News and Events
Summer Undergraduate Research Program Expands Learning Opportunities
(L to R) Sadie Acquah-Asare, Abbey Klingel, and
Caitlin Ishibashi discuss their findings.
Most Seaver College students are on vacation for the summer, but campus continues to serve as a hub for original student-led research. Since the mid-1990s, selected Seaver College students have utilized their summer to engage in research projects on Pepperdine's Malibu campus through the Seaver Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). This summer, a record 22 students are participating in the program. Under the mentorship of a faculty member, they are each completing original projects that range from the business of biotechnology to an educational meta-analysis – exploring the effectiveness of undergraduate research experiences, and many disciplines in between.
"This summer our undergraduate students are breaking new ground in areas of investigation across almost all disciplines: from business and history to literature and poetry," says Lee Kats, associate provost for research at Seaver College. "The mentor-student relationships that form during collaborative scholarship and research are fantastic illustrations of what it means to be both student and faculty member at Seaver College."
The goals of SURP are to develop an active program of undergraduate research in all disciplines; to teach students the common elements of the research process by actively engaging them in a research study; to encourage students to pursue careers in research; and to provide time and incentive for faculty members to engage in research. The program began in late May with a two-week orientation in which students were introduced to the uses and limitations of specific research tools and techniques.
One of the many interesting projects is taking place in the Business Administration division. Venkatachalam Seshan, professor of international management studies, is mentoring two business students, Saxon McClintock and Lilit Azizyan, on a project called "Acquisition Opportunities for Mid-sized Biotechnology Companies by Big Pharmaceutical Companies."
"The healthcare industry is America's biggest industry, representing $3 trillion. The pharmaceutical companies make up $800 billion of that, but they are losing 80 to 90 percent of their revenues to generic drug companies," Seshan says.
The students have been researching biotechnology as a means for pharmaceutical companies to remain on the cutting edge. "The fast-paced advancements in technology and its applications to unmet medical needs are astonishing," says McClintock, who notes, "Researching biotechnology can sometimes be similar to reading a science-fiction novel. Genomic personalized medicine, which targets the specific gene that a cancer cell has mutated, is a potentially advanced way to target and eliminate various diseases in patients."
While the research sounds very science-based, Seshan explains that it has major cross-disciplinary benefit in business. "The skills that my students are learning are very important to their careers – they are learning to do original research, how to work as a team, and how to strategize from a board of directors' point of view," Seshan says.
There are 11 different projects that fall under the Humanities and Teacher Education division this summer. Seaver College student Devon Bryson ('10) is working on a project entitled, "Research: The Works of Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)."
"I'm looking at how Tolstoy thought about city and country lifestyles, their advantages and disadvantages to the person and society," says the political theory and philosophy major, who is also pursuing a minor in creative writing. "I've always been interested by setting and lifestyle, particularly city life. It's been great learning that a great author like Tolstoy struggled with the same question, and what's more, gave a nuanced answer between them, not simply an affirmation of one or the other."
The funniest fact he unearthed? "That Tolstoy's name literally means 'fat lion,' which, let's face it, had to have affected him on some level," Bryson laughs.
Several philosophy research projects are also currently underway through SURP. Caleb Clanton, assistant professor of philosophy, is overseeing one on contemporary political philosophy, with an emphasis on multiculturalism, by senior Andrew Forcehimes.
Forcehimes reports that summer research in Malibu with his faculty mentor is "tough but rewarding." "Caleb does a good job of bringing out my philosophical best. But, it is a lot of work," he says. "We work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then he'll give me a few hours of homework."
Stella Erbes, assistant professor of teacher education, has been mentoring two students in a meta-analysis of the very concept of summer research. Under her supervision, Seaver students Abbey Klingel and Kim Robison are conducting long- and short-term assessments of the Summer Undergraduate Research in Biology (SURB), another program that selects natural science students from all over the country to perform summer research on Pepperdine's Malibu campus.
"Our research uses an inter-disciplinary model of program assessment for undergraduate research experiences," says Erbes, who notes that she and Klingel plan to share their findings in an article titled, "What can a student teacher learn from undergraduate research?"
"I thought that research might be boring, and I wasn't really sure what it was actually going to encompass," Klingel says. "I've learned that research is such a vast arena. I have gotten to work on a journal article, administer surveys, conduct interviews, and various other things that will really prepare me for a more successful future."
Faculty mentors also report these summer projects as some of their most fulfilling work. "It's been fascinating watching students like Abbey see what is actually involved in a research project and then to carry out all the steps on their own," says Erbes. "These undergraduate research projects promote critical thinking and help students to see that research is a rigorous, intricately complex progress. I also believe that these projects are strongly connected to the university's mission to pursue excellence, truth, and knowledge in the academy."
Find out more about Seaver College Undergraduate Research at the Seaver College Dean's Web site.