7/21/10

SOAR Elevates Students, Faculty, and Community

SOAR—Moravian’s highly successful Student Opportunities for Academic Research program—is no picnic. Students work hard, putting in ten 40-hour-plus summer weeks in the lab and field for a small stipend.

Yet this year, the program received more proposals (40) than ever—nearly twice as many as last year, said Carl Salter, chemistry chair and director of the SOAR program. Seventeen summer projects and 23 students were funded by the Ervin J. Rokke Endowment for Student Faculty Research, established by Mrs. Priscilla Payne Hurd.

Corey Koenig '11 (top left) and mentor Dr. Katie Desiderio review published literature related to their project on alumni giving; Matt Share '11 (above left) and Jordan Barton '12 evaluate samples from the nearby Little Lehigh stream. Photos: Michael Wilson

Participants say the program's benefits are more than academic. Students gain valuable hands-on experience and try out possible career paths, while their faculty mentors often glean critical pieces of information to advance long-term research goals. Projects also have the potential to benefit the local community.

Engaging the College Community

Working with Dr. Katie P. Desiderio, assistant professor of management, Corey Koenig '11 has spent much of his summer poring over the published literature relating to his SOAR project, which involves investigating the effect of personality attributes and engagement on alumni giving.

"Because of my involvement in the Student Alumni Association, I knew that alumni giving has been on the decline in recent years, especially here at Moravian, and was curious as to why," Koenig explained. "I wanted my project to benefit the College, too."

Besides helping Moravian, the project could fill an existing research gap. "In reviewing the literature, we were unable to find any study that focused specifically on the effect of personality attributes and engagement on alumni giving," he said. Koenig, who is serving a second term as Student Body President, plans to continue the work through his senior Honors project this fall, when he will survey a group of alumni using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory along with a self-designed instrument that measures attitudes and engagement.

"There are so many benefits to SOAR," added Dr. Desiderio, who came to Moravian last fall. "Guiding Corey on his first formal research project has been rewarding and challenging for me as a professor. It has also helped me understand the needs of Moravian. We already have such a wonderful focus on community here—how can we ensure that our community exists wholeheartedly? How can we bridge the gaps between faculty, administration, students, and alumni of our community? This research could help."

Share and Barton’s work involves electro-fishing—temporarily stunning fish to allow sampling and counting, before releasing them unharmed back into the stream.

Taking the Pulse of a Local Stream

Last summer Matt Share '11 and Jordan Barton '12 were organizing medical records and operating landscape equipment, respectively. This summer they're wading the Little Lehigh, assessing the health of the local stream around five small dams, under the guidance of Dr. Frank Kuserk, director of the Moravian environmental studies program. Their work involves surveying fish and macroinvertebrates, assessing physical habitat, and testing water chemistry.

"This is much more fun than landscaping," said Barton, who hopes to study marine biology in graduate school. "I'm still outdoors, but this is mentally challenging, too. And I've gotten valuable research experience that can help get me in the door at grad school." Share and Barton will have the opportunity to publish their research and present it at a scientific conference in the coming year.

The research will provide a baseline for future studies to be conducted after the dams are removed. Dams harm streams by degrading water quality and wildlife habitat, and impeding the passage of fish.

The project is an extension of a longstanding collaboration, fostered by Kuserk, between Moravian and local conservation groups, such as the Wildlands Conservancy. Like previous SOAR projects he's advised, the findings of this one will help determine whether currently accepted stream restoration techniques are working to improve streambed biological communities--which are critically important to their surrounding local communities.

"Participating in SOAR has given me a greater appreciation for nature," added Share, who hopes to enter vet school after graduation. "There's so much there, it's almost scary."