Kemi O_Research DayIt’s around 9:45 a.m., and Truman Scholar Kemi Oyewole, C’2014, has just finished up some research work in the Science Center. The economics and mathematics double major is getting ready for her 11 a.m. Differential Equations class. She is still on a natural high from taking first- and second-place awards in Spelman College Research Day 2013.

Oyewole’s presentations, along with 220 other oral and poster presentations April 19, marked the largest Research Day for the College since its founding as Science Day in 1989, which was only opened to STEM-related subjects. According to Carmen Sidbury, Ph.D., associate provost for Research, the exponential growth is due to today’s interdisciplinary approach.

Carmen Sidbury
Carmen Sidbury

“Without a doubt the growth is due to the entire campus really getting behind Research Day. It’s supported by classes being cancelled and a die-hard faculty whom I cannot say enough positive things about,” said Sidbury, who was the first African-American female to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This is a day our students are showing not only their progress, but it’s a day for them to demonstrate that it’s more than the book and studying for the test. It’s also about helping our students apply a multipronged approach to problem-solving.”

Research Day is also about the mentoring and advising that takes place between the student and professor. Most of the advising and mentoring is spent beyond the normal class time. It is extra work for everyone involved.

“Mentoring/advising is extremely important at a liberal arts college because it provides an opportunity for the professor to connect with the student outside of the classroom, and to help the student to develop the higher order critical thinking skills that lead to synthesis and real-life application of the sometimes abstract theoretical concepts learned in the class room,” said Robynn Cox, Ph.D., assistant professor in the economics department and adviser to Oyewole’s first place oral presentation, “More Money, More Problems?: The Relationship Between Income and Criminal Victimization in Mexico.”

It was the admiration of her adviser that led Oyewole to her project. While always having an interest in crime and its effects on economics, it was Dr. Cox’s own research on crime that influenced Oyewole. “I came to Spelman because I knew professors here would do these kinds of research projects with me. It took a lot of work on Dr. Cox’s part to teach me these advanced techniques that normally you don’t get at the undergraduate level,” said Oyewole, who wants to earn her doctorate in economics and become an  economist and policymaker focusing on effective poverty interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s Not Just About Winning

Dr. Tekle mentoring a student
Dr. Tekle mentoring student Samantha Kelly

In an April 17 tweet chat on Twitter about Research Day, a student of Yonas Tekle, Ph.D., assistant professor in the biology department, wrote that participating in Research Day was about showing off her hard work. “I am not surprised that students feel this way in my lab because I convey to them that research is curiosity driven and that there are no shortcuts to arriving at an answer,” said Dr. Tekle, who believes his job is to instill enthusiasm and cultivate it through close guidance for the duration the project. “I teach students to be independent and allow them to modify their projects to fit their evolving curiosity. At the end of the day these students are presenting the results of their own product achieved through hard work.”

One of the students Dr. Tekle’s advised was Jai McQuilla whose first-place poster presentation was on “Hybrid Amoeba Formation: Investigating Cellular Fusion Between Unrelated Species of Amoebae.” “Even if several of my students have been successful during Research day, I am extremely proud of all my students regardless,” said Dr. Tekle, who feels cutting-edge research can come out of Research Day.  “But, when first-year students like Ms. McQuilla win on Research Day, it is a reaffirmation to my long held philosophy that anyone can do research given time and effort.”

Other Winners on Their Research and Mentors – Renita Mathis is director of Interactive Communications and associate director for the Office of Communications at Spelman College.