When you ask a Simpson College student “how did you spend your summer vacation,” be prepared to learn about the Properties of Magnetic Thin Films, Vascular Origins of the Schlemm’s Canal or whether fungal endophytes can be used to control insect pests of ornamental plants.
You see, for 17 Simpson students in the Division of Natural Sciences, this summer was a time to actively engage in hands-on research and analysis of a variety of topics at research institutions and labs across the country. They were able to present their findings to the Simpson community recently at The Summer Research Symposium.
“Simpson has a strong tradition of preparing students for and encouraging them to apply to research experience for undergraduates, or REUs,” said Bill Schellhorn, assistant professor of mathematics.
Senior Dianna Krejsa agrees. She and classmate Conor Fair spent 10 weeks this summer at Texas A&M University in the department of entomology.
“I was studying diversity in two species of biological control insects – insects that people breed in insectories then sell to growers and greenhouses,” Krejsa explains. “ These beneficial insects destroy pests in a greenhouse, thus reducing pesticide use. It’s a ‘green’ option within integrated pest management.”
This is Krejsa’s second REU. Last year she studied at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory doing most of her work in the field. This year, most of her work was done inside the lab. “Both of my REU experiences were great opportunities and really help now as I apply to graduate schools, internships, and research positions. I can attest to having experience in both areas—field research and wet lab procedures—with these two very different experiences.”
Krejsa’s experience at Simpson definitely helped prepare her for this research experience. “Since Conor and I had already taken entomology here along with a variety of other biology classes, I felt like we were better prepared for what we were there to do,” she says of her Simpson coursework. “ In addition to the daily class work, it’s fantastic that our science classes often have a requirement that you do a semester-long research project. It helps get you into the practice of coming up with a question, isolating variables, executing the research, then communicating it through writing,” she said.
Professor Schellhorn enjoys watching the impact the REU experience has on students who participate. “It’s amazing to see the development of these students and the confidence they have when they come back from their REU’s. It’s a transformational experience for our students.
“They come back so much better, in their maturity and their ability to handle being confused. And what I mean by that is the ability to deal with the unknown and the open problems and situations that aren’t directly addressed in a textbook and their ability to handle that is vastly improved,” continued Schellhorn.
“This is a great way to spend a summer, and you can get paid pretty well for it. It’s a strong selling point on your resume, and it helps you decide what type of work you want to do,” added Krejsa. “The opportunity to be around different people with new ideas from all over the country is really fun, too.”
Schellhorn adds, “It beats going home to their hometown and getting a job at a fast food restaurant. And if you can get a letter of recommendation from somebody who is a nationally known researcher, that is just great for them.”
Krejsa, who will be graduating from Simpson in December with a Biology major and Sustainability Studies minor, is currently looking for a research assistantship or an internship for the spring semester, followed by graduate school.
“I get excited about a variety of research. I can credit the biology department at Simpson for that.”