From Vipers To Hoarders, Dalton State Students Excel In Undergraduate Research

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In nature, roadrunners are fierce competitors that are known for speed, cunning, and devotion to protecting their territories and fellow birds. Much like their namesakes, Dalton State Roadrunners are students that display dedication and a keen sense of what it means to be a team player by striving to make their home institution proud.

Of the many accomplishments Dalton State can be proud of, undergraduate research is one of the newer ones. Four recent and notable achievements in undergraduate research belong to Faith Stokes, Shannon Evans, Victoria Roy, and Miles Thomas. All of the students have made strides in their respective research fields, with Ms. Stokes, Ms. Roy, and Mr. Thomas being chosen to present at the Second Annual Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference, and Ms. Evans being chosen for publication in the “Journal of Popular Television.”

For Ms. Stokes, a biology major, researching snakes was an easy decision. “I have been interested in snakes since I could walk,” she said. With a passion for the conservation of snakes, her research focused heavily on how venom from snakes native to this area can possibly help obliterate potentially pathogenic bacterial strains. Her poster, entitled “Venom from Local Snake Species: A Potential Source of Antibacterial Treatment,” was showcased at the recent Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference at Columbus State University, winning the prize for Best Poster.

Ms. Stokes’ journey doesn’t end at the GURC, however. She has also been asked to speak at a national viper conference, and was recently accepted to the very competitive and prestigious Council on Undergraduate Research’s “Posters on the Hill” in Washington, D.C, according to Dr. Marina Smitherman, Associate Professor of Biology.

Dr. Smitherman acted as Ms. Stokes’ mentor throughout the process of researching, collecting data, and putting the poster together. Ms. Stokes and Smitherman will travel to the nation’s capital in April for “Posters on the Hill;” her project was among 60 selected from nearly 600 submitted.

“Mentoring Faith has been an extreme pleasure,” said Dr. Smitherman. “She is very self-motivated, routinely referring to her work as ‘Team Venom.’ I’m extremely proud to have worked with her and of her progress from undergraduate to research scientist.” Ms. Stokes has been accepted to and will begin the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program in the fall.

Victoria Roy, another biology major at Dalton State, chose to research another natural curiosity and was also chosen to present her research at the Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference. Her poster, entitled “Yarrow: Natural Chemical and Biological Benefits,” explored the different ways in which yarrow, a flowering plant said to have healing properties with topical wounds, can be utilized.

“I have always loved natural and holistic medicine alternatives,” said Ms. Roy. “After some research, I found that yarrow was claimed to have a number of health benefits and wanted to test said benefits to give these claims scientific backing. I wanted to find a new way to help people using natural remedies.”

Ms. Roy’s research took place over the summer of 2013 under the tutelage of Dr. April Kay, Assistant Professor of Biology. “Tori is an exceptional student to mentor,” she says. “She is so motivated and has a true thirst for obtaining knowledge and learning the scientific approach.” She hopes to eventually earn her PhD in microbiology and either work at the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, or participate in field research of animal behavior.

Another Dalton State biology major, Miles Thomas, was selected to present his research at the GURC in January. Thomas’ topic of research was Lakeshore Park in Dalton, a degraded urban wetland. His poster, entitled “Phosphorus Assessment of Lakeshore Park Wetland,” delved into determining the fate of phosphates entering a degraded wetland.

In order to collect data and conduct research on the chosen area, Mr. Thomas and another student, Lisa Kimmerling, took soil and water samples in the spring and summer of 2013. Previous student research has been conducted at the Lakeshore Park wetland to establish the overall health of the area. Mr. Thomas’s research and experiments were conducted in the hope that he and/or other students can eventually build onto the findings and maintain a continuing monitoring of the wetland, according to Dr. Gina Kertulis-Tartar, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and associate professor of Biology.

Dr. Kertulis-Tartar was Mr. Thomas’s mentor, aiding him in learning how to conduct experiments and collect data. “It has been a great joy mentoring Miles and watching him develop as a scientist,” said Dr. Kertulis-Tartar, “Miles is a very enthusiastic student. He has been very eager to learn new techniques and has sought out learning opportunities in the lab and field.”

Additionally, a monumental feat was achieved by English major Shannon Evans, whose paper, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Disease: Exploring Hoarding as Reality Television Entertainment,” was chosen for publication in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of “The Journal of Popular Television.” Ms. Evans was mentored by Dr. Kris Barton, interim chair of the Department of Communication and associate professor of Communication.

Ms. Evans’ paper began as an assignment for Dr. Barton’s Mass Media and Society class, where each student was required to write a 20 to 25 page research paper on a topic relating to content covered in the course.

“For some time, I have been interested in media depictions of mental health and the subsequent effects on the public,” she said. “Since the hoarding reality shows like ‘Hoarders’ and ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ emerged in 2010, I have been fascinated by why a relatively obscure mental health disorder has become a part of popular culture.

“There is not a lot of academic material about hoarding programs, which actually worked in my favor—the research was wide open.” 

“Editing it down for the ‘Journal of Popular Television’ was a more challenging task,” said Dr. Barton, “but the fact that her initial research and findings were so solid made the process relatively painless.”

Students such as Ms. Stokes, Ms. Roy, Mr. Thomas, and Ms. Evans are not only helping to put Dalton State College on the map when it comes to undergraduate research but will hopefully inspire other students to undertake research programs. “I’m hoping that this raises the awareness of what kind of student we have here at Dalton State and what they are capable of,” said Dr. Barton.

According to Dr. Smitherman, who also is a member of the organizational committee for the research program, biology graduates have recently had more acceptances to graduate programs partially as a result of student participation in undergraduate research. It is universally accepted by the mentors of the research program that going through the process of collecting, organizing, and presenting information about a chosen topic for undergraduate research will aid in preparing students for graduate programs, including medical and dental school.

“The impact of conducting undergrad research is tremendous,” said Dr. Kay. “Students gain experience that they will need in order to be more marketable to graduate or professional schools.”

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