By Margaret Tronsor ’17
A program designed to create a better sense of community on campus during the summer is bringing together students doing research in the sciences. Tentatively called the Rhodes Summer Science Institute, the program is the brainchild of Interim Dean of the Faculty Milton Moreland and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michelle Mattson. The interdisciplinary program is directed by Mauricio Cafiero, chair of the chemisty department and associate professor of chemistry.
“Often times, as researchers, we get cooped up in our laboratory and concentrate on our research,” explains neuroscience major Rahul Peravali ’17. “Summer at Rhodes can be boring, and it′s always nice to see who else is here.”
Carolyn Dishuck ’17, a biology major, says the group not only creates community, but encourages excellence. “It is so beneficial to have this network of support made up of students who all want one another to succeed.”
Deans Moreland and Mattson asked Cafiero, who had served on the fellowships committee for the past three years, to be the director of the new program. In fellowships, says Cafiero, students are taught “reflection skills, soft skills, and personal growth” that will help them in their professional lives. He is seeking similar benefits for students in the new interdisciplinary group. Having begun planning the program in the fall of last year, he is glad to see it come to realization this summer.
Most students in the group are paid to perform research through fellowship grants and work 20 to 40 hours weekly. In addition, participation in the Summer Science Institute will provide students resume building material and experience in research that can be applied to future studies and careers.
The meetings are “fairly informal, at least for now,” says Cafiero, and include 10 to 15 minute presentations by students in the group about their respective research. As an interdisciplinary program, the goals of these presentations are to get people outside their comfort zones when presenting and to expose them to research by other students in subjects they don’t necessarily know a lot about. Cafiero describes a recent meeting this way: “Two people from the sciences and three from psychology presented, and one of the students who asked a question was a mathematician.”
Cafiero says that this small group setting over a range of fields of study creates a great environment for students to improve their presentation skills. One of Cafiero’s summer research regulars, Katie Hatstat ’16, explains, “During previous summers, I had little interaction with research students outside of the chemistry department. Participation in the Summer Science Institute is furthering my ability to present my research by requiring that I convey the information to students who are unfamiliar with the topic and methods.”
At the end of the summer, the group plans to hold 30 minute presentations that will be open to campus in a fashion similar to URCAS (Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium) presentations held spring semester.
Although this is just the first summer of the Summer Science Institute, Cafiero says that there is a plan to make it a more formal program that will continue each summer. Right now, he says, everyone is very enthusiastic about it, including the students in the group. Says Katie, “This program should be integrated into all summer fellowships, because it is directly supportive of the interdisciplinary foundation of the liberal arts curriculum at Rhodes.”
Once the Summer Science Institute is formalized, all summer research will hopefully fall under its umbrella, further creating a community space for students staying in Memphis over the summer. In addition, Cafiero hopes to open the meetings to prospective students who visit during the summer and therefore don′t have the opportunity to sit in on an academic class.