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From Bird Song to Bacteria, From Campus to Dubai to India: Pomona College Awards Record Number Summer Research Grants

Pomona College has awarded a record 123 grants through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) for summer 2008, a 31% increase over summer 2007. The grants provide $4000 for up to 10 weeks of research, under faculty mentorship. More than 186 student proposals were reviewed by the Faculty Research Committee.

Most of the students will use the opportunity to work under the mentorship of faculty on campus. Their projects include:

  • examining the structure and function of house wren songs in the field;
  • developing a laboratory experiment to analyze the content of biodiesel fuel produced using waste vegetable oil;
  • participating in the development of a natural guide star adaptive optics system for the Pomona College 1-m telescope at Table Mountain, which will include analyzing diagnostic observations and implementing new techniques to optimize telescope performance; and
  • analyzing biofilm-forming proteins in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic pathogen of great concern for people suffering from cancer, severe burns and cystic fibrosis.

A small number will travel off-campus for research opportunities, including:

  • conducting ethnographic fieldwork regarding sex work and global trafficking in Dubai, collecting first-hand narratives from women whose lives are in some way affected by these phenomena;
  • participating in a theatre exchange with 11 East African artists, in NH and NY, to gain an international perspective on the art, process and responsibility of playwriting and into East African identity and communities; and
  • studying the impact of economic development on the environment in India and creating a documentary, for presentation in India and the U.S., to raise awareness about environmental problems not yet highlighted by the media.

“Whether in the sciences or in a humanities discipline, nothing captures students in the same way as following their own research interests while enjoying a close mentoring relationship with a faculty member,” explains Gary Kates, vice president for academic affairs. “We believe that there is nothing more important for the education of future scientists and others than giving students the opportunity to pursue their own research at an early point in their education.”

Students who receive SURP grants present the results of their projects at the Pomona College 2008 Summer Research Poster Conference early in the fall semester and submit a final research report to the Research Committee.

Financial support for SURP grants is provided by Pomona College, the Elgin Fund for Summer Student Research, The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, The Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Funds, The Rose Hills Foundation, and The Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Students Research Fund (at Pomona).

Additional financial support for student summer research is provided by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Merck Institute for Science Education, and a few individual academic departments at Pomona College. In all, nearly 200 Pomona College students will have funding to conduct research projects during summer 2008.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.