Published June 24, 2020

A Summer of Research and Discovery

Pandemic gives science professors special summer research opportunities as Kieft Faculty Fellows.
  • Faculty members Jen Braun, left, and Marjorie Bond are studying football coaches’ heart rates during games in an effort to discover how heart rate responds to different stressful situations.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – This is the time of year when several Monmouth College science majors can typically be found on campus in their role as Kieft Summer Research Students.

Established in 2010 and named in memory of the late Monmouth chemistry professor Richard “Doc” Kieft, who left his $2.3 million estate to the College’s chemistry department, the summer research program lets science students conduct cutting-edge research under faculty supervision.

But with no students on campus this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monmouth science faculty are the beneficiaries of the Kieft summer program. The chemistry department has allocated the program’s endowed funds to a new “Kieft Faculty Fellows” program, which provides a summer stipend for Monmouth faculty in the STEM disciplines to support undergraduate research efforts. Fifteen faculty and staff are participating in the program, which requires a flexible four-week commitment.

“Doc was always generous with his time and talents to give opportunity to his students, and although this fund might look like it’s being spent on faculty this year, students are benefiting,” said biology professor Ken Cramer, who is continuing his research on brown recluse spiders. “My project is twofold: to prepare alumnus (and current track coach) Dan Evers’ and my work on dispersal in brown recluse spiders for publication, and to troubleshoot experimental designs for current student Danielle Ito-LaBelle’s upcoming video research on foraging tactics in brown recluses.”

Chemistry professor Audra Goach, who invited her STEM colleagues to take advantage of the new opportunity, is in regular contact with two of her students.

“I am lucky to have some of my research students working remotely for no stipend,” she said. “Both Seth Croslow ’21 and Kyle McLaughlin ’21 are thrilled to be able to write up their data for publication, while Steve Distin, our chemistry department lab manager and a former member of my research group, performs some trials in the lab. The dedication of our Monmouth students is something that always keeps me going and is what Doc always acknowledged and celebrated.”

Cramer’s department colleague Kevin Baldwin, who has for years researched pharmaceuticals leaching into natural aquatic systems and the effects of parasites on their hosts, is pleased to have the opportunity to “pay it forward.”

“Doc Kieft’s generous bequest is allowing me to synthesize and write about the results of my students’ research,” he said. “Doc was my faculty mentor when I arrived at Monmouth 20 years ago – and he is even today helping me to be a better teacher to our students.”

Some faculty members are doing collaborative projects, including statistics professor Marjorie Bond and Jen Braun, who teaches in the kinesiology department and is married to Fighting Scots head football coach Chad Braun. Together, they are studying football coaches’ heart rates during games in an effort to discover how heart rate responds to different stressful situations. They say having the opportunity to conduct summer research will allow them to advance their timeline for eventual publication.

“Doc Kieft’s generous bequest is allowing me to synthesize and write about the results of my students’ research,” he said. “Doc was my faculty mentor when I arrived at Monmouth 20 years ago – and he is even today helping me to be a better teacher to our students.”
Kevin Baldwin, biology professor

Also working jointly are physics professors Ashwani Kumar and Mike Solontoi, who aim to perform needed upgrades and calibration to the College’s observatory and telescope instruments that will greatly increase usability for student-faculty research, teaching and public outreach.

Other faculty members taking part in the new program are Laura Moore, Michael Prinsell and Brad Sturgeon from the chemistry department, James Godde from biology, Chris Fasano from physics and Michael Sostarecz and Robert Utterback from mathematics, statistics and computer science.  

“I am grateful to the chemistry department for creating this opportunity from these unusual circumstances and am honored to be working under a program that was made possible by Doc Kieft,” said Sostarecz, who is continuing a project on “Reflectance Transformation Imaging,” which applies data science to archaeology and is used by museums for virtualization and detail enhancement.

The data for the project was gathered at the British Museum of London in collaboration with Monmouth classics professor Alana Newman, along with student-gathered data from the College’s collection of Native American artifacts.

At a later date, the Kieft Faculty Fellows will come together to discuss their summer research.

“We anticipate organizing a faculty colloquium in the fall semester in which each participant will summarize their work and outcomes,” said Goach.

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