At Eckerd our freshmen do real research.

Eckerd College Research Associateships are awarded to approximately 25 incoming freshmen each year. The winners are selected on the basis of their overall high school record and are given the opportunity to work closely with a member of the faculty on a research project of mutual interest. The associateship includes a one-year stipend of up to $1,000. The application must be postmarked by February 1st.

Select a 2011 Freshman Research Associateship project below to see the full description.

Sacred Groves of the United States and Sierra Leone, and Global Ecovillages

Field: Environmental Studies
Title: Sacred Groves of the United States and Sierra Leone, and Global Ecovillages
Supervisors: Dr. Alison Ormsby, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies

About the Project:
Students selected would assist with two research projects. The first project is a long-term study of sacred sites around the world. Sacred sites are natural areas – typically small forest patches, springs, mountains or rock outcrops – that are protected and conserved for their religious, spiritual, or cultural significance. Professor Ormsby has already conducted field research on sacred forests in Ghana and India. This year’s research would focus on sacred sites in the United States and Sierra Leone, West Africa. The Freshman Research Scholar would work with Professor Ormsby to conduct a thorough literature review of research already conducted regarding sacred sites in the United States and in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

The second project is researching global ecovillages. Ecovillages are intentional communities that have a low-impact, sustainable living environment. There are numerous ecovillages around the world. The Freshman Research Associate will research and produce a case study analysis of several examples of successful ecovillages to evaluate which elements of sustainability they have successfully developed.

About the Supervisor:
Alison Ormsby teaches courses in Environmental Studies, including Environmental Education, Wildlife Policy, Advanced Policy of Protected Areas, and Advanced Ecotourism Policy/Practice. Her research interests include people-nature interactions, the role of environmental education in biodiversity conservation, and protected areas management. Recently, her research has focused on people-park interactions in Madagascar and Florida as well as sacred forests in Ghana and India. The research conducted with the selected Freshman Associate will build on fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2006 in Ghana and 7 months of research in India in 2009-2010 where Dr. Ormsby investigated the potential for traditional biodiversity protection for cultural reasons at sacred groves to support a more holistic agenda for conservation.

Cross-border Reproductive Travel: Virtual Communities

Field: Medical Anthropology
Title: Cross-border Reproductive Travel: Virtual Communities
Supervisor: Dr. Amy Speier

About the Project:
Medical tourism, or the instance of people traveling abroad for their health, is a phenomenon that has existed for centuries. Before travel became something deemed valuable in its own right, people used to have to justify traveling for the sake of their diminished health status. Spas marked one of the earliest well-known travel destinations.

Now, as we enter the 21st century, there are new forms of medical tourism developing all over the globe. People are traveling to India for knee surgery or hip replacement, to Thailand for heart surgery, to Costa Rica for plastic surgery, and to the Czech Republic for reproductive care. The reasons that people travel for health care are either because of high costs of treatment, unavailability of treatment at home, or regulatory limitations of accessing treatment at home.

North Americans, when traveling abroad for reproductive treatment, tend to travel because of high cost treatments in the United States. Patients, unable to pay high prices at home, begin to take matters into their own hands. In doing so, they turn to the internet, where they conduct Google searches, join support chats with other infertile couples, and read online blogs and boards. It is usually on the internet where infertile couples and women discover the option to travel abroad for fertility treatment. They "do the research" online and connect with various individuals, coordinators and clinics, seeking ways to access treatment.

The Freshman Research Associate will assist Professor Speier with an analysis of all related websites and chats on reproductive travel. Coding of such websites, as well as coding of interviews and fieldnotes will be the next major portion of this associate's position. Alongside Professor Speier, the associate will analyze the nature of these virtual communities.

About the supervisor:
Assisant Professor Amy Speier is a medical anthropologist who has been working in the Czech Republic for over a decade, in various realms of medical tourism. She is currently conducting an ethnographic study of North Americans traveling to the Czech Republic for reproductive care. The second summer of research will be in 2011. Thus, Professor Speier will have various forms of data, which she will share with the student. Together, they will code and analyze fieldnotes, interviews, and websites related to reproductive travel.

Exploring Animal Behavior and Cognition

Field: Psychology
Title: Exploring Animal Behavior and Cognition
Supervisor: Dr. Lauren Highfill

About the Project:
Throughout the history of psychology, the behavior of animals has been studied in an effort to better understand human behavior. However, over the past few decades, comparative psychologists have begun to test principles of human behavior and cognition on other species. Comparative psychologists now study a wide range of subjects such as personality, concept-formation, and problem-solving with many different species. The purpose of this project is to explore various aspects of animal behavior and cognition with different mammalian species. On-going topics of research include evaluation of environmental enrichment, animal personality, and memory. The student associate would assist the professor with these on-going research projects. Primary responsibilities would include investigating literature, conducting behavioral observations, and coding behavioral videos.

About the supervisor:
Assistant professor Lauren Highfill is a comparative psychologist with interests in animal personality and environmental enrichment. Through her research, she has studied a number of species including dolphins, elephants, lemurs and dogs.

Mapping Tampa Bay's Religious Landscape

Field: Religious Studies
Title: Mapping Tampa Bay's Religious Landscape
Supervisor: Davina C. Lopez, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

About the Project:
What religious communities are represented in Eckerd College's immediate vicinity? How do these communities interact with one another, participate in civil society, and enrich the cultural diversity of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area? How does a community's religious orientation affect its engagement in public discourse? What are local stereotypes about religions? What are the possibilities for interfaith and interdenominational collaboration and cooperation in Eckerd's neighborhood? Through field and library research as well as experiential learning, this research associate will assist Religious Studies faculty in mapping the religious landscape of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area. Drawing on the guidelines developed by Harvard University's Pluralism Project, the associate will conduct site visits, gather and assemble relevant data in various media, and learn how to conduct interviews with religious leaders and community members. This original research will lay the groundwork for the development of a comprehensive resource for Religious Studies students and faculty at Eckerd; it will also make a significant contribution to ongoing national efforts to document the religious diversity of the United States. Students from any religious background, as well as those interested in interracial relations, anthropology, sociology, political science and international relations, urban studies, and dialogue across differences, are welcome.

About the Supervisor:
Professor Davina C. Lopez (primary supervisor) teaches biblical studies at Eckerd College. Her research and pedagogical interests include Pauline studies, visual culture, contemporary uses of the Bible and other scriptures, and dialogue across social and religious differences. The research associate for "Mapping Tampa Bay's Religious Landscape" will also have the opportunity to draw upon the expertise of other professors in Religious Studies, as well as other disciplines in the Letters Collegium, for the duration of his/her work on this project.

Cellular Neuroscience Research: Neural Signaling in an Ancestral Brain

Field: Neurophysiology/Evolutionary Biology/Molecular Genetics
Title: Cellular Neuroscience Research: Neural Signaling in an Ancestral Brain
Supervisor: Dr. Greg Gerdeman

About the Project:
Chemical neurotransmission across neuronal synapses is a hallmark feature of cellular communication in the brain. Many types of neurotransmitters exist that regulate the firing of neuronal circuits or the release of hormones into the blood. Some of these neurotransmitters and the receptors they activate have only recently been discovered, and their functions remain largely unknown. The student associate will join a research project investigating the presence and activity of a novel neuronal signaling molecule known as "neuropeptide S" in the primitive brain of a marine organism called amphioxus, or the Florida lancelet. This intriguing animal is thought to sit at the very base of the vertebrate lineage on the tree of life. Thus, amphioxus may look very much like the last common ancestor of all vertebrates. The project will include field collection of amphioxus prior to conducting laboratory research to sequence and characterize mRNA encoding neuropeptide S and its receptor proteins.

By studying the function and evolutionary history of key neurotransmitter systems, researchers can take on the fascinating pursuit of understanding the brain as an integrated system. Indeed, taking an evolutionary approach through the study of diverse organisms and their nervous systems is one path to unraveling the mysteries of neurological diseases and how to treat or cure them. In mammals, neuropeptide S has recently been shown to relieve anxiety while promoting wakefulness, and for this reason is piquing the attention of biomedical and pharmaceutical researchers. Perhaps our studies of the same molecule in the ancestral brain of amphioxus will lead to a better understanding of what anxiety is in the first place.

About the supervisor:
Assistant Professor Greg Gerdeman teaches courses in Cell Biology, General & Molecular Physiology, and Neuroscience. His research focuses on brain neurotransmitter systems involved in cellular mechanisms of learning, memory and emotion, and how these are influenced by psychoactive drugs. Much of his current research takes a comparative approach to understanding such things, by studying the brains of marine organisms that appeared early in the evolutionary lineage of vertebrates. These include fauna that are locally collected in Tampa Bay: the Florida lancelet (Branchiostoma floridae) and the Atlantic stingray (Dasyatis sabina).

Arts Organizations in St. Petersburg, FL

Field: Sociology
Title: Arts Organizations in St. Petersburg, FL
Supervisor: Dr. Nicholas Dempsey

About the Project:
Saint Petersburg has, in recent years, positioned itself as one of the nation’s leading arts cities. The city hosts several art museums and numerous smaller galleries, as well as a number of performing arts organizations and arts educations groups. The purpose of this study is to learn how arts organizations work with other urban institutions such as schools, businesses, and government. We will be exploring why some organizations have enjoyed great success, while others do not survive more than a couple of years. The student will be responsible for tasks such as collecting and summarizing information about arts organizations and attending city government meetings about the arts.

About the supervisor:
Nicholas Dempsey is an assistant professor of Sociology at Eckerd College. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and teaches courses in the Sociology of Culture, Urban Sociology, Social Theory, and Social Stratification. His past research has explored how jazz musicians interact to craft successfully improvised performances.

Setting the Stage*

Field: Literature/Drama
Title: Setting the Stage*
Supervisor: Prof. Julie Empric

About the Project:
Behind every good production of a great play is research--and lots of it. Besides the research done by the director, the actors, and the designers, there is the scholarly research done by the "dramaturg," otherwise known as the "literary manager" of the theater or production.

For a play chosen for performance by a specific theater, the dramaturg (or dramaturgist) does research in 1) the text of the play and the literary criticism about it, 2) the history of its production in the theater, 3) the ideas of the director, actors, and designers involved in the current production, and 4) the projected audience. The dramaturg is available as a research consultant to any of the production staff, and often writes and designs a part of the program which introduces the audience to the play, and sets expectations and appreciation. When appropriate, the dramaturg is also involved in post-performance discussions or educational presentations for elementary or secondary school students.

The research associate applicant for this position will have experience with studying and appreciating both literature and theater (preferably with experience in production) and will have excellent reading, writing and interpersonal skills. He or she will work with Prof. Empric as well as with theatrical productions, both on campus and off, as opportunities present.

About the supervisor:
Professor Empric teaches Literature and Drama at Eckerd, and is herself conversant with production. Some years ago she re-cast the medieval "Second Shepherd's Play of Wakefield" into modern English for the Eckerd College Theater, and has recently appeared on stage as the Goddess Hymen in the college's 2005 production of Shakespeare's As You Like It. She is an avid theatre-goer who has recently guided groups of students to see performances of Shakespeare and other dramatists in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and London. This spring she will be offering a new Spring-into-Summer course abroad: "Literature Onstage and Off: London and Dublin."

*Please note that this is a one-semester project for Fall 2011 only. As such, the stipend for the associateship will be $500.

Marine Science

Field: Marine Science
Title: TBA
Supervisor: TBA

The entire course will be an active learning opportunity where students will be working closely with a faculty member on research projects. Students will be engaged in research throughout the course of their freshman year collecting data, analyzing and interpreting their results and eventually presenting their findings. Thus, this course will focus primarily on students doing science compared to more traditional courses that teach about science. Once a week all students in program will meet as a group with the faculty for discussions and updates on research projects. These meetings will give the entire research group a chance to exchange and develop ideas.

Previous Marine Science projects have included:

Application of laboratory culturing techniques to study the microbial ecology of ooids and microbial mats (field collecting and lab work)

Barb regeneration following predatory attack in the Atlantic stingray Dasyatis sabina (field collecting and a laboratory experiment)

Behavioral ecology of a sex-role reversed species: brood size variation in the Gulf pipefish Syngnathus scovelli (project involved field collecting and laboratory work)

Field studies and use of a catalog of dorsal fin markings to investigate social patterns in the bottlenose dolphin (field surveys and lab work with dolphin fin catalog)

Genetic markers for studies of family relationships among wild marine mammals (work in genetics lab)

Hermit crab shell selection behavior: do crabs prefer shells that have been thickened by snails exposed to predators? (field surveys and laboratory experiments)

Lactate excretion in marine crustaceans during activity and exposure to low environmental oxygen (work in physiology lab)

Mitochondrial DNA study of population structure in Gulf and Atlantic populations of the Gulf pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli (field collecting and work in genetics lab)

Physiological consequence of malaria infection in the brown anole Anolis sagrei (field collecting and work in physiology lab)

Check out previous Freshman Research Associateships.

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