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Summer 2003
Summer Scholars
From jazz to biomedical studies, students chart a course of discovery
in a new university program

Illustration by Naomi Shea
Photos by Richard Howard

Ask Sara Crabb, A05, about how she usually spends her summers and she runs down a list of practical “odd jobs”—transcriptionist, dental office assistant, waitress. But ask what she hopes to do after Tufts and her face lights up. Ever since third grade, she’s wanted to be a veterinarian.

This summer, she takes an important step closer to that aspiration as one of 30 Summer Scholars working with faculty across the University on inquiries as diverse as jazz, Alzheimer’s disease and solar energy.
For Crabb, the summer research opportunity makes her hour-and-a-half commute each day to the Grafton campus of the School of Veterinary Medicine “certainly worth it.”

“It was great to finally get the opportunity to work in a veterinary research environment,” said Crabb, who will join Lisa Freeman, J86, V91, N96, associate professor, on research related to intravenous nutrition for cats. “Usually most of the experience we need to apply to veterinary school is unpaid, but we have to make money for rent and food. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do both.”

That students can earn tuition dollars—each receives $3,500 for full-time research—explore professions, and contribute to scholarly and scientific knowledge are but some of the selling points of the Summer Scholars Program. Launched this spring by Provost Jamshed Bharucha, the program takes full advantage of Tufts’ strength as a liberal arts institution set within a complex research university. “I’m very excited about the program’s prospects; it was the highlight of my first year,” said Bharucha.

Among its many merits, he said, is a new encouragement, by way of University funding, for students to explore areas of interest, work that Bharucha hopes will lead to many more senior honors theses. It strives to build connections to the intellectual life of Tufts, perhaps enticing students to consider attending Tufts graduate or professional schools.
And as it begins to strengthen support for scholarship across all disciplines, it knits together schools that have traditionally operated as “tubs on their own bottoms.” The Summer Scholars of 2003, for instance, will work with faculty in Arts and Sciences, Engineering, the Fletcher School, the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, the School of Medicine and the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Donna Mumme, assistant professor of psychology (left), with Samantha Resnik, A04, will work closely with infants to gain insight on the development of emotional understanding.

Students who might also spend all four years on the Medford/Somerville campus are conducting research on the Boston campus and in Tufts’ affiliated hospitals and clinics. This year students are placed with researchers at the Tufts-New England Medical Center and Bay State Medical Center.

Bharucha said he was particularly pleased that the affiliated hospitals “responded extremely well” to the program. “For many of them, this is the first time they have been contacted by the Tufts provost’s office, and I think this will go a long way toward building new synergies.”

Abraham Sonenshein, professor and deputy chair in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at the School of Medicine, agrees. “The Summer Scholars program is a wonderful innovation that both enriches the undergraduate experience and makes important connections between the Medford campus and the other campuses of the University. At the Boston campus and at the hospitals affiliated with the medical school, we are delighted to interact with Tufts’ excellent undergraduates and to welcome them into our health-science research community. Katie McCarty, who will be working in my lab this summer, will be studying the role of a novel gene regulator in bacterial infection. Her results may be the first step toward new therapies.”

The Summer Scholars Program grew out of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience, created in 2001 by President Lawrence S. Bacow. After more than a year of research and focus groups, the Task Force presented proposals in May to enhance the intellectual climate, build community and add coherence to the curriculum. Bacow will review those recommendations, which will help give shape to the next capital campaign.

But Task Force members also knew that some proposals called for more immediate responses. Enhancing undergraduate research was one of them, and Bharucha secured preliminary funding to correct what he perceived as an imbalance in the curriculum. “You can get an A in all your courses, but unless you sit down and also do research, you won’t know what it’s like to be in that field,” he said. “For students who have thought about a Ph.D., there was very little opportunity for them to test out their interest.”

Another incentive was the 1995 Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University. The Boyer Report explored characteristics shared by research universities and their challenges in relation to undergraduates. Tufts is classified as one of 88 “Research Extensive” universities that offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, and are committed to graduate education through the doctorate, and give high priority to research.

In the report’s “Blueprint for America’s Research Universities, undergraduates were cited as “too often shortchanged”—they graduate “lacking a coherent body of knowledge or any inkling as to how one sort of information might relate to others. It cast a critical eye on the concept of a “student-centered research university,” a phrase coined by Tufts as well as many other universities, but the report urged that the commitment needed greater reinforcement.

“The possibility exists,” according to the report, “that a ‘research university,’ properly defined, could embody what the phrase [student-centered] attempts, through a synergistic system in which faculty and students are learners and researchers, whose interactions make for a healthy and flourishing intellectual atmosphere.”

“The Boyer Report said we need more research opportunities for students—because they learn more and they learn better,” said Charles Inouye, dean of the colleges for undergraduate education, a co-chair of the Task Force and one of the creators of the Summer Scholars Program.

Current opportunities for student research have already proved attractive. For five years now, undergraduates have demonstrated their ability to engage in scholarly work at the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium. This year 60 students presented their findings at a poster session.

“Our faculty are generous with their commitment to students, and allowing them to participate in research investigations is another expression of that,” said Inouye. “It’s a wonderful chance for students to work closely with faculty, to understand their motivations, passions and methods, and to engage in original research themselves. If they learn that, then they too develop a similar profile—they too become lifelong learners and effective communicators. They will be well prepared for graduate school, and for the world of solving problems and influencing others.”

When the Summer Scholars Program was announced in March, administrators were impressed with the response—some 90 applications for 30 openings within two weeks. Krishna Kumar, assistant professor of chemistry, wasn’t surprised that the program was greeted enthusiastically. “This is a one-of-a-kind program that will really catapult undergraduate research at Tufts,” said Kumar, who will work with Summer Scholar Ken Hamill, A04, on a protein design project. “This multidisciplinary, university-wide program will soon find many clones at the top universities.”

Donna Mumme, assistant professor of psychology, was also excited about the new program, as it endorsed what she and many faculty already have recognized: the high caliber of undergraduates. She first worked with Samantha Resnik, A04, when the latter was a sophomore, and the two are teaming up in the Summer Scholars program to investigate emotional understanding in infants. Samantha’s research abilities—her persistence, creativity, and desire to write a senior thesis—were easy to see, but more difficult to cultivate due to lack of research funding.

“I’ve been pushing for a program like this since President Bacow came,” said Mumme. “I didn’t know it was in the works when Sam came to me with an idea for an honors thesis, but as soon as we got the email announcement, I sent it right off to her and told her to apply. I think it’s going to be great working with her on such an important project and for such an extended period of time.”

Resnik said the summer program fosters intense concentration that’s often difficult to find during the academic year. “Without the summer, there is no way I could study as many infants as I need to gather relevant data; there are too many other pressures and just not enough time. It’s an incredible program that’s going to be invaluable to me; I don’t think I could write a senior thesis without it.”

James Clark, A04, is grateful that the program recognizes that the humanities play a vital part in Tufts research. Under the mentorship of music professor Michael Ullman, he will pay tribute to a musician he feels deserves greater appreciation, jazz pianist Wynton Kelly, who accompanied greats like John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Miles Davis, among others. “Kelly’s type of personality has been largely ignored by jazz historians,” said Clark, who plays piano with the Tufts Big Band, “but without him, jazz couldn’t exist, the big-name people wouldn’t have had groups.”
For students with a leaning toward medical careers, the program was an attractive alternative to the traditional unpaid internships. Six undergraduates will conduct research on Tufts’ health sciences campus.

Jennifer Cho, A04, who hopes to be a pediatrician, is studying with Dr. Cynthia Cole in the Department of Newborn Medicine at Tufts-New England Medical Center, exploring how oxygen therapy can influence the outcome of premature infants. “Last year I did an internship and it really opened my eyes to neonatal medicine,” she said. “As far as research goes, I know those experiences are strongly suggested for my medical applications. I needed them to build my foundation.”

Gabriela Soriano, A04, is working with Wendy Qiu, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Tufts-New England Medical Center. Together they are investigating the relationship between insulin, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Her summer research project combines lab work with patient contact, “so it sounded like a great balance,” she said. “It’s satisfying when you get to pursue something you’re passionate about over the long term and you know that what you’re doing can ultimately help a lot of people indirectly. You can’t do anything if you don’t do research. You have to be more patient, but the prospect of finding a cure for anything is highly tempting.”

Students also responded with provocative ideas. Asami Tanimoto, E04, a chemical engineering major with a strong interest in the environment, was contemplating how to approach an idea that grew out of a course she had taken with William Moomaw, professor of international environmental policy at the Fletcher School, on clean energy policies and technology. With her Summer Scholars project, she will study how Tufts could integrate cost-saving solar panels into buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus.

“I thought it was a good idea because Tufts has all these resources and buildings with enormous roofs but they’re not doing anything,” said Tanimoto. “The potential for integrating solar systems really interested me. It’s not just about saving money, but about making people more aware of the environment.”

Similarly, Courtney Keefe, A04, jumped at the chance to research a topic that had long been neglected. Under the guidance of political science professor Richard Eichenberg, she will undertake a survey of popular attitudes toward missile defense and U.S. policy since 1983, about which, she says incredulously, very little data exist. She said the program helps her advance her understanding of foreign policy, but also addresses a perceived imbalance in research.

“When I first came to Tufts,” she said, “I knew that Tufts was a research university; that’s great, but it had nothing to do with me. I thought it was all about the sciences. Then this program came up. It’s exciting because people in the humanities and social sciences can pursue research, too.

“I think it also makes my education more complete,” she added. “If part of your education is in the classroom and the rest outside, there isn’t much that ties it together. What can tie it together is being able to do research with an expert in my field; and where the teacher doesn’t set the agenda—you find something you want to do and do it.”

Andrew Beattie, E05, agrees there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with independent research. He’s working with Peter Wong, research associate professor in mechanical engineering, testing ultrasonic metal welding to explore what causes wrinkling in metal plates only about 5/1000th of a millimeter thick. Research such as this, said Beattie, lets him tackle a conundrum—“if you vibrate a cube or a plate you will get buckling or wrinkling, but nobody can predict why.”

“Professor Wong thinks we might be able to actually publish our findings in a journal and that would be very exciting,” said Beattie. “I know it’s possible that we won’t find anything interesting, and that would be unfortunate. But this gives me the opportunity to learn about the research process and to find out if this is what I want to do after Tufts.”

Krishna Kumar, assistant professor of chemistry,
and Summer Scholar Ken Hamill A04, are investigating an aspect of artificial protein design.

Ken Hamill, A04, expressed his own anticipation for discovery. He’s spending the summer working with Krishna Kumar in the chemistry department exploring one aspect of artificial protein design. “It’s a fascinating project,” said Hamill. “People have identified a new type of force implicated in protein folding, and my goal is to classify this phenomenon and see how it influences protein-protein interactions.”
He is pleased that the University has set up the program not only for the funding, but because it lends credibility and weight to research. “The fact that it is supported by Tufts is important,” he said. “Tufts recognized that the research is credible, and that gives us the confidence as a team to push harder to make it publishable.”

And, he adds, it brings community. Research has a tendency to cause tunnel vision, where people view their work only within the microcosm of a department. “You rarely see anyone out of that box,” he said. “It’s dangerous to sit in Pearson and not have that sense of being part of other research and work. It’s a diversity issue; it recognizes that there are all types of research going on here and that English is just as important as something in the sciences. That’s an important message.”

Indeed, in the long view, programs such as the Summer Scholars reinforce a critical message about Tufts. “Students that choose to come to Tufts appreciate that Tufts offers a high-quality education,” Inouye said. “They understand that we are neither Amherst nor Harvard, we are in-between. And being in-between is where we want to be. What the Task Force is trying to do is make Tufts be more distinctively Tufts. The Summer Scholars program is not as much a redefinition as a clarification and enhancement of what we have been all along.”

Tufts can, and should, confidently communicate that distinction, added Bharucha. “The Boyer Report came out unequivocally that the best undergraduate education of the future will be found at research universities that pay attention to undergraduates,” he said. “Tufts is one of the few institutions today that can offer the best of the student-centered liberal arts education as well as the resources and opportunities of a research university. We can aspire to both of those ideals.”