Summer research and inquiry gets underway

CURI students Diane Vargas ’19 (left) and Bethany Tritz ’20 (right) explain how they will research patterns of adaptation and phenology in common milkweed, a critical food source for declining monarch butterfly populations. They will work with Assistant Professor of Biology and Education Emily Mohl.

The St. Olaf College campus might seem quiet these first few weeks of summer — but if you look in labs, classrooms, and the library, you’ll find dozens of talented students working on significant research and creative projects that range across a wide array of fields.

This summer 96 St. Olaf students are participating in the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, which enables students from all academic disciplines to gain hands-on experience and close guidance from faculty mentors. Ten of these students are conducting their work as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars graduate school preparatory program. Another four students have earned a Steen Fellowship, which supports student-initiated projects that demonstrate independent scholarship, investigation, and creativity.

At the CURI Opening Symposium June 11, students provided an overview of their projects — 48 in total — and the questions they plan to investigate this summer. Their work includes efforts to understand a wide range of issues, from how dogs track human scent to how gerrymandering affects political discourse to how to use the latest digital filmmaking techniques to tell compelling stories. The CURI site includes a public directory of all of this year’s projects.

“It’s deeply rewarding to support the students and their mentors as they create new knowledge,” says CURI Director Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak, an associate professor of political science and Asian studies and chair of the Political Science Department.

Melanie Thompson ’19 introduces her CURI project, which will utilize traditional stop motion, digital animation, and traditional projection mapping techniques to create small scale environments used to tell a story. She will work with Theater Department Designer and Technical Director Todd Edwards.