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A Great Leap Forward

Undergraduate Research Facilitates Earlier Exploration and Experience
students in the new set building

This article is adapted from an article appearing in the Spring 2017 issue of Pathways Magazine.

From the time she was a little girl, Kathleen Hamilton knew she wanted to become a scientist. Everything about astronomy excited her, and she was eager to one day make meaningful contributions in the field she loved. She wanted to explore, conduct hands-on research, and share her findings.

Hamilton finally got her opportunity at Howard Community College (HCC), where undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students are encouraged to get involved in academic research activities and investigative projects that address real-world challenges and offer practical, real-world solutions. Alex Barr, assistant professor of physics, invited Hamilton to work on a project studying dark matter, an unidentified type of matter that influences astrophysical observations.

“I never thought I would have the chance to get involved with a project as an undergraduate student,” said Hamilton. “It’s given me a jump-start and prepared me well for internships. Companies are looking for students with research and programming experience. This project has given me both.”

“Research requires a lot of focus and patience, and often reminds us that the problems you face in the real world don’t get solved overnight,” said Barr. “Our growing research programs and facilities are giving our students invaluable experience and exposure. They are working in teams, building deeper connections with people who have similar interests, learning a lot, and having some fun in the process.”

Research opportunities will expand with the opening of HCC’s new Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Building. The building houses a dedicated research lab designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among students and faculty working on research projects. The lab is stocked with state-of-the-art technology that will make it possible for HCC students and faculty to pursue projects that demonstrate the connectivity among various scientific disciplines.

 “We’ve invested about $300,000 in new equipment for the lab,” explains Kathy Lilly, associate professor of chemistry and co-principle investigator for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarship Grant. “Many members of our faculty have strong research backgrounds, and now they will have the right space and tools to take their projects to the next level. We will be able to facilitate more research projects, and those projects will be more substantial and comprehensive.”

As an example, the lab will offer an atomic absorption spectrophotometer, which researchers will use to analyze and monitor metals, fluids, and other substances from the environment. A fluorescence microscope will be used for studies of cellular and bacterial-based substances, while a new cell incubator will help those who are working on projects that require cell growth and culturing.

 “This program exposes our students to the world of research, and everything that comes along with it,” said Lilly. “They get to experience how time consuming this work is and have to figure out how to adapt when the unexpected happens. Over time, they start to see how taking little steps each day and each week are all part of the big picture.”

Read more about Howard Community College’s undergraduate research program, and the new Science, Engineering, and Technology Building, in the Spring 2017 issue of Pathways Magazine.

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Topics: Science & Tech
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