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Political Science Students on the Conference Trail

In a world full of constant political division, Georgia Southern Honors students are making their mark by using research to gather a greater understanding of these intricacies and provide their own insights to some of today’s most pressing political issues. Their work has addressed topics such as immigration policy, the influence of women in chief executive roles, and voter turnout and is well received by peers and colleagues in the larger Political Science community. 

L-R: Gabrielle Peterson, Dr. Jamie Scalera, Anna Kwiatkowski, Dr. Srobana Bhattacharya,  Samuel Hobbs, Dr. Maureen Stobb, Ian Sheppard, Dr. Kate Perry.

In early October, four Political Science Honors students, Anna Kwiatkowski (political science ‘19), Ian Sheppard (political science and philosophy, ‘20), Gabrielle Peterson (political science and writing & linguistics ‘21), and Samuel Hobbs (political science and Spanish ‘20) attended the International Studies Association (ISA)—South Conference in Memphis to present their Honors Thesis research on panels with other students and faculty. Through this experience, these students were able to connect not just with their Georgia Southern faculty, but with professors and students from other universities across the region as well.

Kwiatkowski, who presented her research, Immigration Policy Reform: Higher education and International Students, commented that her greatest takeaway from the conference was the connections she was able to make with her professors. “I really enjoyed getting to connect with the professors from my department,” she said. “I got to learn more about what their research areas are and what the women in the department face as academics. I grew such an appreciation for all my professors during this conference.”

Peterson, who presented her thesis, Nurturing Democracy? Mediating Between Female Chief Executives and Voter Turnout, also enjoyed this time spent with both her own professors as well as those from other universities in the region. “Because of my professors’ involvement in ISA’s Women’s Caucus, I was able to go to the Women’s Caucus Breakfast and Roundtable Discussion and learn what it means to be a woman in Political Science academia,” Peterson said. This opportunity allowed her to experience a supportive and uplifting environment for female political scientists in this special space they have created for themselves. Peterson continued saying, “It was really touching for me to see this type of fellowship. It makes me hopeful that the unyielding support I have received from my Georgia Southern professors exists in the Political Science departments of other schools and in the broader field of Political Science.”

Attending conferences like this one also allows them to make connections with other universities that could help them in their graduate careers. Georgia Southern Associate Professor, Dr. Jamie Scalera, shared her avid admiration for these students and their work, saying, “Our students did such an outstanding job that they have caught the attention of several graduate programs throughout the country!” She continued saying, “Georgia Southern has become a well-known presence at this conference — both due to the involvement of our faculty and for the excellent presentations from our students.” 

A Golden Summer Research Experience

For international students like Jennifer Iwenofu (Biochemistry ‘22), finding a summer internship or research opportunity that provides some financial support can be difficult. Despite this obstacle, Iwenofu was able to find a program that also fit her research interests and helped her achieve academic goals.

Jennifer Iwenofu in the lab with Dr. Derrick Swinton, Department of Chemistry, at Claflin University.

Iwenofu spent her summer researching nanoparticles in the Spectroscopic Characterization of Gold Nanoparticles with Proteins Project at Claflin University. Her days typically began at 9:00 am and consisted of completing specific tasks designated for each day. “The most unique part of this project was that we all had different aspects that we worked on independently, but in some way all of the results of these individual aspects overlapped to lead to the overall scientific finding,” Iwenofu said. 

Iwenofu also enjoyed the rewarding feeling of seeing all of her work come together through a proven hypothesis. “One of my highlights was the day we put our gold coated nanoparticles and our bare nanoparticles in the Circular Dichroism spectrum,” she said. “It was exciting to see our hypothesis that the gold coated nanoparticles would have higher alpha helices in higher ionic strengths proven and reflected through our graphs.”

Through this experience, Iwenofu was able to learn how to rely on herself. While her mentors were available to her, it was her responsibility to solve the problems she encountered within her realm of the research. In this way, Iwenofu no longer had to rely on her mentors to teach her how to do things as she was able to learn for herself while working through the challenges. 

Cross-Cultural Experiences in Cancer Research

With graduate school application deadlines approaching quickly, Abigail McNamee (Biochemistry ‘20) had a tough decision to make about how to spend her final undergraduate summer. Her desire to study abroad and experience another culture was matched by her academic need for research experience. Thanks to the dedication of her professors and the participants in her Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, McNamee was able to achieve both of these goals while also fulfilling all of her desires for worthwhile summer experiences.

McNamee in the lab.

McNamee spent her summer in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department in the Georgia Cancer Center building of Augusta University researching the effects of phosphodiesterase inhibitors on c-GMP signaling and colon cancer cell proliferation in vitro. “My role in the project was to investigate whether the colon cancer cells themselves were being affected by the drugs we were studying or if the initiation process of colon cancer was being affected,” McNamee explained. In doing this research, McNamee enjoyed being exposed to more biomedical-focused research and learning about a vast array of research topics in the biomedical field ranging from cancer to eye diseases. 

“I wanted to pursue research over the summer because I wanted to continue to enhance my research skills and hopefully prepare myself for graduate school,” McNamee said. Her choice to participate in research at another university was also motivated by her desire to attend graduate school. “I wanted the chance to see what other universities might have to offer. Since I am in the process of looking for graduate programs, I thought that an REU at a potential graduate school option would be an excellent way for me to see if the school would be a good fit and what the research opportunities were there.”

While McNamee was initially disappointed in the impact this had on her ability to study abroad, she soon realized that her time spent in Augusta could contain just as many unique cultural experiences. “In my program, there were five international students, and I learned a lot about them and their cultures. So in essence, I still got the benefits that I was looking for from a study abroad and also got the research experience that was the most important.” 

Due to their vigorous daily work schedules, the members of the research team spent most of their free time getting to know more about one another and their different cultures during meals. “Since the international students didn’t have cars, I often drove with them to go grocery shopping or out to eat,” McNamee recalled. “These trips actually proved to be a wonderful time for us to talk about their home countries and the differences between how they lived there compared to in America.” McNamee was even able to try some traditional Nepali food prepared by one of her fellow researchers. “Anush, one of the Nepali students, often cooked for himself and would share what he had made with me. I had never tried Nepali cuisine before, but after this, I was convinced I had found my new favorite type of food!” 

McNamee’s REU was a successful experience that increased her self confidence and provided further clarity for her career path. “I am more confident than ever that I wish to pursue a career in research, specifically in the biomedical or a similarly health-related field of study,” McNamee said. “Through this experience, I got a glimpse of what a full-time career in research could look like.”

Summer Research at Yale

Katherine Barrs with Dr. Yuan Ren, one of her summer research mentors at Yale.

Throughout her time at Georgia Southern, Katherine Barrs (Biology and Mathematics ‘21) has received ample recognition for her achievements in academics and undergraduate research such as her 2018 summer spent researching bees and winning the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship this past May. In continuing with this progress, Barrs adds to her long list of accolades by participating in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates at Yale University.

Leading up to the 10 week 2019 Sackler/National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates: Interdisciplinary Research Training Across Biology, Physics, and Engineering Program, Barrs felt a healthy combination of anxiety and excitement. “I was feeling very excited to participate in the program, but I was a bit nervous to be starting work in an Ivy League environment with researchers at the absolute top of their fields and in labs with state of the art equipment,” Barrs said. “I was honestly terrified the first two weeks that I would accidentally break something expensive.”

Throughout her time at Yale, Barrs adhered to her daily schedule, which was always anything but dull. Her time spent both in the classroom and in the lab conducting experiments, preparing cell cultures and working directly with yeast cells, dye, and a spectrophotometer allowed her to develop and refine some very valuable skills. Her research explored a new method of measuring exocytosis and endocytosis rates through the use of lipophilic dye fluorescence in fission yeast and contributed to the Berro Lab’s overall research goal of unraveling how the molecular machinery of clathrin-mediated endocytosis generates forces to deform the plasma membrane and also how this machinery then senses membrane tension and adapts to it. “All of the aspects of this research combined to challenge and expand my communication and research skills,” Barrs explained. “My encounters with machine errors, issues with cell culture, and plain bad luck also helped me to develop a more positive and determined attitude toward solving problems.” 

“All of the aspects of this research combined to challenge and expand my communication and research skills,” Barrs explained. “My encounters with machine errors, issues with cell culture, and plain bad luck also helped me to develop a more positive and determined attitude toward solving problems.”

Barrs also quickly discovered the welcoming environment of the program seen in both its leaders and participants. “I always felt welcome and had many interactions with professors, post doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduate students. Overall, the environment I worked in and the people I worked with inspired me to be purposeful and meet my research goals,” Barrs said. While the work in the lab was often long and strenuous, Barrs was able to connect with the other program participants and form new friendships based on common interests both related and unrelated to the subject of their program.

Due to the specifics of this research project, Barrs was able to cultivate an interdisciplinary mindset that she will carry with her back to Georgia Southern and beyond. This focus on interdisciplinary studies also ties in with Barrs’ future plans as she wants to pursue a PhD in a combination of biology, chemistry, and mathematics. “The training I gained in the program has helped me feel more confident in my skills and previous experiences being sufficient to succeed in graduate school. Overall, I have a better understanding of what discipline and type of research I am interested in pursuing through graduate school,” Barrs said.

Her experiences working alongside students and faculty during this training at Yale University helped her improve her professional and academic credentials and increase her confidence in her own skills. Barrs now has no doubt in her ability to succeed in her research endeavors and achieve her professional and personal goals.

The Rhetoric of Inclusiveness

On our phones during class. On the computers in the library. On the bulletin boards in the Russell Union. We come into contact with a myriad of texts and images in these and so many more places, but what impact are they having on us? Some might consider this question too big to pursue, but senior honors writing and linguistics student Hannah Sincavage has turned her passion for the pursuit of these answers into projects and presentations throughout her undergraduate academic career to help shed light on an increasingly important topic.

Hannah Sincavage presenting her research.

Through her focus on rhetoric and composition, Sincavage has been able to devote countless hours of work into studying these examples of written, spoken, and visual rhetoric in an attempt to bring awareness to the impacts they are having on our opinions, ideas, and ways of life. Graduating this fall, Sincavage has spent the past three semesters researching the intersectionality and representation of female bodies with disabilities in still image advertising, such as activewear, swimwear, and lingerie advertisements for her honors thesis. “I saw an advertisement from Aerie featuring a girl with an insulin pump that made me realize how abled I am and how much of a privilege it is to be able to walk up the stairs, to digest my own food, to see,” Sincavage said. With this understanding, she has centered her research around the forms of language, rhetoric, and visual rhetoric and has focused on the topics of the historical representation, language, and representation of disability. 

By incorporating the rhetorical theory and research methods she has been using for her thesis project, Sincavage has been able to take a similar approach in researching and analysing other forms of rhetoric found in the public realm.

Last April, Sincavage presented at the Center for Undergraduate Research and Intellectual Opportunities (CURIO) Conference here at Georgia Southern, a conference that offers the opportunity for arts and humanities students to showcase their work and research. Her presentation focused on her blog, “Your Privilege is Showing,” a multimodal piece created for her Cultural Rhetoric class that incorporates theory and texts from the course to highlight the themes of invisible privilege and the perpetuation of oppression and discrimination that spurs from the refusal of some to recognize the existence of privilege in both themselves and others. 

Being able to combine classroom concepts and personal passions is a skill every student strives to achieve. Through her hard work and dedication, Sincavage has been able to use her time in college to research topics and issues that interest her in an academically appropriate way that not only increases her knowledge of the theories and concepts taught in her classes but also makes her better informed on the issues that she cares about. Sincavage reflected on her summer by saying, “This research helps to remind me that I’m writing about people, that these things matter, and that I can make a difference.” For the remainder of her time at Georgia Southern and in her future endeavors, Sincavage will continue to work to address the issues of representation, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in her writing by combining all that she has learned with all that she is passionate about.