4 October 2019 • Research Student Research Symposium

Over the summer, more than 50 students completed research alongside faculty members, investigating cutting-edge research topics ranging from cancer-killing compounds to the prevalence of Islamophobia in religious communities, and the science behind tie-dying your clothes. During Homecoming and Family Weekend, students shared the breadth of their intellectual pursuits with peers, families and faculty members at the Student Research Symposium.

Through their research positions, students are provided with financial support to live and work on campus. Often, the research is published in scholarly journals and serves as the foundation for Honors projects.

Under the guidance of Associate Professor of American Studies Elizabeth Belanger, Lorena Robelo-Lara ’21 and Lalaine Vergara ’21 developed a narrative record of students’ experiences in the classroom due to diverse family histories and identities. Their research, titled “The Colors of Silence: Family Histories and Identities Translated into Classroom Dynamics in Predominantly White Institutions” was instrumental in teaching Robelo-Lara how diverse backgrounds shape peoples’ experiences.



“I want to go to law school and become a lawyer,” Robelo-Lara says, adding that she intends to use her research as a framework for showing compassion to the people she works with. “I hate when people use the law as an excuse to be unjust.”

Robelo-Lara and Vergara became Belanger’s research assistants after taking her “Critical Family History” course. As part of an assignment, students were tasked with using public records, archives and other primary and secondary sources to retrieve their family histories. Vergara says the available research tools were not comprehensive for many students of color, affecting their ability to participate. The experience inspired them to collaborate with Belanger over the summer.

At the intersection of mathematical modeling and parliamentary debate, Nick Mckenny ’20 studied how debate competitions rank and organize teams into brackets. Utilizing mathematical modeling and computational discrete mathematics, Mckenny devised different methods of increasing fairness in the organization and judging debate tournaments. This is Mckenny’s second year of research and for him, it was markedly different from last year.

“[This year] was more focused not on proving things, but [finding] evidence to support an idea. So just having applied problems is really interesting but so is how you tackle real world issues,” he says. Mckenny’s research was completed in collaboration with Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of HWS Debate Eric Barnes and Professor of Education Paul Kehle.

Katherine Foley ’20 and McKenzie Frazier ’20 collaborated in an effort to address a serious environmental disturbance within the ecosystems of New York State Parks. Their project analyzed the effects of various pesticide treatments in areas where an invasive species was prevalent to ensure that treatments were not damaging the surrounding forest ecosystem. They measured the unharmed areas and damaged sections by checking the populations of fauna in nearby streams and water sources. In working with Director of Introductory Laboratories Susan Flanders Cushman ‘98, both reflected on the value of collaborating with an HWS faculty member. Foley says working with Sanders also allowed her to complete increasingly “more difficult” lab assignments.