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SXU Holds Virtual Summer STEM Research Fellowship and Expo


Saint Xavier University's (SXU) EXPLORE STEM team recently held the EXPLORE STEM Summer Research Fellowship and Research Expo virtually. Due to constraints from the COVID-19 pandemic, the programs were reworked to provide students a creative virtual alternative. 

The Summer Research Fellowship is an eight-week student/faculty collaborative research program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)-Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Grant (No. 1832511). Students are matched with faculty mentors to complete research projects, enabling SXU to offer high-impact learning experiences to students. Students presented their findings at the Summer Research Expo. This year, students completed literature reviews or research proposals and gave virtual presentations using PowerPoint and uploaded poster presentations. As part of the experience, students earned a stipend of $4,000.

Though students were not able to conduct the same in-person, hands-on research with their mentors, Chemistry Department Chair Bindhu Alappat, Ph.D., reworked the program to provide students a similar experience in a virtual format. With many students experiencing hardships as a result of the pandemic, Alappat knew that the stipend attached to the program would be more important than ever, which drove her to ensure the program was still provided to students despite the uncertainty.

Science students at SXU receive many forms of hands-on lab opportunities during their undergraduate experiences, but they are only introduced to in-depth investigations of academic literature during their seminar courses. The program's transition to a virtual format created an excellent opportunity for faculty mentors to guide students through dissecting academic literature and creating a literature review or research proposal, even if they are only freshman or sophomore standing. This kind of learning experience is especially valuable because it's typically done by students at the graduate level.

"This year, summer research helped expand the knowledge and skills of students in a way that was different from the previous year. As science faculty, we always give importance to hands-on lab experiences in research, but this year, the pandemic directed us to focus on teaching students other components of research -– how to read a literature article, conduct research properly, grow their knowledge in an area that is important or interesting to them, and finally, how to come up with a research proposal. These are mostly graduate-level skills, and here we are, able to impart those skills to undergraduate students. I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve this summer," said Alappat.

Each week, students and mentors met using Zoom to talk about their progress, challenges and solutions. Faculty mentors also met separately to share innovative ideas to help one another best support their student collaborators. Students completed research in areas such as the decontamination of wastewater from end products used to treat COVID-19 and the growth progression of interdependence and academic performance.

"As a student with no prior research experience, I found the EXPLORE STEM Summer Research Fellowship to be the most eye-opening and enriching experience I've ever had. The program's mentors and partners were so gracious and available to us, pushing us to do and be our best. My mentor [Meilin Huang, Ph.D., chemistry professor] stretched my thinking, tested my ability and encouraged my drive, which I will carry into every aspect of my life going forward. I will be forever grateful to SXU and the NSF for allowing me to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Morgan Greene, a chemistry major.

 Students who participated in this year's Summer Research Fellowship will work through the year to continue their research so that they may present at the University-wide Research Expo during the 2021 spring semester.