Schuylkill students embrace discovery as ambassadors for undergraduate research


SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Penn State students Sophia Bates and Michael Russell are among 17 undergraduates in Penn State’s Undergraduate Research Ambassador Program, designed for students with a passion for research to promote undergraduate research and encourage student participation from across the university. Bates and Russell are two of only three students representing Commonwealth campuses and the only ambassadors for any University College campus.

Penn State Undergraduate Research Ambassadors are a team of students who participate in undergraduate research and creative pursuits in various academic fields at Penn State. Ambassadors study areas such as the humanities, social sciences, business, visual and performing arts, and STEM.

Although a relatively new program, Penn State Schuylkill has been involved with it since its inception. Last year, Courtney Weikel, a fourth-year corporate communications student, and Michael Russell, a fourth-year biology student, served as undergraduate research ambassadors, and Russell decided to continue his work in the program. .

Students have presented their research at regional and national conferences and have had papers accepted for competitions and publications. Each student also took a unique approach to their research based on their primary discipline.

Analyzing healthcare through a rhetorical lens

Bates is a third-year corporate communication major with minors in biology and communication arts and sciences, and her chosen research area is health communication, combining her interests in biology and communication.

One of Bates’ current research projects involves the rhetorical analysis of photographs of themselves that people have posted on social media before attempting suicide. In this project, explained Valerie Schrader, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and Bates’ research mentor, Bates explores how these images “relate to Erving Goffman’s theory of facial work and how, by understanding the different ‘faces’ of depression and suicidal thoughts and ideation, we can better learn how to reach those who may need our help and reduce the stigma associated with depression and suicide.

Bates had her work accepted at the Eastern Communication Association Undergraduate Scholars Conference (ECA-USC), where she was one of 11 Penn State Schuylkill students to present work at the virtual spring conference. last, and to the National Communication Association, where her paper was one of the top two student papers in the Theater, Film, and New Multimedia division.

Bates’ research also extends to his interest in biology. She recently had a paper accepted at ECA-USC for the 2022 conference in Philadelphia that examines how Burkean identification – a rhetorical theory proposed by Kenneth Burke in which one party must “identify” with another when it attempts to persuade – is used live – in consumer pharmaceutical advertisements and how identification can be used in other health communication contexts to persuade people to get vaccinated, wear masks, etc. Schrader is working with Bates to submit this article for publication in a peer-reviewed communications journal. The two currently have an article in press with the Kentucky Journal of Communication that is based on Bates’ 2021 NCA article.

After graduation, Bates plans to attend a graduate school for health communication. “I’m so proud of Sophia and all she’s accomplished,” Schrader said, “and I know she’s going to go on to do great things in the health communication subdiscipline.”

“I am currently looking for different graduate programs that will allow me to explore health communication to new heights,” Bates commented. “Undergraduate research has allowed me to explore exciting new areas of interest, helped me find my niche in communication research, and set me on a career path that I look forward to. Lauch myself.”

Combining science with research and experimentation

Russell is a fourth-year biology student who has conducted research in biology and chemistry, and he also serves on the Penn State Schuylkill Undergraduate Research Council.

In 2019, Brenna Traver, an associate professor of biology, invited Russell to conduct research in her lab. The couple got to know each other through Theta Chi Theta, the campus chapter of Beta Beta Beta, the national biological honor society, where Traver serves as the organization’s academic advisor and Russell sits on the board of trustees.

“Sometimes you get a good read on a student and know they have an aptitude for research and good teamwork,” Traver commented, noting that she had never had Russell in class at that time. the. “I offered Mike a position in my lab for the summer of 2019, and it was one of the best personnel decisions I’ve made.”

Traver’s research examines the decline of bee colonies, and she focuses her work on how pathogens – Nosema ceranae in particular – contribute to this decline. Russell joined her research team and later helped Traver as a teaching assistant for a few of her lower-level courses. “Mike has continued to work in my lab over the past few years, and I mean it when I say I wouldn’t have survived the past two years without him,” Traver said. “I was very impressed with how quickly he mastered the techniques and the impressive results he produced,” she concluded.

And while Russell is a biology student, his interest in science also extends to chemistry, with experiments and research conducted alongside Lee Silverberg, associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Schuylkill.

“Mike did about two years of research with me,” Silverberg commented. Russell and Silverberg examined the syntheses of heterocyclic sulfoxides and sulfones, studying their structure, chemistry, spectroscopic properties, and bioactivity. This research builds on a larger body of knowledge where the compound shows possible signs of antifungal properties, and their research and experiments have many potential real-life applications. “More recently, he studied a surprising chemical reaction that we discovered, and through several experiments he was able to find conditions where the reaction became reasonably fast and reproducible,” Silverberg explained.

“Undergraduate research was instrumental in my education,” Russell explained. “Being able to conduct research has enhanced my critical thinking skills, familiarized me with common biological or chemical techniques, and given me the opportunity to speak and present at conferences” , he continued.

Russell has presented his research at several conferences, including a virtual presentation at the American Chemical Society’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting in June 2021. As he prepares for his graduation, he will present its work at its latest research and scholarship conference, hosted each semester by Penn State Schuylkill. And despite graduating on the horizon, Russell has consistently encouraged his peers to get involved in research, most recently speaking with prospective students about his research experiences at an event for future Penn Staters.

After graduating, Russell will continue his medical studies. He is currently responding to offers from eight schools while weighing his options for the future. “During my medical school interviews, I was able to talk at length about my research experiences and express my interest in applying science to real situations and real patients,” he said. declared. “My exposure to research will also prepare me for medical school since, at its core, the practice of medicine is truly an applied science.”

Become an Undergraduate Research Ambassador

To follow in their footsteps and find out how you can become a Penn State Undergraduate Research Ambassador, visit the Undergraduate Research and Mentorship website.


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