Barry McNamara  |   Published August 26, 2021

‘Memorable, Enriching Learning Experience’

SOFIA, Monmouth College’s unique Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities program, kept two dozen incoming students busy in August.

SOFIA: Students in Monmouth's Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities program discus... SOFIA: Students in Monmouth's Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities program discuss their project related to COVID-19 at the poster presentation session held Aug. 21 in the Center for Science and Business.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College freshman Emily Canterbury spoke in front of a full auditorium of college professors and her peers before even taking a formal class at the College.

“That was terrifying,” Canterbury confided to a fellow student after making her presentation at the beginning of this month in the College’s Pattee Auditorium.

Canterbury was among two dozen new Monmouth students who participated in the College’s unique three-week Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities program, held before 2021 fall classes started on Aug. 25. The students described their research at three Friday-afternoon colloquia in August and presented their findings via posters on Aug. 21.

“It was a memorable, unique, enriching learning experience,” said Canterbury, of Orion, Illinois, who is one of the College’s two Admiral’s Scholars in the Class of 2025. “Not only did I have the privilege to participate in some very intriguing research, but it was the perfect time to get settled into campus life before classes start, as well as make some friends. I recommend it to everyone.”

Parkinson’s disease, a wind tunnel and gender-neutral bathrooms

At the first Friday colloquium, Monmouth physics professor Chris Fasano, who coordinates the SOFIA program along with chemistry professor Laura Moore, told the students: “We were very sad not to have you all here last year (due to the pandemic). We’re very excited to have you here now.”

Canterbury’s SOFIA group investigated the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. Her research team was led by neuroscience professor Janet Ugolino.

Canterbury’s group was followed by an engineering group that constructed a wind tunnel; by students who studied the effects of signage in gender-neutral bathrooms; and by students who researched how a political candidate’s lifestyle choices might affect their perception among the public.

One SOFIA group presented research on wearable technology, such as Fitbits, while another showed off the various art projects they had completed on campus and outlined their future plans.

Presentations at the final colloquium included groups discussing: the chemistry of baking; their monitoring of the wolves of Isle Royale National Park; a “social autopsy” of COVID-19 in rural Monmouth; and “The Latin American Food Project.”

For the latter project, which was led by Latin American Studies coordinator Francisco Ángeles, students road-tripped the Midwest in search of Latin American restaurants. On social media, they wrote stories about the cultural history behind the dishes they ordered, but also and more important, the personal experiences of the immigrants they encountered along the way.

Sociology professor Jialin Li led the COVID-19 project, which saw students use multiple social science research methods to get an overall timeline of the Monmouth community experience during the pandemic after the announcement of the first positive case.

‘Creative activism’

Led by art professor Janis Wunderlich, the art project had some of the most tangible results of all the groups – along with the baking and Latin American food students – as they spruced up several areas of campus, including Hewes Library and the College’s farm and garden, where they painted the chicken coop and beehives in bright colors.

“We’re really excited about the library mural. It gives the entrance a bright pop and gives the message of ‘You’re welcome here.’”
 Natalie Takahashi ’22

In Hewes Library, the students painted a bold, pop-art style Roll Scots! mural near the east entrance, learning about such artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in the process.

“We’re really excited about the library mural,” said Natalie Takahashi ’22 of Lisle, Illinois. “It gives the entrance a bright pop and gives the message of ‘You’re welcome here.’”

Takahashi and her fellow artists called their SOFIA project “Creative Activism.” The group is also working with Warren County United Way executive director Jeannie Weber on a new logo for the organization, as well the overall design and part of the painting of a proposed downtown mural just off the Public Square.

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