Strategic grant-funded summer research program prepares STEM students to thrive in the lab

For STEM students, spending time in the lab — getting familiar with equipment and iterating experiments — is critical for most post-graduate work, including careers in research and graduate studies.

Thanks to an infusion of $25,000 in grant money from the Strategic Plan Grant fund, several Petrels honed these essential laboratory skills in the inaugural cohort of the Sciences Summer Research Scholars Program. This initiative provides students with the opportunity to engage in paid, practical and hands-on research outside of regular class hours in a state-of-the-art laboratory setting.

The heart of the program was the close mentorship between students and faculty. This one-on-one interaction allowed for the development of strong relationships and a deeper understanding of scientific research. Immediate feedback from professors played a pivotal role in the growth of participating students, who were able to refine their research projects in real time.

Beyond theory, this program emphasized practical research experience. Students engaged in real research projects, providing them with valuable insights and skills necessary for the scientific field. For the summer, the laboratory was their personal sandbox for experimentation, data analysis and honing essential lab skills.

Communication in science was another focal point. The students honed their ability to convey their research findings, write compelling research papers and present their work confidently.

A student places a test tube in a machine

Student Karla Tecum conducts tests in Dr. Gabriel’s lab

Students participating in the inaugural cohort of the Sciences Summer Research Scholars Program include: Gerardo Gomez, Felipe De Araujo Ferreira, Casandra Fondos, Malaika Taylor, Jaely Chavez, Karla Tecum and Chloe P. White.

“[The program] has been especially beneficial because I was able to gain a lot more confidence in the lab before the school semester starts,” says Casandra Fondos. “I was able to read and learn and understand more and just having the faculty support and guide me along the way has been extremely helpful.”

Throughout the summer, students had multiple opportunities to present research updates, brainstorm and receive feedback at the recently-formed Data Club, a student initiative that has created a regular, public forum for scientific collaboration.

“My summer experience has prepared me for the future by providing opportunities to better my skills at collaborating with other students and by building relations with professionals across my field,” says Felipe De Araujo Ferreira. Both he and fellow participant Gerardo Gomez will present findings from their summer research later this month at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The Summer Sciences Summer Research Scholars program was conceptualized and implemented by a team of Oglethorpe science faculty and a student: Dr. Lea Alford, Dr. Karen Schmeichel, Dr. Allison Roessler, Dr. Gregory Gabriel and Marilyn Jiminez ’23.

Though all STEM students at Oglethorpe receive lab experience through course-embedded research opportunities, a unique program like this one was developed to allow participants to not only further develop necessary skills, but also to really feel a sense of belonging.

“Research experiences enrich their classroom learning and support the development of important technical and communication skills,” says Dr. Allison Roessler, assistant professor of materials chemistry. “Being able to offer a program like this at Oglethorpe allows us to support this critical aspect of a student’s education.”

With the ability to develop lasting bonds with faculty and a robust knowledge of research techniques, the young scientists participating in this program can feel more confident in the lab and beyond.

“In other programs, students don’t have access to the equipment that we do,” says Malaika Taylor24. “Typically their professors or their TAs will run experiments on the machines, while we get hands-on experience. I’m really grateful for that, to make transition from Oglethorpe to grad school or to lab tech-ing much easier.”

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