Multidisciplinary students pursue on-campus research, build undergraduate portfolios

Biology major junior Simran Singh participates in research with the biology and chemistry departments. Singh’s research gives her interdisciplinary perspectives and has granted her the opportunity to cultivate practical, goal-oriented skills after graduation. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’ Life Editor)

Simran Singh

Biology major junior Simran Singh is involved in two different research groups on-campus: one in the biology department and one in the chemistry department. 

In the biology department, Singh completes ecological invasive research with assistant professor of biology Suann Yang. 

“The research that I’m doing with her is on invasive thistles; specifically, on the plant Carduus nutans,” Singh said. “What we are trying to gather is how spread is impacted based on the different pollination treatments.”

Singh’s research with Yang is affiliated with Pennsylvania State University. The data have already been collected for this project, so Singh spends her time primarily using a software called “R” and computing a dispersal modeling system.  

Singh’s research with the chemistry department is overseen by Director of Introductory Chemistry Laboratories and Chemistry Gikonyo Barnabas.

“In [Barnabas’s] research, we are focusing on bone fracture repair and we are basically trying to come up with a less invasive procedure for working with bone fractures,” Singh said.   

Despite the limited opportunities on-campus, Singh highly encourages students to become involved in research during their time at Geneseo. She claims that she has acquired numerous skills by conducting research and has found it to be a rewarding experience.

“There are a lot of lessons you can learn through research that are important,” Singh said. “You just learn to be more structured and you learn to make goals and attack those goals before proceeding to the next step, and that’s something that a lot of people tend to forget.”

Colleen Steward

Biochemistry major junior Colleen Steward has used her undergraduate research as a guide for picking a career. After doing research under Director of Introductory Chemistry Laboratories and Chemistry Gikonyo Barnabas, Steward has decided to pursue biomedical research professionally. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’ Life Editor)

Being involved with research as an undergraduate student can help students determine exactly what career path they want to take following graduation. For biochemistry major junior Colleen Steward, this was exactly the case. 

Steward is also conducting research with Barnabas and has been working with him since spring 2016. 

Her current research focuses on biodiesel and on the limited supply of fossil fuels. 

“We are growing microalgae, specifically chlorella, and we are taking that and then doing chemical processes to get biodiesel,” Steward said. “I think one of the greatest things about this project specifically is that it’s so applicable to society as a whole.”

“We have a dwindling supply of fossil fuels and so we are going to need a renewable source of energy,” Steward said. “Although you can use corn to make biodiesel, that’s not sustainable because people need to eat. It’s really cool to look at algae as a more carbon-neutral cycle to make that renewable energy.”

Steward is an aspiring biomedical researcher and plans to attend graduate school. She hopes to continue completing research and eventually become a professor. 

Science majors especially benefit in a variety of ways when taking on research as an undergraduate, according to Steward.

“A science major can seem like a pencil and paper endeavor to get your degree, but after you leave, it’s really about applying all that knowledge into a lab setting and being able to do the reactions yourself and see the products,” she said. “I think it’s not only inspiring personally, but also you can apply it to greater society. So it’s not just learning pencil and paper, but more about paying it forward.”

Isabella Vicentini

International relations major senior Isabella Vicentini discovered her interest in South Africa when studying abroad. Vicentini’s research examines hashtag movements, which have become popular among South African students. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’ Life Editor)

Before taking on research, it’s important to make sure you’re enthusiastic about the topic. After spending a semester abroad in South Africa, international relations major senior Isabella Vicentini found her passion and pursued it.

During her semester abroad, Vicentini knew she was going to have to write a senior thesis upon returning for her last semester. She scoped out different topics and found the various student protests occurring across South Africa particularly significant.

In South Africa, there are many student movements protesting different forms of oppression across the country’s universities. Vicentini focused her research on the hashtag movements known as “#FeesMustFall” and “#RhodesMustFall.”

“[The hashtag movements] are little sectors of the movements which have to do with the rising cost of education in South Africa. Basically—after apartheid ended—the government led by Nelson Mandela promised that higher education would be free for South African students,” Vicentini said.   

The movement “#RhodesMustFall” focuses on taking down all forms of colonial legacy in the structures of universities that are named after Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was a British white supremacist and former prime minister of the Cape Colony who slaughtered thousands of Africans and promoted apartheid in South Africa. 

Vicentini is working on her senior thesis with assistant professor of political science and acting international relations coordinator Karleen West. Vicentini urges students to complete research of their own.

“It’s cool because you can think of conducting research as a class that you are teaching and taking at the same time,” Vicentini said. “It’s really independent and it tests you, but it also teaches you a lot about yourself and what you can accomplish given the time, resources and how you handle that.”