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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

Endowment now supports Natural Sciences undergraduate research program

By Anita Wahler

IN THE LAB: Alayne Brown '03 and Dr. Stacia Rink (Chemistry) work with radiolabeled DNA behind a shield.

While science can appear to be just facts and figures, its essence is profound curiosity about the natural world. Students in the Natural Sciences Undergraduate Research (UR) Program have a chance each summer to make the connection between what they learn from textbooks and their innate curiosity. Working one-on-one with faculty on research projects in the lab and field and at the computer, students find out firsthand how to formulate an important question. They also place it in the context of other work, devise experiments and equipment to test predictions, and determine the significance of results.

Research experience helps students become independent problem solvers and compete more effectively for scholarships, jobs, and acceptance into graduate programs. Faculty mentors receive concrete assistance in their research, and have the satisfaction of seeing students grow in competence, confidence, and sophistication. While student discovery is the critical element in the program, their collaboration with professors is also key.

“Modern science calls for collaboration,” states Dean of Natural Sciences and UR Program Director Dr. Chang-li Yiu. “Skills in written and oral communication are both important components in training a scientist.”

These skills are practiced when the 10 students and five faculty funded this summer through the division’s second three-year grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and PLU matching funds (along with those with other funding) meet weekly to talk about their projects. At the end of the summer the students prepare a report, give formal presentations at PLU, and present a poster or talk at the annual regional UR conference sponsored by the Trust.

“I believe in this program,” says sophomore Alayne Brown, who did a project in plant molecular biology with Professor Mary Ellard-Ivey last summer, and is currently doing research on DNA mutations with Professor Stacia Rink . “It helps you in classes, and teaches you a different way of thinking.”

PLU is in the process of establishing an endow-ment fund to support faculty-student natural sciences undergraduate research in response to a challenge grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Under the terms of this challenge, PLU's Office of Development has raised $330,000 in gifts and pledges, and the Trust has made a partial award of $130,000. To secure additional funding from the Trust, PLU must raise $270,000 by March 2002. An endowment of $1.5 to $2 million is planned to fully support the program.

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