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MC students got jump start on semester through SOFIA

Barry McNamara
Sydney Ropella, a freshman from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., shows off a poster displaying the laboratory exercises she created for astronomy students during Monmouth College’s three-week SOFIA (Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities) program.
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In the not-too-distant future, young children’s answer to the question, “What did you do in school today?” could very well be “We played The Great Garden Game!”
A board game designed for students in grades K-2, The Great Garden Game was one of nearly two dozen projects conducted by Monmouth College students who returned to campus three weeks early for SOFIA (Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities). A total of 85 students worked on the projects, including 55 first-time freshmen, and they displayed their results on Aug. 23 in conjunction with Matriculation Day activities on campus. Many of the projects will be ongoing throughout the fall semester, and some will even continue beyond that.
Introduced in 2010 as part of a group of seven academic initiatives, a major benefit of SOFIA is that “students will be involved in academic pursuits at Monmouth College before they even take a class,” said physics professor Chris Fasano, who oversees the program with associate professor of chemistry Laura Moore.
The three students who created The Great Garden Game worked under the direction of educational studies professor Craig Vivian. To get their creative juices flowing, they played and analyzed 45 board games.
The Great Garden Game teaches young students how plants grow. Using teamwork to collect Sun, Seed, Water and Dirt, they also learn about weather, the colors of the rainbow and basic word and number recognition.
A play test with four young children helped the research group make some minor tweaks, and a model of their project will soon be sent to The Game Crafter, a company that will publish a custom tabletop version of the game.
In addition to education, elements of art and science were part of the project, and mixing academic disciplines was a recurring SOFIA theme. The most intentional case was a project titled “Public Perceptions in Deviant Persons: An Adventure in Integrated Learning.” Students with interests in history, psychology and sociology used the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas, as a jumping off point to study “deviant celebrities,” which they defined as people who were “famous for acts considered socially unacceptable.”
They studied topics ranging from online fan bases for deviants such as the Aurora, Colo., gunman and the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, to media influence, including how images influenced public perception, and the effects of calling the Branch Davidian sect a “cult” as opposed to a “new religious movement.”
Some faculty members tasked their students with a variety of projects. Assistant professor of physics Ashwani Kumar oversaw students who examined three diverse areas: the electromagnetic properties of thin metal films; revisiting simple Stirling engines to see if they are practical in the modern world; and creating laboratory exercises for Monmouth’s astronomy students.
Two groups worked on issues related to the Monmouth SHeLF (Sharing Harvests of Local Foods) project, one on the growing end and the other on how best to market the project.
Other science and mathematics projects involved studying:
• the development of antimicrobial peptides for food security and antibiotics, and the development of E. coli resistance for use in biofuels;
• thermoregulation of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which could have benefits toward screening new drugs to treat malaria;
• the temperature tolerance for poisonous brown recluse spiders;
• diagnostic ultrasound imaging as a way to quantify tissue structure and aid the diagnosis of disease;
• a variety of games and puzzles, and the mathematics involved in the advanced game strategy of those activities; and
• mathematical modeling using high-speed imagery.
Projects from other disciplines included studying:
• contemporary practices and traditional techniques of bookmaking, from both the creative writing and artistic sides;
• post-World War II Germany through the life and times of Associated Press reporter Don Doane, the uncle of Monmouth College history professor William Urban;
• famous financial fraud cases, including the recent one in Dixon, Ill., and the accounting lessons that can be drawn from them;
• the artists and techniques of Renaissance Florence;
• speech forensics, with an eye toward being participants in ScotSpeak, the college’s speech/debate team;  
• new spaces and critical learning opportunities within children’s literature and graphic novels;
• both sides of Scotland’s upcoming referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, of which it has been a part since 1707;
• gender and equity in Chicago theatre;
• the importance of attitudes in education; and
• best practices for band drills and arrangements, which will be applied to this fall’s Fighting Scots Marching Band performances.