Alumni Generosity Moves Faculty/Student Collaborations Forward

Four Westminster faculty members who have designed year-long projects to enhance their professional development and the learning experiences of their students have seen their projects funded this year, thanks to the Ron D. (’64) and Dianne B. Winney Faculty Development Award.  Each fortunate recipient receives $4,000, which can be used to support joint student research, research involving student service-learning or community engagement, research involving study abroad with students, or research that enhances a specialized course or experience for students.

The award is often used for acquiring necessary field or laboratory equipment and supplies for the project; travel to do field work, research, and conference presentations; and/or a stipend or course release. The four award winners are selected by the Council of Chairs from applications that have been submitted.  A typed proposal of no more than two pages, a current C.V., and a letter of support from the department or division chair must be submitted by each applicant in order to compete for the award.

This year’s award winners and their projects include:

Theresa-Adams-2Dr. Theresa Adams—Professor of English

Dr. Theresa Adams is researching the field of digital humanities in order to develop an introduction to the Digital Humanities course at Westminster.  The course will introduce students to the theory and practice of using and creating digital tools to facilitate interpretation and research in the humanities (might include digital collections, digital editions,  data visualization, and online communities).

Dr. Jim Concannon—Associate Professor of Education

jim_concannon - CopyProfessor Concannon is investigating middle school students’ perceptions about individuals who work in STEM fields (acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), attitudes toward socially embedded STEM issues, and self-efficacy beliefs in  perusing a STEM related major and career before and after instruction.

Dr. Concannon and Dr. Erin Martin will be facilitating student research to examine specific social-cognitive underpinnings guiding individual’s intentions and motivations to persist with (or drop out of) engineering.

Dr. Glen Frerichs—Chair and Professor of Chemistry Department

Glen-Frerichs-2Dr. Glen Frerichs will be conducting research on pH oscillators with undergraduate students during the 2014-2015 academic year that may lead to faculty and student presentations and/or publications.  A chemical oscillator involves reactions that, unlike the usual case, lead to periodic fluctuations  in  the concentration of one or more chemical species.  Oscillations are typically monitored by following the  potential of  a platinum electrode or the absorbance of light at a specified wave length.  In a number of cases, the pH also has been found to oscillate, but only in open systems where reactants are continuously fed into a reactor.

In 2011, Dr. Frerichs and his students were the first to discover pH oscillations in a closed (batch) system. This pH oscillator involved the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) system, consisting of bromate, malonic acid, and manganese ions in aqueous solution.

One aspect of the research project involves a spectrophotometric study of the manganese(III) complex with bromomalonic acid, thought to be a key intermediate in the likely reaction mechanism for the BZ reaction.  In addition, Dr. Frerichs and his students will be searching for pH oscillations in other batch chemical systems.  If  successful, the goal  would be to propose a mechanism for accounting for the pH oscillations, and to show by computer simulations that it is reasonable.

Dr. David Schmidt—Assistant Professor of  Environmental Science

David-schmidt Dr. David Schmidt has four projects supported by the Winney Faculty Award. The first is an ongoing project that began last year with Meredith  Bolen’s (’15) research to determine the taxonomic relationship and some aspects of the life history of a fossil tortoise from the Badlands of South Dakota.  The second on-going project is Heather Martin’s (’15) evaluation  of potential acidic conditions in Stinson  Creek and the effect it may have on diatoms.  A third and recent project has students evaluating fossil micro vertebrate site from the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota and how it compares taxonomically and statistically to other known micro vertebrate sites within the region.

A fourth project, scheduled to begin in late spring and early summer of 2015, is to conduct a chemical analysis of lake water at Finger Lakes State Park where abandoned coal pits have been filled in as reservoirs for recreational use.  The goal is to gain better knowledge of water chemistry and the potential effect it may have on ground water, ecosystems, and surrounding communities. “We at Westminster are so grateful  for all the wonderful faculty and student collaborations Ron and Dianne Winney are making possible through their generosity,” says Westminster President Dr. George B. Forsythe.  “Through the competition for these awards, many innovative and valuable ideas are moving forward that have a significant impact on our students.”

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