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Undergraduate researchers mentor Elon Academy scholars

High school students in the university’s college access and success program met Thursday with current Elon students taking part in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Elon senior Cara McClain (center) leads a June 27 discussion with Elon Academy scholars. University students in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience shared details of their projects with local high school students enrolled in Elon's college access and success program. McClain, a psychology major, is working on the role of nature experiences in young children's psychological development.
Academic research doesn’t always require you to wear the stereotypical white laboratory coats for mixing chemicals with names longer than five syllables.

As participants in the Elon Academy learned Thursday, researchers on a college campus also study cues in social media marketing, the effects of social and economic conditions on the way people perceive immigrants, and the development of better methods to quickly analyze explosives. 

The exciting part for the high school students? Such projects are being conducted this summer by undergraduate researchers not much older than themselves.

Top Elon University students involved with the Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences program explained their work June 27 to dozens of Alamance County high school students on campus as part of the university’s college access and success program.

“Our students are the first in their families to go to college and may not be aware of opportunities once they’re there,” said Deborah Long, a professor of education and director of the Elon Academy. “As a college student you can get involved in research and work with a faculty member on a question that’s important to you.

“We also know that students involved in undergraduate research often go to graduate school, and we want our scholars to think not just about college, but beyond college.”

This summer marks the fourth year of collaboration between the Elon Academy and the SURE program. Organizers said the benefits aren’t limited to the high school scholars.

Elon senior Kelly Brand attaches a mask to Elon Academy scholar Josue Alonso in the university's Exercise Science Laboratory on June 27, 2013, as junior Maureen Dinnie observes the demonstration of lab research equipment.

“Having the opportunity to interact with younger, talented students shows our SURE scholars the importance of sharing their work, ideas and interests,” said Professor Paul Miller, director of the university’s Undergraduate Research Program. “After all, that is the foundation on which a scholarly community rests. Being able to talk about their projects and effectively communicate its nuances affords the SURE scholars a meaningful teaching opportunity.

“It is exactly these types of learning moments that are so important to our community.”

SURE scholars earn a stipend while spending eight weeks working full-time on a project in collaboration with a faculty mentor with substantial and recognized expertise in the discipline. Projects range across all disciplines, from the natural sciences to the performing arts to business and communications.

Elon senior Kelly Brand and junior Maureen Dinnie shared details of their respective projects with Elon Academy scholar Josue Alonso, a rising sophomore at Graham High School. Dinnie, a psychology major, discussed work on the emotional experiences conveyed by students in college academic service-learning courses.

For Brand, an exercise science major collecting data on a dietary supplement’s effects on cognition during exercise, explaining her work was “refreshing” at a time when many teenagers lack Alonso’s curiosity about scientific research.

“It was really nice to see someone young be so interested in what I was doing,” she said a short time after meeting with Alonso. “And it’s always fun to talk about my project. I really like what I’m doing!”

Launched by Elon University in 2007, the Elon Academy is an intensive college access and success program for local high school students with high financial need or no family history of attending college. It combines a month-long residential program over three successive summers with follow-up experiences during the academic year.

The academy is a multi-year, year round program beginning in the summer after the ninth grade and continuing to and through college.

Eric Townsend,
6/27/2013 3:45 PM