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Summer research is thriving at Monmouth College

Alyssa Janssen
07/30/2014
Some of the students and faculty participating in this summer's research projects took time out to gather on the south steps of the Center for Science and Business.
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When Monmouth College emeritus chemistry professor Richard “Doc” Kieft died in 2009, ground had not yet been broken for the college’s new Center for Science and Business, but each summer his spirit is still felt in the hallways of the innovative academic facility.
 
Kieft, a bachelor who considered the college community his true family, became legendary over his 30-year career at Monmouth for his personal style of teaching. When he left his $2.3 million estate to the chemistry department, he also created the Kieft Summer Research Program, a 10-week experience that allows science students to conduct intensive cutting-edge research under close faculty supervision. Since its inception in 2010, the program has grown steadily in scope and complexity of research.
 
This year’s program, which was partially funded by the college’s Jean Cheng Go Endowment, allowed eight students to live on campus and conduct research in the Center for Science and Business’s modern and spacious laboratories.
 
Associate professor of chemistry Audra Sostarecz praised the students for their hard work to date and for their dedication to their projects.
 
“If they were to do these projects during the semester, they would get about three hours done in one semester,” said Sostarecz. “But with the students working intensively through the summer, they are able complete more work without having to worry about juggling classes and extracurricular activities.”
 
The students develop their own research topics, ranging from working with medical equipment to more personal subjects. Carley Folluo, a sophomore from Hamilton, was able to dissect a pig eye and use different tests in order to more closely examine what causes cataracts. Her classmate, Morgan Gulley of Mascoutah, researched a project directly related to her personal condition of scoliosis.
 
It was up to the students to determine what tests to run, what data they needed to find and how to go about doing their work.
 
“In a classroom, you are given a recipe to find the answer,” said Andy Selep, a junior from Schaumburg, who worked under the Jean Cheng Go Endowment. “But in this setting, you have to create the recipe, and it isn’t always going to be perfect. It’s very eye-opening to do my own research.”
 
The summer schedule allows the students to get extra attention from their professors. The typical student-to-professor ratio for summer research is 2:1, so students are able to increase the one-on-one time with their professors in the lab.
 
They were adamant about getting more students involved in summer research, saying it’s a great way to fuel a passion about a subject of interest. It all adds up to even better preparation for their futures, giving them an advantage over other students when applying for graduate schools and jobs.
 
Andrea Gasow, a senior from Mt. Zion, said that many places she is looking to apply for next year have requirements for students to do their own research prior to their program.
 
“They want you to come in already knowing what you’re doing so they don’t have to hold your hand through everything,” she said.
 
The students work 40 hours per week and are paired with faculty members including Sostarecz, Safiyyah Forbes, Laura Moore and Brad Sturgeon from the chemistry department and assistant professor of physics Tim Stiles. Each student received free housing and a small stipend.
 
Sturgeon said that he “could feel ‘Doc’ with him” during these summer months and knew Kieft would have loved being with the students. When the students gave a small presentation about the research they had completed so far, they all recognized the significance of the endowment and the opportunity it provided them.