Assessing cognitive behavior and color preferences of bees in Cuba. Studying the cooling effect of irrigation on green roofs. Collecting data on the early detection of deep tissue injury in surgical patients.
These are all things that Drexel University students were doing over the summer, but these weren’t senior or graduate students — they were rising sophomores participating in the STAR Scholars program.
STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) Scholars allows first-year students to participate in faculty-mentored research, scholarship or creative work during the summer after their freshmen year. These students apply for the program either as they apply and are accepted to the University as high school students or during a second-round selection timeframe during their first winter term.
Jaya Mohan, associate director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said providing first-year students with this opportunity for hands-on research experience follows the same continuum as co-op in terms of Drexel’s commitment to experiential education.
“A major contribution of the program is that it provides students an early opportunity to understand what knowledge creation is in their field,” she said.
This year, 177 students participated in the STAR Scholar Program — the largest cohort so far in the program’s history. On Aug. 30, this year’s program culminated with the STAR Scholars Summer Showcase where students presented their research and were recognized for their accomplishments during the summer. Dozens of students filled the Bossone Enterprise Research Center Lobby, expertly explaining their projects to faculty, supporters and even President John Fry, who attends the showcase each year.
Cecilia Cirne, a sophomore culinary science student in the Center for Food & Hospitality Management, continually had a crowd listening in about her research on the chemical and attitudinal differences between commercial and artisanal foods. Cirne had also presented her work just one week before at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.
“I was the youngest presenter. Most students were grad students, and if they were undergrads, they were seniors,” Cirne said of the experience. “So the fact that I got to do this this early on and be able to continue that and network and meet all these people, it was just a ridiculous opportunity and I can’t believe that I got that. … I had one person who asked to publish the work and then another who offered me a position in their PhD program.”
For Jared Bunch, a sophomore mechanical engineering student from the College of Engineering, STAR Scholars offered him his first experience traveling abroad. Bunch spent the summer in India at Indian Institute of Technology Madras studying the robotic inspection of pipeline fissures utilizing acoustic emissions and ultrasonic waves. He was one of the 25 students to conduct research internationally this summer through iSTAR Scholars —which provides all of the benefits of the STAR Scholars Program in an international setting.
Bunch said he made a lot of great connections, learned a lot of new things and enjoyed immersing himself in a different culture — all before his sophomore year at Drexel had even begun.
“People in my lab were just astounded by the fact that I was a freshman. They thought I was in my third or fourth year,” he said. “I think it’s really important that Drexel gives students the chance to get started in research as young as they do.”
Following the poster sessions at the showcase, all STAR Scholars and their faculty mentors were invited to a recognition ceremony in Mitchell Auditorium to reflect on their accomplishments.
“Congratulations to every one of you,” said Suzanna Rocheleau, PhD, associate dean of the Pennoni Honors College and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, addressing the audience. “As I walked through the poster sessions today, I kept hearing positive comments from everybody. How professional the posters looked. How well everybody was explaining their research. And were these students really rising sophomores?”
Following a raffle for students with high attendance at STAR Scholar programming throughout the summer, the 2018 Outstanding Mentor of the Year awardees were recognized.
Michael Glaser, associate professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and program director of product design, as well as Hande Benson, PhD, a professor of decision sciences and management information systems in the LeBow College of Business, were awarded a $1,000 grant to support future work with undergraduate researchers.
Glaser shepherded five students through their collectively decided-upon research topic for the summer, “design for good” — or bringing the advantages of design to less fortunate people and communities.
Glaser was honored by the students’ nomination of him for the award, even though he usually prefers to celebrate the recognition of others. He said that the students who participate in the STAR Scholars program always end up going through the rest of their undergraduate experience with an advantage.
"The students who go through STAR end up being our best graduates, and getting the best jobs too,” he said. “It’s something about the summer [program] that gives them confidence and inspires them and gives them a great portfolio piece.”
Benson said that she loves the program and the incredibly motivated students she gets to work with through it. The two STAR Scholars she worked with this year on various business and engineering research surpassed what PhD students had been doing on the projects.
Benson was “pleasantly surprised” by her nomination for the Outstanding Mentor of the Year Award, and plans to put the grant money toward getting a formal business and engineering undergraduate research program up and running.
“I thought it was a great summer and the students did great work, but the honor should be on them,” she said.
To find out how you can support Drexel programs like STAR Scholars, visit future.drexel.edu.