Shorter University’s Department of Natural Sciences has received a $1,000 grant from the TriBeta National Biological Honor Society to support undergraduate research in the sciences. The grant is funding research by students Jacob Case and Chris Elsey.
The students are studying the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Rome’s community waterways, Horseleg Creek and Little Dry Run, under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Susan Monteleone. They will present their findings at a TriBeta or regional conference.
Case and Elsey are sampling water, river sediments and soils to profile the physical environment and identifying pools of contamination. In addition, they are sampling the creeks’ primary producers, algae and periphyton, and are looking at potential bioaccumulation in the food chain by sampling invertebrates and fish in those creeks.
The students are using a gas chromatography/mass spectrometer instrument (GCMS) that was donated to Shorter University by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“This project affords these students hands on experiences in field and analytical methods with the benefit of working on a contemporary problem in environmental health,” Dr. Monteleone said. “I have mentored many students in undergraduate research over my years of tenure. I have often heard students remark on the experience as transitional, when students transform into working scholars, remarking that they ‘feel’ like a scientist. Undergraduate research or experiential learning is a critical component of higher education that provides opportunities to practice in their chosen fields of study. Post-graduate programs are promoting, and in some cases requiring, undergraduate research in their consideration for admission to professional and graduate studies. Case and Elsey and other Shorter science students are benefiting from this valuable opportunity to work closely with their professors, scholars in their respective fields.”
Elsey said that he was drawn to the project last semester due to his love for chemistry, biology and environmental science. He added that it is exciting to have the opportunity to study anthropogenic chemicals and their impact on the environment.
“Research is an invaluable asset for any aspiring scientist,” Elsey said. “It is where what you learn in lecture and lab comes to life. In that aspect, it is such a fun and amazing experience. Even beyond that, though, research is crucial for applications to graduate schools. My own research has helped me to gain new insights into what higher degrees I might pursue in both my master’s and Ph.D. programs.
“This research has also taught me useful laboratory techniques I would not otherwise have the opportunity to know as of yet,” he added. “My knowledge and proficiency of those advanced techniques and the proof that I can successfully work independently in both a lab and field setting makes the applications I am working on for summer research programs competitive. Nothing is more important than undergraduate research. Beyond everything else, research is rewarding. Whether you find evidence to support your working hypothesis or not, there is something so unique and fulfilling about attempting to make scientific advances.”
Of the study he and Case are conducting, Elsey said, “We are currently in the first phase of the research in which we are looking for the PCBs in water, sediment and soil samples. Hopefully we will be able not only to locate the PCBs in the environment, but also identify which congeners are present with the help of our data from the gas chromatography mass spectrometer (GCMS).”
Case agreed that his participation in the study of PCBs in the Coosa River and its tributaries is providing an excellent opportunity for enhanced learning. “This research study has allowed me to engage in anthropogenic chemicals and their effects on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Consequently, my passion for science has grown because it is fascinating to see concepts learned in the classroom come to life through practical research. I have gained vast knowledge on various chemical compounds as well as the methods through which we find these organic compounds in a lab-based setting.”
Case, a senior from Trenton, Ga., is double majoring in biology and music; he plans to attend medical school after graduating from Shorter in December 2017. Case serves as president of Somethin’ Else and is a member of the TriBeta National Biological Honors Society.
Elsey, a sophomore from Marietta, Ga., is an ecology and field biology double major; he plans to graduate in 2019 and attend master’s and doctoral programs in environmental chemistry. He is a Eubanks Scholar at Shorter and a member of the Honors Academy. He serves on the council for Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) and sings with the men’s a cappella group Somethin’ Else and the BCM a cappella group Proclamation, which he co-directs. He is a member of the TriBeta National Biological Honors Society and the American Chemical Society.
He is studying abroad at the Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica during the spring semester, taking courses including Major World Religions, Freshwater Ecology, Tropical Botany, and Service Learning Practicum. In Costa Rica, he has “become involved in an ongoing investigation aiding in the identification of shark species that have been poached around Central and South America. We are using DNA testing and fin markers to identify the species of sharks brought to the lab. “
In addition to undergraduate research opportunities, Shorter’s science majors are also encouraged to pursue internships as part of their studies, according to Clint Helms, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences at Shorter University. Recently, two students interned with the CDC, working on tobacco cessation medications and treatments; another student completed a summer internship at the Emory University School of Medicine, where she conducted research with their medical scientists over the course of 12-weeks; and one student, who is currently an intern at the trauma center at Grady Hospital, is shadowing trauma physicians and conducting research into therapies that may help trauma patients heal faster. In addition, several science majors serve as medical scribes for both Floyd and Redmond Regional hospitals.
Founded in 1873, Shorter University is a Christ-centered, four-year liberal arts university committed to excellence in education. The Princeton Review annually includes Shorter University on its list of Best Southeastern Colleges. The university offers traditional bachelor’s degrees in 40 areas of study, online courses and degree programs, undergraduate programs for working adults, and four master’s programs. Learn more about Shorter at www.shorter.edu.