If you are interested in presenting a scholarly paper, working in a lab, assisting a professor in his or her research, interning over the summer, or gaining access to an important manuscript collection or library, URSA, Baylor's initiative to promote and expand research and creative activities for undergraduates, supports such efforts. Attend URSA's Scholars Week, held in the spring of each academic year; you might find that your academic interests would lend themselves richly to research. You can access URSA's website here: Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Achievement.
To gain a better understanding of what a student can do with an URSA Small Grant, please read the stories of this sampling of Baylor undergraduates who have participated or are currently engaged in this program.
The New Face of Nui Ba Den: Stories of Return Fifty Years After the Vietnam War
Dr. Stephen Sloan, associate professor of history and Director of the Institute of Oral History, and University Scholar Emily Messimore work together on “The New Face of Nui Ba Den: Stories of Return Fifty Years After the Vietnam War,” an undergraduate research project centered around the preservation and presentation of the stories of the Vietnam Veterans of Bravo Company 4/23 of the 25th Infantry Division. Emily has been collecting oral history interviews with the members of Bravo Company throughout her time at Baylor and took an extensive trip in summer 2018 to collect interviews and conduct research concerning the stories of Bravo Company. This project will inform our historical understanding of the experiences of veterans in Vietnam but also our understanding of the importance of memory, story, and healing within the veteran community. Emily returns to Vietnam in summer 2019 accompanied by Bravo Company members, where she will see first-hand the aspects of the stories she has collected and be able to re-interview the veterans with a specific focus on their experience of remembrance and return.
Lana Madi and Robert Barnes
The Effects of Chronic Mild Stress and Environmental Enrichment on Cognition and Hippocampal Physiology and Neurogenesis
Dr. Melanie Sekeres, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, supported two undergraduate research assistants in her lab through the URSA small grant. Lana Madi and Robert Barnes received stipends and were able to purchase animal and lab supplies they used to conduct their research, which included behavioral testing in Dr. Sekeres' rodent lab and data analysis using specialized behavioral analysis software. Their research contributes to a larger study investigating the effects of exposure to healthy (exercise and environmental enrichment) and unhealthy (stress and inactivity) lifestyle factors in young animals to understand their influence on brain physiology, cognition, and physiological responses to stress. Findings from this study should provide evidence that may be used to inform the development of intervention strategies by identifying the precise mechanisms that are sensitive to disruption in response to exposure to unhealthy environmental factors.
Visualizing Medieval Sermons: Applying Digital Humanities to Historical Scholarship
Through the URSA small grant, Dr. Beth Allison Barr, associate professor of history, invited Taylor Kniphfer to work with her on applying GIS mapping and data visualization to the most popular sermon compilation in late medieval England, John Mirk's Festial. Written in the late fourteenth century, the compilation survives in more than 40 fifteenth-century manuscripts but little is known about the relationship among manuscripts including their relationship to other medieval sermon collections. Dr. Barr and Taylor, with the support of digital humanities librarians, were able to employ technologies such as advanced visualization, data mining, and 3-D mapping to understand better Festial's genesis and historical signficance. This project informed Taylor's honors thesis on the medieval English aristocracy and allowed him to learn how to use the tools of digital humanities in historical research in preparation for graduate study in British history.
Baylor Student Sleep Architecture: Why Baylor Students Need the Recommended 8 hours
Dr. Michael Scullin, on faculty in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, mentors Madison Krueger, who completed research in student sleep architecture. For this project, they first considered that despite the National Sleep Foundation's recommendation to sleep 8 hours per night, many college students do not prioritize sleep; further, they learned that more than 50% of Baylor students sleep fewer than 7 hours per night on average. Dr. Scullin and Madison hypothesized that Baylor students might show improved sleep in a quiet, sound-attenuated laboratory environment without distractions (phone, television, computer). They objectively recorded sleep architecture in forty Baylor students for up to three nights (n=25) using polysomnography, which included electroencephalography, electrooculography, and electromyography. After turning out the lights at 10:30pm, students took an average 20 minutes to fall asleep and on average slept for greater than eight hours. The study identified that REM duration was slightly elevated in Baylor students, which may be due to chronic sleep restriction prior to participating, and confirmed that Baylor students need at least 8 hours of sleep--which they can achieve by going to bed earlier in a dark and quiet environment devoid of typical technological distractors.
Zachary Sloan and Joel Reid
Severity of Traumatic Brain Injury in Post War Veterans and its Effects on Cortical Thickness
Dr. Sara Dolan, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, mentors Zachary Sloan and Joel Reid who worked on her URSA Small Grant to study traumatic brain injury (TBIs) in returning war veterans. TBIs are thought to result from damage to axons induced by the force of an impact or blast waive, which causes axonal demyelination and neuron loss. In the cerebral cortex, neural loss can be observed as a thinning of the cortical mantle; thus, locally reduced cortical thickness can theoretically indicate a region of the cortex affected by TBI. However, it is not known whether the severity of a TBI affects cortical thickness years after the TBI was incurred. To address this question, Dr. Dolan, Zachary, and Joel studied cortical thickness in a veteran cohort ranging in age from 18-60. They hypothesized that there would be a measurable reduction in cortical thickness related to TBI severity and used a combination of technologies to conduct assessments: the Vasterling TBI Assessment, high-resolution T1-weighted scans, and a software program called Freesurfer.
Department of Environmental Science
The Ingestion of Microplastics by Fish
Dr. Susan Bratton, Professor of Environmental Science, seeks out high caliber majors in her department to work on research projects; frequently, these students are funded by an URSA small grant. As Dr. Bratton observes, “I often recruit from students in my classes, who are interested in similar topics, writing well, and have a top-notch work ethic. Currently, Dr. Bratton is pursuing an ongoing study of the ingestion of microplastics by fish: how much, where, to what degree. Her students assist with all aspects of the research, including capture, dissection, and analysis of natural foods and plastic materials in fish stomachs. The students conduct most of the dissection and analysis independently while they receive careful mentoring and training as they complete more complex statistical analysis. Typically, URSA funds provide stipends for students to extend their research into the summer months, purchase supplies, and pay for student travel.
Voices of East Austin: Preserving Stories of East Austin in the Face of Impending Gentrification
A University Scholar, Avery Lill worked with Dr. Stephen Sloan, Director of the Institute for Oral History, during the 2015-2016 academic year. What began as a volunteer position in the Institute developed into a research project for Avery funded by the URSA small grant. Under Dr. Sloan's guidance, she conducted multiple oral history interviews, completed archival research in collections in Austin, and developed three presentations from her research, exploring the intersections of race and gentrification in a rapidly changing section of the state’s capital. Avery presented during Scholars Week at Baylor in April 2016, at the annual Texas Oral History Association conference, and also at the 2016 Southwestern Social Science Association meeting in Las Vegas.
The Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect of Pre-Bomb Gastropods: Mayborn Museum Collections
Ashley Ramsey, a 2015 graduate in Geosciences, worked for Dr. Steven Forman, Professor of Geosciences, for a year as one of his undergraduate research assistants in the Geoluminescence Dating Research Laboratory. Dr. Forman encouraged Ashley to pursue an independent research project within the lab, which allowed her to work extensively with and be mentored by a dynamic team including Ms. Liliana Marin, the lab supervisor, and three doctoral students. Ashley used the URSA small grant to work full-time over the summer of 2015, collecting subsample gastropods for radiocarbon analysis from collections housed within the Mayborn Museum. Ashley's examination of the radiocarbon reservoir effect of pre-bomb gastropods culminated in her senior thesis and now informs her graduate work in geochemistry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she currently studies.
Speculum humane salvationis, the Medieval Priesthood, and Typology
A University Scholar, Zerek Dodson studies piano performance at Baylor but has complemented this pursuit with extensive work on medieval Latin manuscripts under the guidance of Dr. Melinda Nielson, a Great Texts professor in the Honors College. Because of Zerek's outstanding performance in her directed readings courses, Dr. Nielson offered to nominate Zerek for a small grant and to act as his mentor. Together they are working on a larger project to transcribe, translate, and edit a fourteenth-century illustrated poem called Speculum humane salvationis or "Mirror of Human Salvation," which was enormously popular in the Middle Ages but has not been fully edited in the last two centuries. Dr. Nielson notes, "The grant has allowed Zerek to continue with his humanities research without taking credit hours away from his formal course of study."
Photophoresis: A Numerical Model
Dr. Lorin Matthews, a Physics professor, is Jeremy Smallwood's mentor for his honors research project and applied for the URSA grant so that he could continue his research in her lab over the summer. Jeremy worked on a numerical model of photophoresis--an effect which occurs in a low pressure environment where gas molecules hitting a heated, lit surface push small particles away from the source of illumination. This process may play a role in the early stages of planet formation and help explain why the innermost planets in our system consist of more metallic materials (Mercury) and become more silicate-rich further away from the sun (Earth and Mars). Jeremy, an astrophysics major, worked on modifying the code to include the effect of particle rotations and Brownian motion. The URSA grant paid for a summer stipend, a summer housing allowance, and travel for him to present his findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March 2015.
Variation of the effect of blue light on different strains of Staphylococus aureus
Dr. Tamarah Adair met Meredith when she was a first-year student. A biology major, Meredith has worked in Dr. Adair's lab throughout her undergraduate education and applied for the URSA small grant after deciding on the topic for her Honors thesis. This grant has underwritten Meredith's research.
Morphometric and Biogeochemical Skeletal Analysis of Deceased Undocumented Border Crossers
Jen contacted her mentor-professor Dr. Lori Baker for opportunities to work in her laboratory as a continuation of their field work over the last two summers. Because of Jen's dedication and the excellent quality of her work, Dr. Baker wrote and applied the URSA grant so that she could offer Jen more work in her lab as well as funding for that work. Before the grant, Jen maintained a job and school and then volunteered in the lab. The URSA enabled her to concentrate on what she loves to do. Jen has already accepted a job upon her graduation in May.
Managing Conflict Talk
Dr. Clay Butler, a faculty member in the English Department, encouraged Amanda to apply for an URSA Small Grant to fund research for her Honors thesis. A linguistics major, Amanda used the grant to purchase video recording equipment to record several events. With Dr. Butler, her thesis advisor and mentor, Amanda examined how people negotiate differences, manage disagreements, and resolve conflict using the data collected using the URSA-purchased equipment.
An Analysis of Sampling Techniques for Particulate Organic Matter and Implications for Understanding River Carbon Cycling
Creighton, a geology major, had been doing research with Dr. Bill Hockaday since the spring of his sophomore year. Because of his commitment to this research and the quality of his work, Dr. Hockaday wrote an URSA small grant proposal with Creighton his junior year to secure funding for him to be compensated for his research over the summer and fall of his senior year.
Zoia, Eternally Young, Forever Remembered: The Evolution of a Myth in the Soviet Press
Since working on this project with Dr. Adrienne Harris, a Russian professor in Modern Languages & Cultures, Kayla has published an article in an undergraduate journal and been accepted to graduate school. Dr. Harris approached Kayla about their applying for the URSA grant together because of Kayla's academic excellence and maturity as a student as well as her career goals. Kayla is a double-major in Russian and Language & Linguistics.
Comparative Performance of a Plant-Based Detergent and a Standard Synthetic Detergent on Flame Resistance and Performance Properties of a Children's Sleepwear Fabric
Haley, an apparel merchandising major, performed extremely well in a course with Dr. Rinn Cloud. Because of the high quality of Haley's work, Dr. Cloud approached her about doing a research project in textiles science with her and applying for funding through URSA. A portion of the grant compensated Haley for her extensive work on the project, which enriched and complimented her coursework in Family & Consumer Science.
Bayesian Approaches to Modeling Uncontrolled Confounding in Biopharmaceutical Data
A premedical University Scholar who graduated Spring 2014, Jonathan completed an URSA research grant under the tutelage of Dr. Jeanne Hill in the Statistics Department. This work strengthened Jonathan's data and decision-analysis skills and helped prepare him for extensive statistical experience in his Honors thesis. Jonathan is an assistant on the Baylor in Maastricht program, Fall 2014 and will begin medical school and public health studies in Fall 2015.
Discourse in a Healthcare Setting
A Baylor Business Fellow, Alex was interested in communication issues that arise between doctors and patients. Dr. Clay Butler, a professor in the English Department, suggested to Alex that he request support from URSA and then served as his mentor. Because his project was both time-consuming and complex, the grant offset the substantial amount of time Alex spent away from his regular job. Alex graduated last May and landed a great job in hospital administration.