptional example of undergraduate research that should make her a top candidate for graduate programs," said Dr. Hilton-Morrow.


Intrigued by a field of mathematics not typically explored at the undergraduate level, senior mathematics and physics major Peter Draznik from Palatine, Ill., is spending the summer studying the topic of tournaments in graph theory. Draznik's research is looking into underlying patterns of round-robin tournaments and developing methods to count the many types of tournaments.

"It is always difficult to tell where a project will lead, but if any of my work gets published, I will be very contented," he said. While he has the freedom to ensure the work is completely his own, Draznik meets every day with his advisor, Dr. Tom Bengtson, professor and holder of the Earl H. Beling Chair in Mathematics, to make sure he stays on track.

Additionally, Lillian Pickens and Katherine Rea are conducting research projects. Pickens, a religion major from Third Lake, Ill., is working with her advisor Dr. Laura Hartman, assistant professor of religion. Rea, a classics major from Rock Island, Ill., is working with her advisor Dr. Mischa Hooker, instructor of classics. Pickens and Rea are seniors.

To encourage students to immerse themselves in their subject matter and engage in hands-on practice, Augustana College provides students of all disciplines opportunities through the Summer Student Research Fellowships. The program encourages research or artistic projects under the guidance of a faculty member.

Students may apply for a maximum stipend of $3,000, plus additional funding for project expenses. Students' contributions to these projects can inspire them to conduct even more cutting-edge research in their later years of study, and also direct them to the post-graduate field of study they would like to pursue.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833