Summer Research

Student and professor research focuses on quality of life the world over

Benefits of study at a small, private college like EMU are opportunities for hands-on, extensive research projects with caring professors. That was the experience this summer for several EMU students who worked closely with professors in research on campus and overseas.

Jakob zumFelde and Nonglak Samantarat, the Thai PhD student whom he worked with, display wastewater samples in the laboratory at the Asian Institute of Technology near Bangkok, Thailand where zumFelde spent five weeks this summer doing research.

Researching water sanitation and quality in Asia

EMU students Jakob zumFelde, Chrissy Kreider and Gene Fifer teamed up with three students from Buffalo (NY) State College to work on projects related to water sanitation in Cambodia and Thailand. Doug Graber Neufeld, professor of biology at EMU, gave oversight to the group.

Graber Neufeld and his wife Christina earlier served two years with Mennonite Central Committee in Cambodia, where he worked on projects related to environmental toxicology.

The students worked with Thai and Cambodian colleagues on projects related to water sanitation. ZumFelde and one Buffalo student worked at the Asian Institute of Technology on what happens to sewage in a local community when the sewage and accompanying rain water runs into open canals and then into a local lake.

Chrissy, a junior biology major from Columbia, Pa., worked at a non-governmental organization (NGO) outside Phnom Penh, Resource Development International, doing survey work and testing drinking water in rural villages of Cambodia. She looked at the impact of drinking water education, following up on work that 2009 graduate Laura Cattell did there last year.

Chrissy Kreider prepares to test drinking water in a Cambodian village.

Working with people of different faiths and cultures

“The experiences that I have had at EMU – such as doing research in classes, history courses that sought to understand all of the aspects behind an event or situation and an openness to dialog despite faith, culture, or other’ perspectives – have assisted me in making the most of the opportunities that I was blessed with here in Cambodia,” she said.

“It’s been so refreshing to see how people of different faiths and cultures can work together to not only advance science, but the quality of life for many rural Cambodians,” she added. The Khmer people (Cambodians) have suffered through a difficult history, even within my lifetime, but the openness, warmth, richness of their relationships is inspiring and often humbling."

Fifer, a senior environmental science major from Harrisonburg, did village survey work with Resource Development International on the feasibility of implementing composting toilets to deal with human waste.

Graber Neufeld noted that the Cambodian project is part of a National Science Foundation grant that is designed to give undergraduates experience doing research overseas. The primary thrust is “to show students how science is done in a culture very different from their own,” he said.

“Our hope is that in the future, if they pursue science careers, these students will have a broader concept of how science is relevant beyond our own borders and how it can be used for the ‘public good’ in the broadest sense," Graber-Neufeld said.

Student Elisa Troyer (pictured below) says the long hours of research on these invasive fire ants led to discussions of difficult life issues and resolutions with their professor and mentor Matthew Siderhurst.

Elisa, a junior biochemistry major from Harrisonburg, prepares for her work outside the USDA facility in Hilo, Hawaii.

The Hawaii research team (students David Showalter, Nate Derstine, and Elisa) consider real-life applications for their ongoing research.

Time with professors leads to meaningful discussions

EMU students Elisa J. Troyer, a junior biochemistry major from Harrisonburg; Nathan Derstine, a senior biology major from Harrisonburg, and David N. Showalter, a 2009 biochemistry graduate from Harrisonburg, worked with Matthew Siderhurst, associate professor of chemistry, on the Big Island of Hawaii. The project, funded by a grant from the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, focused on ways to control the little fire ant in Hawaii through through identification and applications of their alarm pheromone(s).

“Working for Dr. Siderhurst has been invaluable, beyond learning the scientific research process,” said Elisa. "I spent hours in the field counting ants under the sun or working in the lab on some odd job or another, but it was during those hours of would-be monotony that we all discussed difficult life issues and how we react to them.

“Over the past two summers, I have found that a professor can do more than teach in class, but can also become a mentor and friend,” she said, adding: “Sneaking in a trip to Hawaii certainly doesn’t hurt either.”

Projects close to home in the Shenandoah Valley

Back on campus, Stephen Cessna, associate professor of chemistry, worked with two students on a project with the Shenandoah Valley partnership for research experiences of undergraduates in molecular biology.

Andrew (Drew) Kirk, a junior biology and biochemistry major from Harrisonburg, measured antioxidants (vitamin C and E, carotenoids, etc.) in tomatoes grown in different conditions – inside versus outside the green house, in an environmental chamber under cold stress with high light versus low light and other settings.

Jie Ren, a student at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College who is considering transferring to EMU, measured free fatty acids – including omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids – in the same tomato plants.

This research is being supported by EMU’s collaboration with the National Science Foundation, through a partnership with James Madison University and Bridgewater College and also by the United States Department of Agriculture, through a grant that Dr. Cessna received for his sabbatical work. The students were able to use some new laboratory instruments acquired through another NSF grant.

Cross-cultural research experiences open doors

Her summer research experience has left Chrissy Kreider longing for more.

“As the research aspect of my journey to Asia ended,” she said, “I struggled with saying goodbye to the people that have come to mean so much to me. I find myself pursuing the possibility of returning to Cambodia in volunteer work next summer.”