Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Mariah Wahl

Mary “Kassie” Kelly ‘18 began her summer research project under the Mellon Initiative with two very specific music history topics in mind, but her plans quickly changed.

Under the guidance of her adviser, professor of music history Carl Leafstedt, Kelly intended to spend part of her time on San Antonio Symphony’s early history, looking to pull out lesser known stories to recreate the history that may be partially left out. The other part of her work was to focus on John M. Steinfeldt, a German composer and pianist who founded the now long-forgotten San Antonio College of Music.

Kelly's research led her to access an old archive of San Antonio newspapers and other documents.
“In San Antonio, it is said that we have ‘chronic public amnesia,’” Kelly explains as the motivation for her research, “Our history, with the exception of the Alamo, is not very well known. This is especially true for music in the city.”

This “amnesia” became obvious when Kelly and Leafstedt began their research and came across the forgotten San Antonio Federal Orchestra (not to be confused with the symphony of their initial research):

“We were in the San Antonio Public Library’s archive, and we discovered this San Antonio Federal Orchestra, having found the term ‘The Federal Music Project’ under the acknowledgments of an early San Antonio Symphony program. Neither of us had heard of it before, which is incredible because Dr. Leafstedt is a music historian who has lived in this city for over a decade.” Her curiosity was piqued. 

Kelly delved into the San Antonio Newspaper archive searching for more information, and she found that there was quite a bit of archival evidence on this orchestra that appears to have been erased from San Antonio’s cultural memory. It came to be as part of the Federal Music Project of the thirties and forties.

The Federal Music Project, a subset of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, was part of the New Deal programs of the late thirties and early forties. The Federal Arts project was designed to create jobs for artists, writers, and musicians across the country using federal funding. Because the orchestra was paid for by the government, the public was able to attend symphonies that had previously only been available to elite season symphony ticket holders. 

Kelly's discovery of the San Antonio Federal Orchestra became the central focus of her research.
“It was intended to be music for the people,” Kelly explains, “the Orchestra was there to unite the community in the wake of the depression. People who had never heard symphonic music were now able to go for free.”

The orchestra had its first season in 1936. While San Antonio had had symphony orchestras before, this was the most popular orchestra project the city had ever seen; by 1938 literally thousands of people would be present at its concerts, some of which were held close to the Trinity campus in the Sunken Garden Theater. The San Antonio orchestra employed a variety of musicians who would otherwise have been without a job.

“The New Deal program provided a surprising amount of opportunity to people that were typically marginalized at this point in our history,” Kelly explains of the program’s innovative hiring approach. Projects across the nation under the Federal Music Project employed many women and people of color, which was remarkable in the thirties and forties.

The orchestra’s historical importance also comes from the contribution of several prominent members of the San Antonio community. Walter Dunham, a famous San Antonio musician, was the conductor of the orchestra. Albert Herff-Beze, a Trinity alumnus and well-known figure in the school’s history, was named district director of the Federal Music Project in 1936.

“It was exciting to see that familiar name appear, and to know he had a hand in this history. Someone who had such an impact on Trinity’s campus was also impacting the larger San Antonio community,” Kelly says of her findings. 

Kelly, pictured with a portrait of Albert Herff-Beze, enjoyed learning more about Trinity and San Antonio history.
  Kelly plans to continue her research of the San Antonio Federal Orchestra in the 2015-2016 school year. In addition to learning more about the orchestra, Kelly hopes to uncover the underlying reasons why the orchestra may have been forgotten as a part of San Antonio’s community. She intends to submit her research for presentation at a regional professional conference of the American Musicological Society. In the year ahead she will further develop the research skills this project has given her.

“This research experience has broadened my horizons in more than one way,” Kelly explains, “Not only has it sparked a personal interest for me in music history, a field I wasn’t really familiar with before, it’s given me the opportunity to explore different kinds of music and to develop the practical tools of archival and database research.”

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of her work was learning more about the city of San Antonio, her hometown:

“I’ve lived here for most of my life, so this research has a personal dimension for me. I’m amazed by how much more this is and was to learn about San Antonio.”

Kelly presented her research, titled “The San Antonio Federal Orchestra of 1936-43: A Forgotten Link in San Antonio’s Musical Heritage” last week at Trinity’s Summer Undergraduate Research Conference.

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities here.
By Mariah Wahl

Martel Matthews ‘16 does his research in an unexpected place this summer. You won’t find him in a lab or a library, but in an office downtown.


Working for Sweb Development, a web and app development firm,  Matthews’ task this summer is two-fold. He spends his time at work as an intern running Google analytics for the company and tracking the success of different clients’ websites, while also observing the work environment and considering what makes a business successful. 




Matthews spent his summer pursuing research in business.
“I’m interested in project managing, and how co-workers communicate as a team,” Matthews explains, “a project’s success is not just about the time and effort you put in, but about how different personalities and different relationships can be coordinated to complete the work.”

As an example, Matthews explains how an email you send to your boss might be different than an email you send to your peer at work. Obviously one email is more respectful and formal in tone. Even between two separate peers, an email might be different based on their personality and the sender’s relationship to them. Matthews’ observations have led him to believe that this intersection of relationship and personality is vital to a workplace’s efficiency:



Matthews demonstrates his research on office communication at Sweb Development.
“At Sweb, there is an emphasis on the activities we do together. We’re a community. We do yoga, get ice cream, we have basketball on Wednesday and taco truck day on Friday. All of these things seem insignificant, but they help us to work together in the long run. We’re strengthening our professional relationships.” 

For Matthews, being a young professional is not without its challenges. As a McNair Scholar, a member of Trinity University’s football team, and an intern trying to pursue his own business venture, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.


Matthews balances school and varsity athletics with his work.
“My mantra is that ‘time is time’,” Matthews shares, “It will pass whatever you do, so make the most of it. I have to slow down and appreciate what’s going on, or what’s the point in doing it?”

Matthews is a marketing major from Houston, TX.

Learn more about Trinity’s school of business here. Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities in all fields here.
By Mariah Wahl —

As Trinity University students, we often joke about “the Trinity bubble” and how difficult it can be to leave campus to explore the rest of San Antonio. Under the mentorship of professor of art history Kathryn O’Rourke, Jason Azar’s ‘16 SURF Mellon grant research this summer not only documents the history of Trinity’s campus and landscape, but explores design strategies for breaking that bubble.

Azar’s work, “(Re)Designing Texas: Landscape History and the Campus-River Connection,” investigates the history and theory of Texas landscape architecture in the mid-20th century. His research focuses on the work of Arthur and Marie Berger, Trinity University’s original landscaper architects. As a secondary part of his work this summer, Azar created his own design plan, a proposal to connect Trinity to the San Antonio Riverwalk. 

Azar's model for connecting Trinity's campus to the Riverwalk.
“Trinity exists currently as an isolated bubble at the top of this hill,” Azar explains as the motivation for his project, “We can see the city, but we can’t access it.”

The project would connect Trinity to Brackenridge Park, the nearly 350-acre public park across highway 281, and to a Riverwalk extension via shaded pedestrian walking and biking trails, connections that Azar sees missing in the existing arrangement.

“San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the country,” Azar notes, “But we rank sixtieth in terms of park accessibility. It’s a shame because we are in such close proximity to great parks, but are cut off by highways and chain link fence.”

This is a problem not just because it prevents Trinity students from accessing Brackenridge Park easily, but because it means many of the parks and amenities in the area are only accessible to people who live nearby or have access to cars. Expanding the trails to different neighborhoods allows a greater population outside of the Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, and Terrell Hills neighborhoods to access the parks. Greater accessibility to trails might also encourage physical activity in San Antonio, a city where obesity and its related health concerns are prevalent. A further benefit of Azar’s design would be landscaping with native, sustainable Texas grasses and plants that require little water and upkeep, making his project both socially and environmentally conscious.

Azar works on his design plan, informed by research on Trinity's landscape design history.
Azar’s proposal involves building a land bridge over Highway 281 between Mulberry street and Hildebrand street, and creating trails to connect Trinity to Brackenridge Park and a new Riverwalk extension. Beyond that, Azar envisions connecting this area to downtown and other important cultural areas such as the new Do-seum and the Witte Museum.

Azar especially enjoyed the opportunity to explore Brackenridge Park. The park contains numerous attractions including the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese Tea Gardens, and the Sunken Garden Theater. 

“There are some real treasures in Brackenridge Park that most people just don’t know about," Azar says, "There are all of these forgotten stairways that once led to viewing terraces, but now they’re overgrown and rarely visited.”

For Azar, the design project is not necessarily about putting his ideas into action, but about encouraging the community to see San Antonio in a new light.

“I’d like for my work to encourage people to see the potential in these spaces, and use what’s there instead of letting them go to waste.”



Azar, a senior, plans to pursue further study in the field of urban design and landscape architecture.

When asked what his favorite spot in San Antonio is, Jason says Trinity University.

“I’ve spent three years here, but I’m always struck by how beautiful this campus is,” Azar says of the campus, “It’s so well-laid out. I think we sometimes forget what a picturesque place we go to school.”

Azar intends to pursue graduate study in landscape architecture and urban design. He is an urban studies and art history major from Tucson, AZ.

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at Trinity here.
By Mariah Wahl

Can someone learn about the population of an ancient city by studying the ruins of a 3rd century synagogue? Savannah Wagner ’17, working with religion professor Chad Spigel, is conducting a demographic study that sets out to do just that. Her work considers the ancient synagogue at Dura Europos, and what the site reveals about the Jewish population that lived there.
Wagner's research concerns an ancient site in modern-day Syria. 

Located near the city of Palmyra and close to Syria’s border with Iraq, Dura Europos is one of the most famous and well-preserved sites of archaeological study. One of the major structures considered at this site is a synagogue dating from the 3rd century. The most well preserved synagogue from this time period, the structure boasts twenty-one foot tall ceilings covered in artistic depictions of scenes from the Hebrew bible.

The synagogue has maintained the original benches of the structure, allowing Wagner to hypothesize about the size and demographics of the Jewish population in Dura Europos. If the synagogue was divided between men and women, for example, Wagner is able to extrapolate that there was a slightly higher number of men than women in the Jewish community at that time.


A map of the city reveals the synagogue's location near the ancient church.

The synagogue may also reveal how the Jewish community interacted with the other religious groups of Dura Europos. Although some of the synagogue’s art may suggest conflict between the Jewish population and other groups, there is evidence that the synagogue and other structures used the same artists for much of their work, suggesting a certain amount of cooperation as well.

The images are remarkably well preserved, as the structure was buried in an effort to fortify the city walls against the Persian invasion that destroyed the city. Where dirt and rubble covered the art, the images survived for excavators to find.

Wagner is considering further study in the field of religion.

“The images are a surprising thing,” Wagner notes, “Because the second commandment forbidding graven images in synagogues was usually enforced during this time period.” Wagner’s favorite art on the walls includes the colorful militaristic images, reflecting the city’s primary purpose as a military encampment.

The location of the archaeological site has made it a recent target for groups like ISIS to loot and prevent further study. Even in pictures, however, the art at Dura Europos tells a story and reveals small details about the lives of the people there: “Sometimes the reading reveals something unexpected—like an article that finds evidence of tagging in the ruins of the structure. New information like that can help to reveal something new about the Jewish community at Dura Europos.”

Wagner is a native of Guyton, GA.

Read more about Spigel's research here. Read about undergraduate research opportunities at Trinity University here. Learn about Trinity's department of religion here
By Mariah Wahl

This summer, Cameron McKay ‘16 is familiarizing himself with the motion and eating habits of an organism many people have heard of, but few have experienced up close: Escherichia coli, more commonly called E. coli. His work will involve modeling the organisms movements and tracking it's performace in a computer simulated "maze" intended to mimic micro-environments found in biology.

McKay’s modeling work has important practical applications in diverse biomedical applications. McKay and his advisers, professor of biology Frank Healy, and professor of mathematics Hoa Nguyen, are collaborating on this project with Hakan Basagaoglu of the Southwest Research Institute. The group is interested in potential uses of this new model for testing the performance of bacteria, or engineered bacterial or chemical robots as a targeted drug delivery agents for the treatment of tumor cells.  Particular bacterial strains, after removal of their toxin genes and equipped with therapeutic drugs, can be used as targeted delivery agents searching for metabolites in cancerous tumor tissue. Numerical simulations could be useful to test the success of bacteria-mediated tumor regression or eradication in tumor blood vessels by analyzing the run and tumble motion of engineered bacteria across capillary barriers and complex flow paths.

Mckay explains his numerical simulation and its potential applications. 
McKay’s research work, funded by the National Science Foundation grant, focuses on numerical simulations of self-propelled movement of E. coli in response to nutrient sources in geometrically complex microflow channels. These channels are maze-like domains that mimic natural environments such as tumor cells. McKay's work began with development of a new numerical model, based on the Lattice Boltzmann (LB) method, to  simulate the fate and transport of elastic biotic (in this case, bacteria) or abiotic (engineered particles) objects in microchannels. The new LB model with deformable particles would provide more realistic simulations of the behavior of E. coli in response to a stimulus and its hydrodynamic interactions with microfluidic environments: “No one, as far as I know, has combined the fluid dynamics with the chemotaxis-behavior of E. coli like we have.” McKay explained.

McKay is currently working on debugging the newly developed LB model with deformable particles. In parallel, he is modeling the run and tumble motions of E. coli using the LB model with rigid particles. E. coli can’t remember the way to reach a nutrient source the way larger organisms can. If a nutrient source is available, E. coli  moves consistently toward the nutrient sources through a straight “run” motion. If the nutrient source goes away, E. coli  changes its direction randomly through a series of  “tumble” motions to orient itself to a different nutrient source.
Mckay's computer simulation demonstrates the run and tumble motion of E. Coli in a microflow channel.
His simulation results will later be corroborated by a biology student testing a living organism in a maze generated by Trinity University’s 3D printer. “Our models provide data faster than the biology student real-life testing, but first we have to validate our simulations with experimental data to build further confidence in our numerical model,” explains Mckay in regard to the collaboration between the math and biology department faculty.

Mckay will be a senior at Trinity University in the fall.
For McKay, the opportunity to collaborate with professors and fellow students has been a valuable one: “In a think tank one day, I came up with a new idea for distributing the mass of a particle, that ultimately didn’t work out,” McKay laughs, “but the opportunity to contribute original ideas is still a valuable experience. It was a great feeling.” McKay intends to pursue a career in chemical engineering.

Learn more about Trinity's math department here. Read about undergraduate research opportunities at Trinity here.
By Mariah Wahl


What relationship is there between the ballet and 19th century poetry? Students Samantha Heffner and Ryan Diller, both ‘17, have set out to answer this question with their Mellon Initiative research, advised by professor of English Betsy Winakur Tontiplahol.

Heffner’s research focused on ballet from stage to page, studying how the balletic language of periodicals and reviews of this time period may be reflected in contemporary poetry. As part of her research she studies the biographies of 19th century ballerinas, including the famous ballet artist Fanny Elssler.
Diller, Heffner, and Tontiplaphol furthered their understanding of ballet by attending lessons.
One critic compared Elssler to the Greek God Hermaphrodite, noting that she moved comfortably between performances as beautiful woman and a charming young man. Heffner’s argument compares Elssler’s dynamic artistry to a 19th century poem called Aurora Leigh, whose poet protagonist transgresses traditionally female positions by pursuing an independent career, and refusing to adhere to the accepted feminine writing style of the novel.
Ballet was a legitimate profession for women in the 19th century, but paradoxically so.  The star ballerinas were incredibly admired, but most were not as respected.
“Fans would go so far as to cook and eat the shoes of famous ballet artists, but minor ballerinas in a company were considered to be one level above prostitution,” Heffner shared.
Ballet artists were both admired and reviled in the 19th century. 
The difficulty of 19th century female ballet artists corresponds in many ways to the struggle of 19th century female poets to be recognized as serious artists.
Diller’s research focused on the relationship of poetry and ballet from page to stage, considering how poetry is translated into dance. One central figure of his research is the ballet artist Rudolf Nureyev, who in 1979 choreographed the poem Manfred by 19th century poet Lord Byron.
Manfred is an existential drama that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to ballet, but Nureyev choreographed it anyway. He was obsessed with Byron, reading him constantly and finding similarities in their biographies.”
Heffner and Diller found, that while there is a lot of information about ballet and about poetry in the 19th century, their work linking the two is new in the field.
“Dr. Tontiplaphol is the first person to write extensively about the relationship between the two,” Heffner says, “which makes our research challenging, but more rewarding. We’re talking about something entirely new.”

Diller and Heffner enjoyed their experience doing research with Tontiplaphol.
In order to truly understand the dance and its demands, Tontiplaphol, Heffner, and Diller attended a few ballet lessons. The experience was eye-opening for both students, who had not practiced ballet before.


“It’s hard,” Diller says, “You have to force your body into unnatural positions, but make it look graceful and easy.”
“I think there’s a parallel with poetry,” Heffner adds, “A poem has to adhere to a form, or a meter and a rhyme scheme, but still read beautifully. They’re both a difficult art.”


Heffner and Diller will jointly present their research, titled "Tip-Toe Aspirations: 19th Century Poetry and Ballet" at Trinity’s Summer Undergraduate Research Conference.

Learn more about Trinity University's department of English here. Read about undergraduate research opportunities at Trinity here.
By Mariah Wahl

For most students, a computer screen with an open Facebook tab is a sign of work being ignored, rather than work being done. This is not the case for Davis Alcorn and Luisa Ruge-Jones, both ‘16, whose work this summer will consider the interpersonal dimensions of Facebook “Liking.”

“It’s arguably too fun for research,” Alcorn quips about their Mellon Initiative work. Under the supervision of human communication professor Erin Sumner, his work with Ruge-Jones began this summer with a survey, posted on Facebook. The survey asked people a series of questions about their three most recent Facebook “likes” and the motivations behind each.

Ruge-Jones and Alcorn discuss the interpersonal dimensions of Facebook.
The answers were surprisingly complex. Many people liked posts for obvious reasons. Maybe a post made them laugh or they were happy for a newly engaged friend. Other likes are unclear. Why does a friend’s post about the death of a loved one receive so many likes, or why would someone like a post from a news site they disagree with? In these cases, a like doesn’t express simple enjoyment, but more complex motivations like the expression of support or a sarcastic statement. “One person described their motivation for three previous posts as ‘I agree,’ ‘Precious,' and ‘Yummy,’” Ruge-Jones explains of the wide variety of answers their survey produced.
Alcorn and Ruge-Jones review some of the funnier survey results.
Overall, Ruge-Jones and Alcorn have categorized the responses into three broad categories that cover the main motivations for liking different Facebook posts: relationships, content, and self-promotion. Many people like posts on other’s pages in order to maintain relationships, showing support for another person rather than genuinely liking the post itself. Facebook users may also “like” something because they truly appreciate the content, and others “like” something in order to communicate their interests to their Facebook friends and cultivate a “self-image” on social media, and promote that image to others.
It's clear that Alcorn and Ruge-Jones "like" their research.
For Alcorn, the experience is one he will take with him in the future: “No matter what career I go into, showing that you understand social media and the way it works is invaluable.”

Ruge-Jones speaks fondly of the research process: “I got to work with a great friend on an exciting topic that we both care about, with a great professor. There’s no better way to spend my time.” Ruge-Jones plans to attend graduate school in human communication.

Learn more about undergraduate research at Trinity University here. Read about Trinity's Department of Human Communication and Theatre here.
By Mariah Wahl

Teaching is a difficult profession, and many don’t last long in the field. In the United States, 30% of teachers will leave the profession altogether within the first three years. In other countries, retention rates are much higher. In Japan, for example,  only 1.35% of teachers fail to return after their first year. How can teachers feel more supported and encouraged to continue on in their profession? 


The answer may lie in the lack of a structured professional learning  community for many new American teachers. Catherine Quigley ‘16, working with professor of education Patricia Norman and supported by a Murchison Fellowship, is exploring how Beginning Teacher Study Groups can help new teachers overcome the difficulties that many find overwhelming.



Many new teachers find the profession overwhelming, but creating a supportive environment can help
Norman, once an elementary school teacher who wanted to make a greater impact in education, implemented these new teacher groups several years ago. Each peer group draws on Trinity’s closely-knit network of recent MAT grads. The Trinity MAT program is a five year course in which students earn a Bachelor’s degree in the field they intend to teach, and then continue on into a one year master’s program that also certifies them to teach. Drawing on this community of local teachers who are Trinity alumni, Quigley is spending the summer transcribing participant interviews  and learning how important support is for new educators.

One new teacher's thoughts on the Beginning Teacher Study Groups
These Beginning Teacher Study Groups differ from typical forms of induction support that they receive once in their own classrooms. Such support often includes being paired with an experienced teacher who is expected to mentor the novice. Although these relationships can be helpful as well, the Beginning Teacher Study Groups give new teachers a community to address professional  problems, helping new teachers to avoid a sense of isolation and remind themselves of the high standard of their Trinity education and their need to continue evolving and growing as educators.  As one new teacher explains it: “I think I could've gotten really jaded and disillusioned this year and I'm not. A lot of that has to do with coming back here every month [to the study group] and just being reminded of why I do what I do.” Others echo the importance of the support they receive from these groups.

Quigley plans to pursue a career in education
For Quigley, the experience has been especially eye-opening on a personal level: “I want to continue into the MAT program and earn a degree in early childhood through sixth grade education.” Quigley explains, “Listening to these groups and recording the difficulties that new teachers face is preparing me for those challenges before I even begin the program.”

Learn more about Trinity’s MAT program here. Read more about Norman’s research here.
By Mariah Wahl

Making teenagers everywhere envious, Catherine Clark ‘16 is spending her summer reading comic books. While it sounds like the ideal summer break, for Clark it’s all part of a day’s work of research with the Mellon Initiative under professor of communication Jennifer Henderson.

Clark’s research is focused on the superheroines of Marvel’s young adult comic book series Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan. The series follows six teens who discover that their parents are members of a villainous group called the Pride, and run away from home in order to find the truth about the organization, and make up for their parents' crimes by doing good. Along the way, they discover that they have superpowers of their own.

Clark's love of comic books has sparked her summer research project
Looking specifically at the four young female heroines of the series, Clark examines their representation and agency in the series. Although initially led by one of the boys, the self-appointed leader, Alex, the group is eventually taken over by Nico, the oldest superheroine and the group’s voice of reason. Unlike many women in other popular comics, the young women in Runaways are portrayed as realistic teens, with typical dress rather than the revealing costumes of stereotypical superheroines. For the most part, they eschew cliche code names in favor of their own identities. 
“The young women in runaways are more like normal teens, and they demonstrate agency and self-understanding in a realistic and non-sexualized way, different from many other mainstream female superheroes,” Clark explains, “There’s much more diversity within the cast of characters, including one teen who comes out as a lesbian as the series progresses.”

Clark's notes track the actions of female characters throughout the series
For her work, Clark is delving into the field Young Adult media, an area currently understudied because of its intended audience. But, as the Runaways comic demonstrates, the media that youth consume communicates important messages to them about identity and self-understanding at transitory time in their development. Clark’s reading of the text in conjunction with research on youth development emphasizes the importance of comics like Runaways: “It’s relatable for teenagers. They may not be superheroes, but for teens the series feels like a more honest coming of age story than other stories out there. Books for teens are often read by younger children as well, so it sets a foundation for the future.” 

The three complete volumes of Marvel's Runaways
Clark intends to further her passion for women’s issues in the media by pursuing a degree in journalism and investigating issues that affect women worldwide.

Learn more about Trinity University's department of communication here. Learn more about undergraduate research at Trinity here
by Mariah Wahl

What goes on behind the scenes in famous festivals and celebrations like Mardi Gras? Danielle Hoard ‘16 is researching the visibility and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups in Mardi Gras celebrations with a Murchison grant this summer, part of a larger project by sociology professor Amy Stone considering urban festivals. Stone's project is funded by National Geographic, Trinity University, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.


Hoard discusses her research on LGBT groups in Mardi Gras
 Hoard’s work began with two weeks of fieldwork this summer, during which she and Stone traveled to Baton Rouge, LA; and Mobile AL, where the Mardi Gras festival originated. During this two week period, Hoard was able to interview several members of different Mardi Gras krewes. The krewes are mystical, exclusive societies, somewhat like modern fraternities and sororities, whose members celebrate Mardi Gras every year with a parade or a ball.

The krewes are often divided in terms of race and sexual orientation, especially in Mobile. Here, two Mardi Gras associations, one black and one white, each select Mardi Gras royalty from their own respective elite families every year. There’s a philosophy that pervades the region, Hoard quotes, that “Everyone has their place, and everyone is in their place.”

Parade goers in Baton Rouge, LA
Hoard’s research looks especially at how the minority groups of the festival interact with the dominant culture: “I’m considering the politics of respectability that these groups engage in, and considering whether these groups are accepted or simply tolerated. Do they tone down their own public image in order to adhere to the dominant culture? Do they feel they have to actively avoid stereotypes about their group as a whole?” Hoard’s work was especially timely, as her interviews with LGBT krewes reflect a palpable excitement about the then-upcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

Previously, Stone’s research in the region primarily considered white gay men and lesbians. Hoard and Stone were eager to expand their understanding of minority groups by interacting with a greater number of black and lesbian krewes involved in the festival. This could be challenging because of the secrecy of these societies: “It was difficult to make contact with these groups. But when we were finally able to reach out to them, it truly expanded our knowledge of the Mardi Gras tradition as a whole, as well as how these groups are situated within it.”


Hoard will be a senior in the fall.
For Hoard, the experience was eye-opening on a personal level, as well. After attending her first drag show in Mobile, she sat down with a famous drag queen named Miss Venus. Over sushi, Hoard and Stone were able to hear about the performer’s experiences not only as a black figure in Mardi Gras culture, but as a trans woman as well. It was the project’s first interview with a trans individual in Mobile, and a favorite moment of the trip.

Research has been an enjoyable, if unanticipated, experience for Hoard: “I had only heard of undergraduate research happening in the sciences, but this experience has been so valuable for me. I’m prepared to pursue graduate study, if I want to, but I’m also more prepared for fields like social work, or the nonprofit sector, because I’ve gained skills in interacting with and understanding people from various backgrounds and walks of life. If I’m serving people in any capacity, I feel better prepared to hear them and be sensitive to their needs.”

Click here to learn about previous research on this project. Learn more about Trinity undergraduate research here.
By Mariah Wahl

At first glance, Ann Andrews '16 research may seem like a strange sort of chemistry. Instead of finding her in a white lab coat holding a pipette, her work takes place primarily onscreen, in the world of computational organic chemistry. Sometimes, she explained, the work they do is not even possible in a real lab setting, but it’s an important step in the chemical synthesis that results in chemical innovations.

Andrews works with the Gaussian computer program, which allows chemists to see if their work is tenable before time and effort are invested in an experimental lab. The program even allows chemists to do chemistry that would be impossible in the real world. Andrews is very familiar with the program, as this is her third year working in the lab. Her previous research, considering the host-guest chemistry of an ExBox molecule, was completed last summer. Now, she works with organic superbases, studying the transition states and chirality of their chemical reactions.

Andrews draws a few important molecules by hand before creating them in Guassian program
Learning to run the calculations has been a challenge, because of the exactness it requires. Andrews has to move the molecule around until the level of accuracy is high enough to find the transition state, an experience that differs from her previous work when less exactness was required.

Working with Gaussian is not all serious, however. Andrews realized that at the end of every calculation, like a reward for a job completed, the program supplies a quote, joke, or a friendly goodbye. One of the strangest messages is: “Absolutism, obsoletism -- if it works, it’s out of date” displayed repeatedly at the bottom of the screen.

Computational organic chemistry field is unique from many other sciences, because of the individuality of the work. Although Andrews relies on the supervision and help from her adviser, professor of chemistry Steven Bachrach, the work is entirely her own rather than the combined effort of a lab. She runs all her own calculations and makes the molecules herself.

A molecule in the Guassian program
With the help of several processors, these calculations may take a period of several hours, or even days. The longest calculation Andrews has seen took forty-three computer days, which amounts to four human days. The difference comes from the number of processors used to make these calculations, where more processors result in a faster calculation. Andrews uses either twenty-four or eighteen processors.

Andrews began research when her general chemistry professor recommended she apply during her first year at Trinity University. She interviewed with several professors, including Bachrach. Inspired by her interest in organic chemistry, she began research in his lab after her first year at Trinity.

Andrews plans to pursue a career in the health sciences
Her early research on the ExBox molecule was presented at a conference for the American Chemistry Society, and published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry in 2014. Andrews describes learning that her work had been published: “I felt so accomplished that someone had recognized the potential of my research.” Andrews hopes to turn her most recent research on transition states into a paper as well.

Andrews hopes to eventually attend medical or dental school, where she plans to pursue more research opportunities: “For the health sciences, research gives you an opening to discover what the world can offer. There are so many advances going on right now that can help you find new treatments or potentially better a patient’s quality of life.”

Learn more about undergraduate research in Trinity University's Chemistry Department here.