Distant researchers come together to share findings

Published: December 11, 2020

An annual gathering of Queensborough undergraduate researchers goes virtual

Students made 65 presentations from across ten disciplines at Queensborough Community College’s Fifth Annual Undergraduate Research Day, which occurred entirely on Zoom (for the first time) on Friday, December 4th. Approximately 165 participants attended the daylong online conference.

Seven presentations related to COVID-19. Students investigated using machine-learning to predict mortality rates. Some dealt with the mental stresses of the pandemic. Authors of one coronavirus study concluded that maintaining a healthy and balanced diet with a high intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals during the pandemic could help to strengthen an individual’s immune system.

[For a full listing of abstracts and more information about undergraduate students’ research outcomes, please go to https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/ur/ur-day.ht]

“Most community college faculty outside of the CUNY system do not have doctorates or practice research on the scale that we do. You have a real-world opportunity as undergraduate researchers to learn and share your experience with other students. Tell your friends about it,” said Queensborough President Dr. Christine Mangino, addressing undergraduate researchers and their mentors before the program began. 

The pandemic caused researchers and students to alter the program this year, pivoting many undergraduates away from field or lab work to online reviews of literature and data. The college community, however, was determined to come together virtually and share their results.

Participants in the 2020 Queensborough Undergraduate Research Day virtual gathering

Participants in the 2020 Queensborough Undergraduate Research Day convene online.

“Undergraduate research is such a part of the culture of Queensborough,” explained Dean of Faculty for Academic Affairs, Dr. Sandra Palmer. “I don’t believe there is any community college that does this anywhere to the extent that we do. It is something of which we can all be proud. It is unique.”

Queensborough faculty members Drs. Mercedes Franco (Mathematics and Computer Sciences), Tirandai Hemraj-Benny (Chemistry), Sharon Lall-Ramnarine (Chemistry), Joan Petersen (Biology), Rommel Robertson (Psychology), and Rex Taibu (Physics) organized Undergraduate Research Day. They worked with additional faculty mentors to collaborate with students and each other to foster students’ ownership of learning.

Dr. Tirandai Hemraj-Benny described the conference as “exceptional.”

“It brought us together as a community to share our research during a challenging time in our lives. I am very proud of all of our student and faculty participants,” Dr. Hemraj-Beny said.

CUNY Research Scholarship Director, Dr. Ron Nerio, who participated in the conference, identified Queensborough Community College as a standout institution 

“Undergraduate research at Queensborough is amazing and inspiring, great, and exciting. Last year 237 students across the CUNY system participated in this type of research experience, culminating in our annual symposium. Queensborough won seven-out-of-22 awards among ten participating schools. What an incredible record,” Nerio remarked.

 “I want to thank everyone at QCC for creating this type of culture,” he said.

In one project, students used regular household items in place of specialized lab tools to isolate and extract DNA from fruit, making them visible to the naked eye. Using ingredients found in an everyday kitchen cupboard, such as strawberries, dish soap, and rubbing alcohol, they were able to break down the cells and isolate the DNA.

 “Students who conduct research are developing inquiry, analytical, communication and presentation skills, but what they are also achieving is a commitment to high standards,” explained Dr. Petersen, High Impact Practices Undergraduate Research Coordinator.

Students also conducted literature reviews on antibiotic resistance of bacteria and took to the outdoors on research projects that focused on bird migration and autumn leaf pigmentation. Additional research extended to a comparison of Nazi Concentration Camps and Japanese-American Internment Camps as well as Kathak, a category of Indian classical dance.

“The day was a testament to the dedication of both our students and our faculty. Challenging as it was, the virtual nature of this year’s program enabled faculty and students to dig deeper into the background theory of their work,” Dr. Petersen said.

Remote research, according to Dr. Sharon Lall-Ramnarine, provided opportunities for distant students and faculty to work closely together.

“The students’ reflections on their experiences and how much they valued the guidance from their mentors stood out for me. It highlighted that faculty mentoring in research, or otherwise, is needed now in these challenging times, more than ever, to support and motivate students. We are motivated to continue fostering Undergraduate Research at Queensborough and will celebrate again at the Spring Student Symposium,” said Professor Lall-Ramnarine.

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Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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