From Athletes in Action to Water Fleas in Ponds, Creativity and Exploration Shine in Student Research

August 14, 2023

This summer, 25 St. John Fisher University undergraduates majoring in 11 different disciplines had the opportunity to conduct original research alongside a faculty mentor through the Summer Fellows Research Program.

Allie Bruno collects samples from Mendon Ponds for a study about water fleas.

Allie Bruno collects samples from Mendon Ponds for a study about water fleas.

Supported by the Center for Student Research and Creative Work, the 10-week program gives fellows the creativity and freedom to design projects or explore special topics in their chosen field of study. Students can propose their own project in consultation with a faculty mentor or choose from one of a series of special projects. The program has supported 285 student researchers since its inception in 2011.

“The students that participated this summer were primarily rising juniors and seniors and experiencing research for the first time,” said Dr. Kristin Picardo, director of the Center. “Our faculty mentors played the most critical role in shaping these transformative experiences unique to each and every student, and the relationships built provided a safe space for students to grow in an environment specific to their needs and goals. I am so proud of the experience we offer here at Fisher.”

Emily Frech

Emily Frech

Emily Frech, a rising junior, learned this summer that there is quite a bit of science behind athletic performance. Her summer research involved the use of force plates and countermovement jump testing to help measure fatigue levels in athletes: the more tired an athlete is, the higher the risk of getting hurt. Frech said several coaches are already using the data she and her peers are gathering to help better monitor fatigue in their athletes.

“I have been exploring correlations between different metrics with the goal of finding data that is actionable for the strength and conditioning field,” she said. “These correlations will continue to help coaches with training decisions for both individual athletes and their team as a whole.”

In addition to conducting research, student fellows attended an orientation session, received Title IX training, completed responsible conduct of research training, and participated in the Scholarly Publishing module with Michelle Price, sciences, health sciences, and special collection librarian and the partner librarian for undergraduate research.

The students also attended four “coffee talks,” informal conversations around topics including policy map and scholarly publishing; best practices, hints, and tips for using an iPad for research; building resilience through research; and résumé building. Faculty members attended a mentor debrief, as well.

The program also uses EvaluateUR, an online mentoring and assessment tool, to conduct three check points during the experience where both students and mentors complete an assessment and meet to discuss progress toward the students’ goals. Picardo said the activity and process support metacognitive reflection along with goal setting and evaluation.

Rising senior Allie Bruno’s summer research took her to Mendon Ponds, where she studied the population genetics of the Daphnia species (water fleas). As part of her work, she collected samples from the ponds and performed DNA extraction. Part of her research has also involved studying the effects of pesticides on these creatures.

“In the bigger picture, this research can help us understand how the quality of the freshwater around us can not only impact the Daphnia species, but also reflects on the entire freshwater ecosystem and their survival/quality of life,” Bruno said.

In addition to growing her lab knowledge and professional skills, she added that the experience helped her become more resilient to failures, which led her to solve problems and find a new, and more efficient way, to do the research.

At the summer’s culminating event, more than 70 members of the University community enjoyed an up-close look at the efforts of the student researchers. Each student delivered a short presentation about their work and how the program impacted their academic growth. The showcase gave the students a taste of what it’s like to present in an effort to encourage them to submit their research for consideration at regional and national conferences.

“Travel to conferences is beginning to pick up again and we look forward to seeing where this group of students will take their research,” Picardo said.