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Summer research program gives students ‘invaluable understanding’

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – It might not be a scientific formula, but the advantages of participating in Monmouth College’s Doc Kieft Summer Research Program are at least as numerous as the number of students who participate.

This summer, 10 Monmouth students are taking part in the prestigious eight-week program, named for the late College chemistry professor Richard “Doc” Kieft. On July 12, the students took a break from their research to participate in the program’s annual Undergraduate Research Talks.

Sobhi Kazmouz ’19 of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, addressed one of the basic ideas behind the creation of the College’s Center for Science and Business when he talked about what the program has meant to him.

“Studying a topic in depth has taught me ways of how to explain and present it to people who are not familiar with it, allowing them to be involved in the conversation,” he said.

Kazmouz is conducting research on fumarate nitrate reductase (FNR), which is an element of studying E coli bacteria.

“Research has taught me that finding the answer to a question is just the beginning, and there are many more questions that come up along the way,” he said.

In addition to the chance to learn something new, Rachel Book ’19 of Byron, Ill., said she appreciates the opportunity to pull together experiences from throughout her college education.

“The Doc Kieft Summer Research program helps develop techniques that are not necessarily offered in the classroom environment,” she said. “It also lets you use all the accumulated knowledge from a variety of science classes and put them together for one big project that you can continue through your college career.”

Book is interested in reversing, or at least slowing, memory loss. She is studying how the ginkgo biloba plant might be a part of the solution.

“Rachel has spent the bulk of the summer designing her project,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Audra Sostarecz, who is overseeing Book’s research. “This is all her idea.”

Book said she was nervous before her 20-minute presentation, but once she got started, she sailed through it. Ali Gustafson ’19 of Kewanee, Ill., said gaining that type of confidence is another one of the program’s advantages.

“This experience has provided me with an invaluable understanding of the research process, as well as the confidence to conduct and present my own scientific research,” she said. “This summer has also provided me with a stronger passion for academic discovery, and a greater understanding of the importance of the work we are doing as scientists.”

Gustafson opened the research talks with her research partner, Eric Oliphant ’19 of Galesburg, Ill. The two are conducting research related to molecules that contain a bond between two nitrogen atoms.

“(They) not only exhibit remarkable biology activity, but are relatively rare in nature,” the students wrote in the project’s abstract.

“I am honored to continue the legacy that Doc Kieft left here at Monmouth, and I look forward to applying what I’ve learned this summer throughout the rest of my college education and beyond,” said Gustafson.

A 30-year chemistry professor who was beloved by Monmouth students, Kieft left his $2.3 million estate to the chemistry department. He also created the research program, which gives science students an opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research under close faculty supervision. The students work 40-hour weeks and receive free housing and a small stipend. Since its inception in 2010, the program has grown steadily in scope and complexity of research.

Like her department colleagues Brad Sturgeon and Laura Moore, Sostarecz remembers Kieft, and she fully appreciates the program he made possible.

“It is extremely important for an undergraduate science major to participate in a summer research program in order to experience what it is like to be a researcher,” she said. “Our chemistry and biochemistry majors have the unique opportunity to do this research at their home institution.”

Sostarecz said no matter how far along the students are in their research, the summer program is valuable for them and for their advisers.

“Some of the chosen students for the Doc Kieft Summer Research Program are continuing research projects that they began during the academic year, and they end up amazed at the work they can accomplish when they focus 100 percent on their experiments,” she said. “Others use the summer to design as well as carry out a research project that they have a personal interest in. Whatever this time is used for, it is a gift to both the student and the faculty research adviser – a gift of dedicated time to learn, enjoy and engage in research.”

In addition to Sostarecz, Moore and Sturgeon, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Prinsell is also serving as an adviser this summer. Other students participating are senior Stephanie Saey of Galesburg, Ill., and juniors Brandon Allen of Marengo, Ill., Selene Housnve of La Salle, Ill., Mohammad Kanber of Clover, S.C., Samy Monies Salah Esa of Cairo, Egypt, and Kate Saulcy of Bloomington, Ill.

“Doc would be really proud to see this,” said Dr. Steve Murmann of Monmouth, who graduated in 1980 and was invited by Sturgeon to address the students. “He would be really proud to see all of you expanding your horizons.”