STAR Scholars: Broadening Horizons on Summer Break

In Thursday’s Drexel STAR Scholars Summer Showcase, many of the students presenting their research had the same explanation for their initial attraction to the program: “Broadening horizons.”

“I was like, ‘What am I going to do over the summer?’ It’s always important to do something over break,” said Justine Czop. “I wanted to broaden my horizons and actually do something like research.”

“I wanted to broaden my horizons a little bit,” echoed Matthew Brady, a fellow STAR Scholar. “I’m in chemical engineering and [my research is in] computer science. So I wanted to get some experience outside my own field.”

STAR Scholars is a summer-long program that allows students who just completed their first year at Drexel to do faculty-mentored research, scholarship, or creative work.

This year, 153 students participated in the program, which culminated with Thursday’s showcase in the Bossone Research Enterprise Building. Research ranged from complex medical issues to the use of drones in dance performances and the reconstruction of the FrankenHUBO robot.

Participants in the STAR Scholars Summer Showcase talk about their research together.

“This is amazing when you think that these are rising sophomores and that they’ve been immersed in the process of discovery,” said Suzanne Rocheleau, PhD, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Rocheleau is also the associate dean of the Pennoni Honors College, which houses the Office of Undergraduate Research.

“They understand for the first time, sometimes, the connection between what they’ve been studying in classes and how it’s going to be used in the real world and their lives,” Rocheleau said. “That is the link that’s needed in education: Why am I doing this?”

Julia Davis is an example of one student who made that sort of connection.

Megan Chatham presenting her research on Alkali Metal Halides.

An entertainment and arts management student who hopes to incorporate law into her education, Davis researched copyright and breach of contract law in relationship to the case of “Hands on a Hard Body.” The play had been on Broadway for a short time before it was cancelled and taken off Broadway, where its acts and lyrics were switched or changed but the original words remained.

Her research determined it was both infringing on the play’s original copyright and a breach of contract.

“I wanted to work with my professors more closely to find out what they did. That’s what I did with my professor, Brannon Wiles, and he taught me all about the business,” she said. “My favorite part was going through the contracts because it gave me a better idea about what happened and what goes on in the industry. This is a great real-world experience.”

Students like Brady and Czop took the opportunity offered by STAR Scholars to get outside their usual zone of study.

Brady’s computer science project actually was based on a current project at Drexel, the “smart” belly band designed to wirelessly record medical data. Brady used machine learning to sift through data from the band and uncover patterns. 

“My research focused on testing the reliability of the belly bands, how accurately we can interpret the data,” he said, explaining that accuracy is currently around 90 percent. “We’re hoping to make this usable. We’re going to need at least 99 percent-plus accuracy for people to actually use it.”

A biology student, Czop took a look at metals and their luminescence. She worked with elements like europium, zinc and gadolinium and determined what compounds make them appear as different colors under ultra-violet light.

“I do love chemistry so learning different techniques and methods might aid me in the future,” Czop said. “Maybe I’ll do a biology-chemistry type of thing.”

Rocheleau called such efforts “a hallmark of a Drexel education.”

“We really thrive in an interdisciplinary environment,” she said. “We’re preparing our students for fields that might not exist right now. This is a way of expanding knowledge in a genuine, authentic way.”

Nohra Murad is a STAR Scholar in a formalized interdisciplinary field, biomedical engineering.

“She’s helping develop an artificial heart for pediatrics,” Rocheleau said, gesturing toward Murad. “Talk about cutting edge.”

Murad did research on right ventricle assist devices, which are used in patients “waiting for heart transplants, keeping the heart alive and preventing congestive heart failure.”

With a device shrunk by 42 percent to make it suitable for children, Murad determined that it operated at the ideal hydraulic flow rate, making it a viable design. Murad will continue her work as a co-op this fall in the BioCirc Research Laboratory. She believes a prototype will be ready in October.

The lobby of the Bossone Research Enterprise Center during the STAR Scholars Summer Showcase.

“I loved it,” Murad said. “I’ll be able to see this through to its conclusion.”

Ultimately, Murad thinks the work she developed for STAR Scholars will be a step to making artificial hearts, which currently are mostly only designed for grown men, available to anyone of any age or gender.

And she credits STAR Scholars for that, especially since research seemed so intimidating to her when she first arrived at the University.

“Somehow it gets done, and I wanted to see how it got done,” Murad said. “STAR Scholars gave me a much better perspective on what I’m studying, how I can apply it and how it’s actually going to do something good.”