Mount scholar engages in summer research

Posted 8/19/20

Through Mount Saint Mary College’s annual Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), more than two dozen enthusiastic student scholars conducted their own diverse research projects this …

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Mount scholar engages in summer research

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Through Mount Saint Mary College’s annual Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), more than two dozen enthusiastic student scholars conducted their own diverse research projects this year.

Due to the need for social distancing, students enjoyed performing research over a single virtual session, instead of the usual two summer sessions.

As in years past, Mount professors from across disciplines acted as mentors to the students as they explored a plethora of subjects. This season, students and faculty created nearly two dozen research projects. The effort is coordinated by Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology.

Two of this year’s SURE projects collaborated in an effort to benefit Bishop Dunn Memorial School, a Pre-K to eighth grade school in the Catholic tradition that is located on the campus of Mount Saint Mary College. The first is “Using Math Trails to Bring Math to Life” by Charles Benfer of Milton,a Mount Mathematics major on the Education track, and faculty mentors Mike Daven and Lee Fothergill, professors of Mathematics.

For the third year in a row, the team worked on their Math Trails project. A Math Trail is a set of activities in which participants explore mathematics in a real-life setting, explained Benfer. Each activity on the trail is designed to be connected to a specific feature of a location, such as finding the radius of a carousel on a playground.

“An easy way for us to get students to start thinking like mathematicians is to ask them to look at the world around them,” Benfer explained. “We don’t want students to look at a page in a textbook, we want them to go outside and see it’s a rectangular prism that’s filled up with a certain amount of dirt – and that’s volume. It’s not a picture on a page, it’s real volume.”

Last year as part of the Math Trails project, Benfer and several other students helped to create a sensory garden – an outdoor learning space intended for use by students in Pre-K through college – and Bishop Dunn.

But this year, Benfer and his mentors, Daven and Fothergill, took the Math Trails concept one step further through a collaboration with another SURE project, “Live Life Cleaner, Make it Greener” by Lindsay Byer of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Kathleen Murray of Highland Mills, with mentor Sonya Abbye-Taylor, associate professor of Education.

The two SURE groups decided to team up to help the children of Bishop Dunn learn about the sustainability of our planet, including concepts like recycling, conserving water, and composting.

“We joined forces with the common goal of working to make the Bishop Dunn Memorial School community, already known for its initiative of teaching kindness to others, to be kind to the Earth as well,” explained Taylor. “We have had the privilege of working with three remarkable students to bring the project to life.”

Together, Benfer, Byer, Murray, and their mentors created a Summer Math Club at Bishop Dunn, developed Math Trails that related to the benefits of sustainability practices, and more. The summer Math Club consisted of 25 students and focused on graphing, plotting, and environmental concepts. In addition, a composting area at Bishop Dunn is slated for completion during next year’s SURE sessions.

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