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​Christopher Mattioli ’12 presented research testing
computer algorithms that predict moth habitats.


Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity Showcases Work of 100 Students

Purple loosestrife is an invasive weed choking the wetlands of New England. If scientists can understand how the plant adapts genetically to new areas, it may be possible to control its spread.

John Savasta ’12 (Swampscott, Mass.) spent the academic year researching the genetic makeup of loosestrife with Dr. Maia Bailey, assistant professor of biology. With Richard Cimini ’13 (Pittsfield, Mass.) and Jack Sporer ’12 (San Francisco, Calif.), he presented the research at the third annual Celebration of Student Scholarship and Creativity at Providence College.    

“We want to understand the plant’s ability to spread in order to figure out a way to use its weakness against itself,” explained Savasta, a biology major.

Each academic department and program was invited to nominate student projects for the celebration. This year’s event was the largest yet, with 100 students displaying 52 projects involving 21 academic disciplines. Administrators, faculty, staff, and students browsed the exhibits and interviewed the researchers on the upper level of the Slavin Center.

“The Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity is a wonderful event that highlights the hard work of all of our students,” said Dr. Julia M. Camp, assistant professor of accountancy and chair of the Student Engagement Advisory Committee, the event sponsor.

“It is an opportunity for students and their peers to see the variety of work, across disciplines, done throughout campus,” said Camp. “It is a wonderful chance for younger students, especially those who are undeclared or still searching for their interests, to see what is available to them. For faculty and staff, this is a great event where we can be proud of our students’ accomplishments. Each year I feel I learn something new from the work presented by the students.”

The Celebration of Student Scholarship and Creativity was inspired by the College’s three-year, $250,000 grant, Fostering a Culture of Student Engagement, from the Davis Educational Foundation. The grant was awarded to deepen students’ engagement in learning, which also is a component of the College’s new Strategic Plan.

Remembering Western Civ

Eleven sophomores in a Development of Western Civilization seminar taught by Rev. R. Gabriel Pivarnik, O.P., assistant professor of theology, presented a video, “Defining World Citizens,” produced for the class assignment called “IN-DWC” — letters that stood for “I’m Not Done With Civ.”

Father Pivarnik challenged the 42 students in his two seminars to produce a five-minute video explaining why the lessons of Western Civ would remain with them even after they completed the College’s two-year requirement. Students wrote and edited scripts and filmed around campus. The videos were judged by a panel of professors and staff.

The students, who competed in four groups, were inspired by a segment Father Pivarnik showed them from an epiosode of The West Wing called “The Red Mass,” in which a character says he hopes the president, when facing challenges, will “reach for all of it (the inspiration from important thinkers) and not just the McNuggets.”

“We’re done with class, but I don’t think we’re done with Western Civ in our lives,” said Mitchell Mordarski ’14 (Wolcott, Conn.), an accounting major.

Also, among the creative projects was “One Face” by Blair Rohan ’12 (Wantagh, N.Y.), a studio art major with a concentration in digital imagery. Working with photographs of four people at a time, she combined their features, each represented by a bright color, into single portraits. The subjects were of the same gender and of similar ages but of different races. 

“I was intrigued by how different pieces of images can come together to form a new image,” said Rohan. “I want a viewer to recognize that though we have unique exteriors, we really look more alike than we think.”

New courses featured

Two courses offered for the first time also were displayed at the celebration. One was the Student Managed Investment Fund, in which five seniors and a junior invested and managed funds in the College’s endowment. The other was Phage Hunters, in which 16 freshman biology students got hands-on research experience in a laboratory isolating phage — viruses that feed off bacteria — and then annotating a phage’s DNA sequence.

Christopher Mattioli ’12 (Middletown, Conn.), a mathematics and computer science major, spent five weeks last summer in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, collecting and tracking moths while noting the elevation, temperature, and vegetation at which they were discovered.

Then he worked for five weeks at Oregon State University to create four computer programs that would use the data to predict where various moth species might be found in the rest of the state. Three of the four programs performed well, said Mattioli, who hopes to continue such studies in graduate school.    

 “I want to apply computer science and math to problems in biology and ecology,” said Mattioli.

— Vicki-Ann Downing

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