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Personal experiences drive research projects

By Olivia Cuccaro

On the surface, the 2015 Summer Scholars and Artists Program provides funding for the research and development of original projects by 20 undergraduate students, 18 of whom hail from Harpur College. Mentored by a Binghamton University faculty member, students are awarded $3,000 to complete their work, with an additional stipend of $1,000 to the mentor.

    Summer Scholar 1
   Summer Scholar 2
   Summer Scholar 3
   Summer Scholar 4
   Summer Scholar 5
   Summer Scholar 6

Delving deeper, the selected Harpur scholars participated for reasons exceeding academia alone. For many, personal experiences paved the way for the pursuit of not a subject, but a passion.

To junior Jesse Cole, integrative neuroscience was more than just a major. As a child, Cole witnessed his father undergo numerous surgeries after he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor.

"Seeing what these fantastic surgeons were doing to save my dad's life motivated me to go into neuroscience," Cole says.

Cole furthered his education over the summer by using a rat model to discern a link between early prenatal alcohol exposure and anxiety disorders during a child's adolescence.

Marvin Diaz, assistant professor of psychology and mentor to Cole, describes the project as "very transitional."

"The umbrella term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a new field of research, and important to study in order to understand the alterations in the brain that give rise to behavioral disabilities with the hopes of eventually creating some treatment specific for that disorder," Diaz says.

With his sights set on medical school, Cole says he strives to "be that doctor for someone else's parent in the future."

A similar devotion to reaching others through science inspired junior Kyle Loftus to conceive his summer study of the nuclear pore complex.

Loftus previously helped organize a Science Olympiad and science day for children at the Roberson Museum and Science Center in downtown Binghamton.

"Being able to expose them to science at a young age, develop their interest in it so they have a drive to pursue it in the future, I think it's a really cool experience," he says.

Alongside Sozanne Solmaz, assistant professor of biological chemistry, Loftus centered on the interactions of two proteins, identifying their interacting domains and their recruitment of motor proteins to the cell during the cell cycle.

For English major Jaineba Chang, personal experience was best translated from pen to paper.

"I always wanted to be a writer," the senior says. "I had been wanting to write a novel for a while and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity."

Titled Tallawah, Chang's project was a partially fictionalized autobiography about growing up in Jamaica from the perspective of someone born in America. Chang moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Manchester, Jamaica, at the age of 7. Her book will explore feelings of alienation and concepts of race in the country.

"It's about having to learn a culture that is technically already mine," she says. "I want people to be able to relate to a culture that isn't their own through shared experiences."

A book played a vital role in junior Colin Roth's project as well. Childhood favorite Roberto the Insect Architect laid the foundation for Roth's summer research on how the architecture of stadiums built for sporting events demonstrates unique cultural and sociological effects.

Visiting stadiums across the Northeast United States and soccer-specific stadiums in London,, Roth says he was "passionately excited" to focus on the differences between soccer stadiums in the United States versus those in the United Kingdom in terms of fan experience and labor.

"Stadiums in general are architectural marvels," Roth says. "How countries put people to work to build them says a lot about them."

Exploring a different culture was also key to history major Sara Hobler's summer work. Hobler's research centered on gender construction in early 20th century Russia through the eyes of two different groups of Russian women: Marxist revolutionaries and literary authors.

"People say that it's impressive that I'm a (sophomore) doing this," Hobler says. "But I'm just following my passion."

A self-proclaimed feminist, Hobler's own curiosities about gender and femininity were amplified by a Russian Culture and Civilization class taught by faculty mentor Sidney Dement, assistant professor of Russian, leading Hobler to her topic of analysis.

"I came across feminism as a way to feel secure about myself as a young woman and feel strong," she says. "I'm so used to hearing about women's struggles from a western perspective and I wanted to look at it from a different point of view. . . . I was really fascinated by that period because of massive changes that were going on in Russia.

. . . I knew I didn't want to hear what men had to say about what it was like to be a woman in Russia."

Whether their personal passions are in fine arts and humanities, social sciences, or science and mathematics, the Harpur scholars expressed a deep appreciation for the program and the experiences it facilitated.

"This is something that I never would have been able to do without the scholarship and something that's going to really push me along in my career," says theatre major Danielle Nigro of time spent studying the Meisner technique at the William Esper Studio in Manhattan.

The first theatre student to participate in the summer program, Nigro returned to Binghamton University after six weeks of training to devise a solo performance show at the Theatre Department's Fall Open House.

"I [have] more of an understanding of myself as an actor," Nigro says. "And I have a taste of the real world." 

Harpur's other Summer Scholars

Ian Anderson

Major: Chemistry
Project: Enhanced Cellular Uptake of PNA Using New Monomer O
Mentor: Associate Professor Eriks Rozners

Anthony Aprile

Major: Creative writing
Project: Leonine: A Novel
Mentor: Professor Liz Rosenberg

Jacqueline Clark

Major: Biology
Project: Neural Origin of Chewing Inhibition in Manduca sexta
Mentor: Associate Professor Carol Miles

Thomas Costello

Majors: Psychology and philosophy
Project: Determinism, Free Will, and Depression: How philosophical systems of belief may change the way we process emotions
Mentor: Distinguished Professor Steven Lynn

Timothy Crump

Major: Cell and molecular biology
Project: Detection of Viable Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis in Commercially Pasteurized Whole Milk by Culture Methods and qPCR with Propidum Monoazide Treatment
Mentor: Assistant Professor Jeffrey Schertzer

Elodie Eid

Major: Environmental studies
Project: Effects of Deer Overpopulation at Binghamton University
Mentor: Associate Professor John Titus

Tara Jackson

Major: Integrative neuroscience
Project: Auditory Illusions
Mentor: Assistant Professor Monteith McCollum

Jingwei (Anna) Li

Majors: Cinema and math
Project: From the Stars – Documentary about Autistic People in China
Mentor: Assistant Professor Tomonari Nishikawa

Jon Mermelstein

Major: History
Project: American Oil Companies in the Middle East: A Predecessor to US Imperialism?
Mentor: Associate Professor Kent Schull

Anita Raychawdhuri

Major: English
Project: Defining Ourselves and Outlining Our Lives
Mentor: Lecturer Barrett Bowlin

Michael Rulli
Major: English
Project: The Creation and Development of a Superstar: On Stage and On the Page
Mentor: Lecturer Joe Weil

Christian Salazar

Major: Biology
Project: Assembly of Gold Nanoparticles with Protein and Antibody
Mentor: Professor Chuan-Jian (CJ) Zhong


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Last Updated: 3/1/17