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Noyce Scholars Participate in Summer Research Projects

Noyce Scholars Participate in Summer Research Projects

Project SERVE Summer Project

Two students with Doane University’s Project SERVE program are gaining valuable experience in their field by performing paid summer research projects.  Olivia DeFord ’21 and Victoria Gress ’21 are exploring topics that will benefit their future careers as science educators.  The projects are eight weeks in length, and the scholars are working under the guidance of Dr. Sharmin Sikich, Associate Professor of Chemistry and co-P.I. for Noyce Project SERVE.  The two scholars began planning their research projects this Spring in their Introduction to Research course.  Both projects were designed to allow them the flexibility of working remotely in response to COVID-19.   

Olivia DeFord is investigating methods for reducing amino acid alphabet sequences in proteins.  This research was started previously by Dr. Sikich and other Doane students- Olivia is picking up where they left off.   Proteins are comprised of sequences of 20 basic amino acids.  Finding an effective clustering method for the amino acid chains may enable researchers to more effectively compare proteins, and help to identify new ones.  Olivia stated that there are multiple options for grouping the amino acids based on protein characteristics, polarity, and size. 

To test the various alphabet reduction methods, DeFord began by passing known protein sequences through multiple software applications, to confirm whether the grouping methods are reliable.  It can take up to 2 days for the results to be returned for each protein, depending on the comparison method and software platform.  Olivia indicated that she really enjoys lab work, but admitted that, “research like this can get a bit tedious”.  As a future educator, Olivia plans to user her experiences to incorporate meaningful lab experiments and interesting hands-on experiences in her classroom, to encourage her students to learn about science concepts that might otherwise be dry or boring. 

Victoria Gress is developing models representing net ionic equations for her summer research project.  These models will be used for teaching purposes in the science classroom.  In preparation for creating these models, Victoria has been reading articles and reviewing the underlying concepts for this subject matter to assure the accuracy of the models.  An example of the type of chemistry equation that she is modeling is the solubility of sodium chloride in water.

Gress has been experimenting with different materials for creating the teaching models.  She began by using magnets to detail the results of various chemical reactions.  Victoria is also investigating the use of 3D printing to create accurate representations for her future chemistry students.  She is working with Dr. Sikich to create a lesson plan for a section dealing with net ionic equations, which could be used in Doane University’s General Chemistry course. 


Example of Victoria Gress’ models demonstrating net ionic equations
Example of Victoria Gress’ models demonstrating net ionic equations 


Victoria will employ a pretest/posttest methodology to gather data for her research to measure the effectiveness of the teaching models.  Dr. Sikich and a colleague in the Doane Chemistry department will both administer the test instruments in their classes this Fall, to see if there is any discernable impact in using the new models.  Dr. Sikich’s class will receive the experimental treatment, and the other class will serve as the control group receiving the current instruction methodology.  Through this action research project, Victoria is not only learning about the scientific concepts more deeply for herself, but she is also learning how different teaching methodologies can impact the learning of her future students. 

As Noyce scholars with Project SERVE, Olivia DeFord and Victoria Gress are receiving funding from the National Science Foundation to perform their research.  Doane University was awarded a grant from the NSF in 2018 to produce highly-qualified STEM teachers who are committed to working in high-need secondary schools.  Summer research is just one component of Project SERVE, allowing Noyce scholars to explore interesting topics in STEM, which will support their development as effective educators.  Victoria and Olivia both indicated that these projects are deepening their passion for science, and they are excited to share the knowledge gained from these experiences in their future classrooms.