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5 Students Participate in Undergraduate Research Pilot

Five students conducted research projects on subjects of their choice through Providence College’s first undergraduate Summer Grant Program.

The program, created by the Undergraduate Research Committee (URC) and supported by the Center for Engaged Learning, is a pilot designed to help students work closely with faculty and gain research experience.

The five students received a weekly stipend of $350. Depending on the length of their research projects, they worked from four to 10 weeks with a professor as their mentor.

Kris A. Monahan, director of sponsored research and programs in the Office of Academic Affairs, explained that some undergraduate students receive local summer grants from organizations like the Rhode Island Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (RI INBRE) and the Rhode Island Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (RI EPSCoR).

“These programs are generally for students in the sciences,” she said. “We saw students have so much success with these that we wanted to try to do something internally for undergraduate research, especially in areas other than the sciences.”

Students from all fields are eligible and encouraged to apply. The grant also gives an opportunity to students who do not require specialized equipment or dedicated space to conduct their research.

“We were open to proposals from students who don’t necessarily need to be here on campus,” Monahan said. “It offers flexibility that other programs don’t have, especially with how much time you need and in areas outside the traditional sciences.”

Alexandra Male ’14 (South Easton, Mass.), a health policy and management major, is doing her project on “A Comparative Analysis of Local and Regional Initiatives for Local, Healthy Eating.”

She is conducting most of her research off campus by interviewing directors of healthy eating initiatives throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. She hopes to create a policy recommendation that will be shared with local program administrators and is working closely with her mentor, Dr. Todd M. Olszewski, assistant professor of health policy and management.

“During the school year it can be difficult to start pursuing a new interest when it does not coincide with the classes you are taking that semester,” she said. “I wanted to do this research project and extend my academic year to really focus on a complex issue that I find very important.”

“We’re interested in getting students to work with faculty on subjects that they really care about and to grow that side of engagement,” said Dr. John J. Breen III, assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the URC. “We want to get students as excited about their studies outside of class and on breaks as they are during the year because your education lasts longer than the semester.”

Michael Cirrotti ’14 (New Providence, N.J.), an economics major, is analyzing statistical data to determine a dollar estimate of what non-public, independently funded Catholic schools save the State of Rhode Island.

“This project allows me to apply statistical data analysis skills acquired throughout my time as a student to a project that will help The Rhode Island Catholic Schools Association quantify their impact on the overall educational climate in the Ocean State,” Cirrotti said.

“It also builds off of some research I did for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity through a for-credit internship,” he added.

Cirrotti continued his research through his grant this summer under the supervision of Dr. Angela K. Dills, associate professor of economics.

Other students who participated in the Summer Research Program are:

•    Sally Adua ’14 (Waterford, Conn.), a biology major, who is being mentored by Dr. Christopher M. Laperle, assistant professor of chemistry.

•    Kaitlin Hill ’15 (Mansfield, Mass.) and Brett Provance ’14 (Greensburg, Pa.), engineering majors, who are being mentored by Dr. Stephen J Mecca '64, professor of physics.

– Nick Tavares ’16

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