Donations at Work 2011
Honors Fellowships Expand Funding for Undergraduate Research
By: Nicholas Langhorne
After the 2010-2011 academic year at William & Mary ended, some truly remarkable research began.
Stephanie Kane ’12 is researching whether diets high in saturated fat impair a part of the brain important for cognitive tasks and regulating eating behavior. Kenay Sudler ’12 is studying attitudes regarding speech pathologists who speak with an accent that’s influenced by a second language. And Tim Becker ’12 is creating a mathematic model for the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population.
The three William & Mary students are among the College’s 22 Honors Fellows whose summer research is fully funded this year, up from 12 students each year in 2010 and 2009. The fellowships, funded through private donations, make it possible for undergraduates to conduct intensive research by covering associated costs.
Tim Becker ’12 will continue his work with the differential equations he and his faculty adviser have developed. They will study the effect of harvesting and cannibalism, which is prevalent among blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Becker, a mathematics major and son of Virginia Tech professors, is well aware of the benefits of undergraduate research. Becker said he “immediately gravitated toward” his topic of modeling the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay when his faculty adviser, Associate Professor Junping Shi, approached him about choosing a topic.
“For me, this research encapsulates two of the things that I love doing: mathematical study, and working in nature,” Becker said. Becker said he plans to continue working with the differential equations model he and Shi have developed during the past year. Specifically, they will study the effect of harvesting and cannibalism, which is prevalent among blue crabs, on the species’ population.
“Our main goals this summer are to determine how best to tweak our existing model to have it fit the time series data for the Blue Crab more accurately and come up with a fully functioning model that demonstrates the population dynamics,” Becker said.
His findings should be beneficial to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s efforts to bring the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population back to historic levels, Becker said. In 2009, the adult blue crab population rose above 200 million for the first time since 1993. However, juvenile population levels are still below the historic average.“I do not know as much about the ecological side as I do the mathematical, but I believe that this data and model will be able to benefit the researchers at VIMS as they continue with their work,” he said.
Stephanie Kane ’12 spent plenty of time in the kitchen — and in the lab — this summer as she researched whether diets high in saturated fat affect a part of the brain responsible for cognitive tasks and regulating eating behavior.
Kane, a neuroscience major, said her research could be beneficial as the United States and other nations battle ballooning obesity rates.
“I guess the point of doing research like this would be to look at what kind of preventative measures people should take and to know what people are up against when they’re trying to treat obesity,” she said.
Kane said the idea for her research came after her faculty adviser, Assistant Professor Catherine Forestell, told her about research at Purdue University which involved rats, and studied the effect of how much fat they ate on a certain brain area.
“We’re looking at how much fat people eat and how that relates to their performance on a computer task,” Kane said. “We’re also doing a couple of other sorts of tasks to see how much they eat in certain situations.”
She hopes to have 30 participants to study over the summer.
“Anything more than that would be fantastic,” Kane said. “I’ll probably have to get at least 40 or 50 in the long term to get my honors thesis done.”While her research is difficult and time-consuming, Kane said she doesn’t mind.
“It’s really challenging but in a pleasant way. I wouldn’t be doing it honestly if I didn’t expect to enjoy it,” she said. “I had enough experience to know really what it would involve essentially. Obviously it’s not all perfect and wonderful, but it’s worth it I think and it’s very rewarding.”
Kenay Sudler ’12 wants to design a study to test how accents play a part in speech pathology jobs. She’s interested in investigating how speech pathologists with accents from a second language are perceived.
Sudler, a linguistics major, is interested in pursuing a career in speech pathology. That’s what sparked her interest in the situation faced by speech pathologists who speak English with an accent from a second language.
“I’m really passionate about speech pathology and all of the issues surrounding it,” Sudler said. In 1998, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association released a position statement regarding the issue, where it called for its members to not discriminate on the basis of accents. However, there is little research on actual attitudes of speech pathologists on the issue. Sudler plans to survey speech pathologists in the area and possibly conduct face-to-face interviews with therapists, clients and maybe even students. If possible, Sudler wants to design a study and test out how accents play a part in speech pathologist’s jobs.
“If I’m able to provide some evidence about what the attitudes are, and more so if I’m able to provide data, I think it could definitely potentially result in a new, more updated policy coming or maybe even more education within the speech pathology programs about issues of accents,” she said. “Hopefully it could have some impact and help to improve the situation.” Sudler said undergraduate research is beneficial and suggests that all students consider it.
“If you have something that you’re passionate about or interested in, even slightly, go out and learn more about it,” she said. “And if it gets to that point, definitely do research.”
All Photos: Stephen Salpukas