The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Division of Science and Research has renewed a grant for the third time from the Research Challenge Fund that allows Shepherd University science and mathematics students to spend the summer doing research. The $142,000, three-year grant will allow 11 students to work one-on-one with professors for eight weeks in the summer through the Shepherd Opportunities to Attract Research Students (SOARS) program.
“SOARS scholars will receive a stipend that will allow them to focus on their research rather than working during the summer,” said Dr. Colleen Nolan, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “Our faculty now have continued opportunities to work hand in hand with interested students in an environment where they’re comfortable. The quality of the research exemplifies the talents of the Shepherd faculty and students.”
Students in the SOARS program can choose to help with research in a variety of fields, including cancer biology, developmental biology, organic chemistry, robotics, engineering, environmental studies, big data, and genomics. Nolan said many faculty are happy to volunteer as mentors, including Dr. Bob Warburton, professor of biochemistry, and Dr. Carol Plautz, associate professor of biology.
Warburton, who is working with several other professors on research that’s using computer modeling to determine how immunotherapy and chemotherapy impact tumor growth, called the SOARS program a valuable initiative to help faculty do professional development.
“When I’m doing research in my lab and I’m working with students, that keeps me energized,” Warburton said. “I hopefully take that energy into the classroom to do my lectures and then maybe hook the next SOARS student who comes into my lab.”
Plautz said she’s been happy to serve a mentor every year.
“SOARS allows us to work with the students on projects more intensively,” Plautz said. “It’s a really, really good deal and I’m so excited that it got renewed. I’m proud to be a mentor.”
Shepherd first received the grant in 2011 and this is the second renewal. Nolan credits this success to what she calls “the overwhelmingly positive outcomes” in research projects, impacts on student learning, success after graduation, and faculty scholarship.
“It is a tribute to the faculty mentors and research students,” Nolan said.