Mercer Undergrads Participating in a Variety of Summer Research Experiences


MACON – Mercer University was recently named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top institutions in the country for undergraduate research and creative projects.

Last spring, the publication invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of undergraduate research and creative projects.

The 49 colleges and universities that were mentioned most were included on the list, which also features the likes of Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt and Yale.

This past summer, Mercer undergraduates carried that banner by participating in a variety of research opportunities across the U.S. and the world.

A few examples include:

Joey Allen, a rising senior majoring in computer science, worked with the Looking Glass Team at Washington University in St. Louis to create educational programming opportunities for children. The team's research combines computer science with psychology and education in an attempt to provide 10- to 15-year-olds with an optimal level of cognitive load that translates to learning programming constructs without an instructor's help. The goal is to automatize the system to detect what concepts each student is struggling with and automatically suggest personalized examples that will help them learn most effectively.

Timothy Lewis, a rising senior majoring in law and public policy, studied local education policy with a grant from Mercer's Research that Reaches Out Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Office. He interviewed board members, school administrators, teachers and parents to discover the ideas and needs of these groups. Using that data, combined with education policy research, he will develop proposals for changes that fall within the powers of the local school board and individual schools that can help schools increase achievement and overall well-being for their students.

Arbaz Momin, a rising senior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, conducted research at Wake Forest's Institute for Regenerative Medicine regarding the use of patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to model a disease. The goal of this research is to use iPSCs to regenerate neurons, and then to characterize the neuronal cells using molecular and histochemical approaches. The patients have a condition called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome (PMDS) and are missing one copy of a gene that codes for an important neuronal protein (Shank 3). Characterization of neurons from PMDS patients, compared to non-PMDS neurons, will provide insights into the functional deficits in PMDS.

Jayla Moody, a rising sophomore double-majoring in French and journalism, participated in a research fellowship in Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. Through the fellowship, campus leaders with interest in journalism, social justice and political science studied Israel's historical and current social challenges while researching conflict-resolutions. These students will incorporate what they learned into their own communities through programs, clubs, reflections and projects.

Kaydren Orcutt, a rising senior majoring in chemistry and Spanish and a 2015 Goldwater Scholar, conducted research at the University of California, Berkeley, as an Amgen Scholar. Her work involved investigating N2O isotopes in atmospheric samples. N2O is a potent greenhouse gas with many sources and sinks. By studying the isotopes of Nitrogen and Oxygen in N2O, researchers hope to achieve a better understanding of how it exists in the atmosphere and which sources may be more problematic. Orcutt performed corona discharge experiments, where the lightning component of thunderstorms is recreated, as N2O is produced by – but not well understood in – these storms. With the rise of more intense storm systems, studying the particular N2O produced by storms may not only lead to further understanding of these storms, but also to new information for the global N2O budget.

Zechariah Rice, a rising junior majoring in electrical engineering and a 2016 Goldwater Scholar, assisted in circuit board design for Inspired Energy, a Florida-based company that designs and manufactures “smart” batteries and has contracts with NASA, the NFL, among other notable clients.

Aaron Scherf, a rising senior majoring in international business, worked with microfinance social investment company Tembeka in Cape Town, South Africa. He partnered with Dr. Geoffrey Ngene, assistant professor of finance in the Stetson School of Business and Economics, to study Tembeka's portfolio of microfinance projects over time, including small enterprise loans to women in rural areas, low-income housing finance and microcredit services for South Africa's large population suffering from poverty. The results of the research will provide the company with quantitative proof of its performance over time, which can be used to improve its social business model, attract new investors and demonstrate its impact to stakeholders.

Additional students participated in research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) at institutions such as New York University School of Medicine, the University of Maine and the University of Illinois, as well as internships in industries such as finance, government, health care, journalism, manufacturing and real estate.