McNair Faculty Focus
Faculty mentorship is a key part of the The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. The program creates solid results for students and professors.
Statistics is fun
Greetings! I’m Dr. Daphne Pedersen, a Professor in the Department of Sociology. A transplant from Utah, I’ve had the good fortune to work at UND since 2004 (although I do miss the mountains terribly!). One thing that keeps me here, despite the flat lands, is the fantastic students I get to work with each day. One of those students is Jordan Jaeger.
Jordan and I met while he was enrolled in my undergraduate statistics course. As a newly declared sociology major, Jordan wanted to get more hands-on experience in the discipline. His timing was perfect. I had just worked with a group of students to collect data about the health of UND students. Jordan came on board our research team as the group’s statistician – cleaning the data set, preparing it for use, and then doing some preliminary analyses using SPSS software. I believe he even told me a few times that “statistics is fun.” (Insert proud smiley-faced emoticon here.)
The work Jordan did with the data turned into his McNair project, and he’s received a lot of attention and well-deserved accolades. Jordan is studying parental involvement and student stress among first- and continuing-generation college students. He presented his work last fall at the annual meetings of the Great Plains Sociological Association, where he won first place in the poster competition (so proud!). He also presented his work at the annual McNair conference, and is getting ready for a larger audience. This spring he will give a presentation at the Midwest Sociological Society meetings in Chicago. He’s well on his way to graduate school and a successful career in sociology.
I’ve had the opportunity now to work with two great McNair students. Who benefits most from the McNair mentorship is debatable … It is a great privilege to work with such amazing undergraduates and support their academic and professional dreams. As a first generation college student myself, I wish I’d had the guidance and opportunities provided by the McNair Program.
Studying serial killers
Boozhoo (Hello), my name is Dr. Wendelin Hume. I am a faculty member celebrating 25 years in the Department of Criminal Justice as well as an affiliate of the Women and Gender Studies program. I am also a proud member of the McNair program. I have served on and off (usually on) as a McNair mentor and at least annually as a McNair instructor for over a decade, nearly two. I am always very pleased when I am selected by students to serve as a mentor. I find working with students one-on-one on their research, and helping them hone both their ideas and their thinking skills, is both an honor and enlightening.
Those who run the McNair program on the UND campus do an excellent job of selecting worthy students who are anxious to learn and of providing adequate feedback to the mentor so we can perform our roles as well as possible. Being a mentor involves meeting with your mentee at least once a week if not working with them more often. The mentee is responsible for scheduling meetings as well as for bringing hourly log sheets wherein they share the work that they have done and the conclusions that they have drawn. Consistently meeting with the student provides both structure and content which I think benefits both the mentor and the mentee.
My latest mentee is Jason Cooper. I met him a couple of years ago now when he was in one of my Criminal Justice classes. I noticed his drive, his questioning mind, and his burgeoning desire to go to graduate school and so I actually wrote one of his recommendation letters to get him into the McNair program. Fortunately, for both of us, he was selected and I have had the privilege of working with Jason for the past year and a half. Jason has a strong interest in understanding the mindset of those that are deviant. In particular he has been most interested in studying serial killers. While working with Jason I have seen his ability to read for understanding improve. His research has also allowed him both to look at what many professionals and the public thought they knew but may not be true (just ask him about his myth busting research poster at the last McNair forum). Lately he has focused on trying to discover that which we still do not know (just ask him about the reliability of the original Macdonald triad in predicting adult aggressive behavior and sociopathy – particularly homicide).
Not only has Jason grown in his skills as a researcher but he has grown in his own self-confidence and is now providing leadership in several student organizations including our chapter of the national criminal justice honor society (Alpha Phi Sigma). He plans on earning his master degree in Sociology beginning Fall 2016. Thanks to the support of the McNair administrators and staff, as well as the support of his McNair peers, and I hope as well in part to me – Jason has a very bright future ahead of him.
If you are either a qualified and dedicated student or faculty member interested in joining the McNair program, I strongly suggest you do so. The consistent application of your research skills will improve them. The consistent working with inquiring minds will improve your mind as well. It takes time and effort, but it is well worth it. Miigwech. (Thank you.)
Being in the right place at the right time
Sometimes, finding a direction involves luck--being in the right place at the right time. For Beck Devine that “right place” was Prof. Chris Felege’s Concepts of Biology course. After that, Beck switched his major to Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. I met Beck when he enrolled in General Biology II during the 2014 summer session. I knew immediately that Beck should join my lab, because of the honeybee tattoo on his shoulder! My luck proved to be good as well; Beck is an excellent student researcher who has a promising career in Entomology. Beck’s work is an important first step in his career, allowing him to work with project that builds on the work of previous McNair scholars. Through this collaboration and his work, Beck is able to make a unique contribution to what is known about prairie fauna.
Beck is interested in pollinators and conservation. Pollinators are key to the success of plant species, acting as matchmakers for plants as they reproduce. Pollinators are also economically important to agriculture. North Dakota depends more on pollinators for crop production more than any state in the U.S. Unfortunately, pollinator health has suffered due to a variety of factors including: global climate change, habitat fragmentation, reduced diversity of plant species, and pesticide use. Little is known about the health of North Dakota pollinators; Beck’s research addresses this key question.
Beck collaborates with other McNair students, Leslie Yellow Hammer and Tiffany Huwe, and their advising team, Drs. Yurkonis and Goodwin for his research project. In summer 2014, Leslie and Tiffany (along with others from the Yurkonis/Goodwin team) collected pollinators from a variety of plants in Mekinock, ND. Currently, Beck is using genetic sequence data to identify these insects. With this information, Beck will be able to provide a list of the pollinators found at this site, and will be able to examine the genetic diversity of these species to determine if pollinators are susceptible to environmental changes and other factors. During this process, Beck is able to learn study design, methods of data collection and analysis, and presentation skills. The McNair program, through its support services, has been essential to Beck’s development as a researcher and professional scientist. I am grateful to be working with Beck as he pursues his dream of becoming an Entomologist.
Exciting opportunity not boring obligation
For years I had heard anecdotal evidence that students benefitted from doing serious research while undergraduates. I was told that it built confidence as well as various academic skills, such as critical thinking and writing among others. Admittedly, I was intrigued, and, when I was approached by Patrice Giese from the McNair Program over a decade ago, I was ready to try it. What no one had told me was how rewarding the experience is to the mentor of the undergraduate students doing research. It is certainly stimulating to discuss issues with them and to hear their perspectives, which often differ from mine and, frequently, encourage me to do more reading or to re-examine my own thinking. The most exciting moments for me are when students discover the joys of doing primary research and see connections between their research and their reading. I have been very fortunate in being able to mentor at least one student a year and feel that the experience enriches my own academic life.
My latest mentee is Sashay Schettler, a student from the Three Affiliated Tribes. She has embarked on doing research on Native language revitalization, a project that carries a certain urgency since many Native languages are threatened with extinction. There is only one fluent speaker of Mandan, one of the languages formerly spoken on the Fort Berthold Reservation, left. At present Sashay is inventorying existing programs, but she is also very much aware of the culturally specific needs for a successful language revitalization. Sashay's enthusiasm for her research is infectious, and I am looking forward to seeing how her research will develop and what conclusions she will reach.
Building experience beyond the classroom
By working one on one with faculty mentors, McNair Scholar researchers at UND start on their path to develop independent research careers. In 2011, Ms. Leslie Yellow Hammer joined the McNair Scholars program to learn more about research in biology. She was keenly aware that she wanted not only to be part of the scientific process, but to direct it. She joined Dr. Yurkonis' Grassland Ecology Lab in fall 2011, and is now directing her second independent research project on plant-insect interactions. The main focus of the McNair program is to help undergraduate students prepare for graduate-level research by providing them opportunities to develop as independent researchers outside of the classroom. As part of this program, Ms. Yellow Hammer has designed her own experiments, collected and analyzed her own data, and disseminated her results at regional and national conferences. She has gained field and lab skills working with plants, insects, and soil biota, and has had the opportunity to interact with multiple faculty and graduate student mentors at UND.
The McNair experience helps students to develop skills in conducting research, but also in helping others to build their scientific awareness. Ms. Yellow Hammer has mentored several students within the McNair and US MASTERS programs as they have pursued their own research projects within the lab. In this process she has found that she truly enjoys helping others learn more about research.
These collective opportunities to understand the research process and how to broadly influence society with her research have helped prepare Ms. Yellow Hammer for the next stage of her career. Ms. Yellow Hammer recently submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship program to support her proposed cutting-edge graduate research project on plant-soil interactions and will be applying to graduate school this fall. The McNair Scholars program provides a strong foundation of mentoring and skill-building opportunities for students to move forward with the next stages of their careers as independent researchers.
Learning is joy
Ms. Manna Khan joined the McNair Scholars program to advance her work in Geography. She is working with Dr. Christopher Atkinson and is keenly interested in water pollution in Bangladesh as it pertains to pollution sources and the connection and impact to human populations.
The process of asking questions and seeking answers is a joy for Ms. Khan. Her mentor sees advancement in her character and aptitude for independent research even in the short time since work began. While this progression of student skill in research brings joy to Dr. Atkinson, the main focus of the McNair program is to help undergraduate students prepare for graduate-level research. In this regard, Ms. Khan sees the joy in learning at each and every McNair research session by taking good notes and bringing a positive attitude even though the focus of these meetings could be deemed "dry" by others. By working together and compromising when needed, Ms. Khan and her mentor developed a great working relationship during Summer 2014. During the Halloween weekend, Ms. Khan and other UND scholars from the McNair program travel to a conference in Wisconsin; Ms. Khan will discover the joy of sharing research discoveries. When she returns to UND, Ms. Khan knows the research she wants to pursue: she has recognized the joy of research when a plan is in place. Dr. Atkinson looks forward to helping her discover the joy of applying her research to an important topic and finding out what the results indicate for Bangladesh.
The McNair Scholars program remains a very important segment of student opportunity at UND. The program creates solid results for students and professors alike as they strive to commonly pursue the mutual love and joy of research in common company.