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Barrett Honors College students are getting unique research opportunities through a partnership between the honors college and the Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The Barrett Fellows @ CLAS Centers Program allows second and third year Barrett students to work with Research Centers in CLAS based on the students’ interests.
The program was founded three years ago by CLAS Associate Dean Paul LePore and former Barrett Vice Dean Peggy Nelson. With the retirement of Nelson last year, Barrett Faculty Fellow Mary Ingram-Waters stepped in to coordinate the program with LePore.
Students apply for placements early in the spring semester and interview by the end of the semester. By fall, they start their research fellowships and attend a formal class, HON 394 Barrett Fellows @ CLAS Centers. The Centers, reflecting the diversity of CLAS itself, range from the Center for Bioarchaeological Research, to the Center for Asian Research, to the Sustainability and Happiness Research Lab, to partners outside of the CLAS like the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) Information about the program is at https://barretthonors.asu.edu/barrett-clas
“The Barrett Fellows Program gives students the opportunity to do undergraduate research early in their ASU careers. For many of the research centers, the Barrett Fellows program is the only avenue they have for working with undergraduates. It’s a win-win for both students and the centers. It also helps Barrett build and reaffirm its network across campus using its best resource, students,” Ingram-Waters said.
Ingram-Waters said most students devote about 10 hours per week to the fellowship and many have developed honors theses based on their research.
LePore said the program takes a multi-pronged approach to engaging students.
“We want students to participate in meaningful research, to reflect on what opportunities are in front of them and how they can leverage them. We are giving them the tools to be researchers, thinkers and contributors… skills they need to really thrive. And, we want to make sure students are meeting regularly with mentors and they are integral parts of research teams,” he said.
Niccolo Giambanco, a junior Barrett student double majoring in European history and English literature with a certificate in political thought and leadership, worked with faculty in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership last fall.
Giambanco assisted faculty members Adam Segrave and Paul Caresi with a study of civic education in Arizona’s high schools. The study looked at what is currently being taught and how new curriculum could be implemented to comply with a state requirement for civics education and to make students eligible to receive a certificate and special designation on their diplomas for completing civics curriculum at the high school level.
“I have really loved it,” Giambanco said of his experience as a Barrett fellow. “It’s been really influential on my thought process and what I’m doing intellectually and what I may want to do professionally. I have written reports, learned how to present myself and my ideas, and how to work in a professional environment,” he said.
Mylene Alcayde, a junior majoring in medical microbiology, was a Barrett fellow at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, where she worked in the Han Lab researching the strengths of drug therapies against pancreatic cancer cell lines and how two or more drugs interact to destroy tumor cells.
“I feel extremely grateful and honored to be chosen for a program that helped shape my identity as a student-researcher,” Alcayde said.
“Prior to being a Barrett fellow, I did not think I was capable of having meaningful input at a scientific lab. I thought that meaningful research was only conducted by research technicians, post-docs, and PhDs. After the Barrett fellowship, I realized that students can play a significant role in research. The fellowship showed me that I can, in fact, “do” research just like a distinguished scientist,” she added.
Alcayde said she also received meaningful mentorship from TGen researchers, Barrett and CLAS faculty, and other Barrett fellows.
“They saw my place in research and helped me develop the self-confidence to continue research past the program end date. I have gained other benefits as well, such as connections and a project, but the most meaningful benefit was the mentoring,” she said.
What advice does Alcayde have for students contemplating research?
“If you are unsure about pursuing research, but are interested, apply to the fellowship. The fellowship will give you the guidance you need to determine what is right for you, as well as lead you towards a project you may be passionate about,” she said.
“All I knew, when applying, was that I was interested in molecular biology research. The fellowship led me to TGen, which then led me to exploring a discipline I did not think I was capable of pursuing. Apply regardless of your inhibitions because the fellowship will allow you to tap into your potential.”
Lillie Robinson, a junior biomedical informatics major, worked throughout the fall semester with Nobel Laureate Leland Hartwell in the Pathfinder Center at the ASU Biodesign Institute on a study of health and wellness in North Korea and Afghanistan.
She plans to work with Hartwell this semester on a project focusing on science curriculum in middle schools.
“I would not have been able to get my foot in the door were it not for the Barrett Fellows Program,” she said, adding that working with a faculty member in a research area outside of her major has been particularly gratifying.
“I have learned new methods that have helped me research at a higher level. I now know that you can analyze data in more ways than I originally thought,” she said.
Robinson said the program offers diverse research and thesis opportunities for students with varied interests.
“It is a great opportunity to find a research lab. There is something for everyone. For Barrett students it could help hone thesis ideas and develop relationships with faculty members.”
The opportunity to do graduate level research while only a sophomore drew Lucas Crane, an environmental engineering major to the program.
Crane worked in the Urban Climate Center with Guiseppi Mascaro in the fall semester on an analysis of rainfall patterns in Los Angeles over the past 20 years. Information from his study could be used by Los Angeles city engineers to better manage water resources.
“Being able to have this experience so early on is really beneficial for my academic career and it’s going to have an effect on my professional goals,” said Crane, who developed new skills in coding, mapping and data analysis.
“It is a really cool opportunity and pretty much graduate level work. I feel I have made progress and I am much more knowledgeable.”
As for the HON 394 course, “this is a beneficial class to have. The thing I have liked most is that it gives you a space to explore and explain your research to others. It helps to be able to explain your work and develop your own understanding. It makes me all the more excited to do the research,” he said.
Tatum Villaboy, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences with a concentration in genetics, worked on a bioenergy and photosynthesis project in a lab at the School of Molecular Science.
“I learned more than I ever knew about research and options for a biological science career,” said Villaboy, who spent 9-11 hours per week in the lab during the fall semester.
“I’m really glad I found this program because it has connected me with something I’m really interested in, genetics. It has been worth the time and it will definitely influence my thesis topic.”