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 Paige Roth –

Many of us know popular films like Bladerunner, Total Recall, and The Adjustment Bureau, but did you know they were all based on novels by science fiction author Philip K. Dick? And, would you believe that these sci-fi novels actually have roots in the Bible? Trinity religion professor Ruben Dupertuis studies the implications of early biblical scripture in modern pop culture. This summer, English major Mariah Wahl is working alongside Dr. Dupertuis to uncover the textual implications of the Bible in Dick’s sci-fi novels.

“Because [Dick’s] later writings are his visions of what God told him, they are essentially their own gospel,” said Wahl. A modern sci-fi gospel poses a unique research opportunity for a humanities student to hone her analytic skills and explain how historical documents are alive and influential in our modern culture.

Here at Trinity, a grant from the Mellon foundation funds undergraduate research projects like Wahl’s in the arts and humanities. Wahl admits that at the onset of this project, focusing a thesis from the vast amounts of information from such a prolific novelist seems overwhelming. However, we will follow Wahl throughout the summer as she uncovers trends and textual elements that develop and guide her study.

For more information about current Trinity University Mellon Initiatives click here
By Paige Roth –

Creating chemical compounds that no one has ever made before is all in a days work for Trinity University junior Kelsey Kirkman. Over the past two years, Kirkman has worked alongside organic chemistry professor Nancy Mills to design a synthesis that will yield compounds previously considered too unstable to create. Organic chemistry courses teach the most stable compounds are the most viable compounds; however, in the lab, Kirkman pushes the boundaries these fundamental principles taught in the classroom.

The lab focuses specifically on synthesizing anti-aromatic compounds. While an aromatic compound, such as benzene, has electronic properties that stabilize the compound and make it easier to characterize, anti-aromatic compounds are far less stable because they have more or less electrons than they are comfortable holding.

While conducting research, Kirkman faced the challenge of creating a dianion, a compound containing two negative charges, that would last long enough to be characterized before reverting back to a more stable form. Additionally, Kirkman had to design a multi-step synthesis that would yield enough compound to analyze—often after multiple steps of reaction and purification, little to none of the compound of interest remains. Kirkman describes the day she finally synthesized a dianion as one of her best days in the lab.

While organic chemistry research seems like a daunting intellectual endeavor, the atmosphere created by Dr. Nancy Mills is both an inviting and motivating experience. As Kirkman shows me around her lab, swing music plays and upper classmen mentors explain new concepts to first-year research students while they wait for reactions to finish.

Dr. Mills' lab is one of the larger research groups on campus and students develop a close camaraderie by the end of the summer: “On every ‘fun Fridays,’ the lab group dresses up and goes to dinner“ Kirkman explains, “Not everyone in our lab is a Chemistry major, but getting to know students from different disciplines is what makes this lab so great."

Find more information about the Chemistry Department and research projects in Dr. Mills' lab .

Click here to learn more about Trinity's new Center for Science and Innovation research facility.

By Paige Roth –

While many admire and study the dramatic coloration of a male peacock, why do we neglect to study the coloration of female peacocks? Historically, female bird coloration and signaling has been overlooked; however, in biology professor Troy Murphy’s lab, undergraduate research student Matthew Mitts aims to uncover the complexities of female coloration signals in the American Goldfinch.

Both male and female goldfinches have brightly colored bills, but only females use their bill color to communicate with other females. In fact, female bill color can change from a dull yellow to a bright orange within hours depending on the condition and health of the bird. Mitts compares this change in coloration to a first date. Perhaps on the first date, your mate feels healthy and confident—his outward appearance shows clear skin and bright, well-rested eyes. But, by the second date your mate is stressed—his skin has acne and he has noticeable eye bags.

Previous studies conducted in the Murphy lab showed a correlation between high testosterone levels and bright bills. Throughout the summer, Mitts’ study will further quantify the correlation between testosterone, female bill color, and dominance behavior when vying for food against another female. His experimental design involves implanting females with high, moderate, or no testosterone and measuring the change in bill color using a reflectance spectrophotometer in addition to assessing female dominance behavior in a specially designed aviary.

Stay tuned as we follow Mitts' research throughout the summer.

Click here to learn more about the animal behavior research conducted in Dr. Troy Murphy’s undergraduate research lab.

Click here to learn more about Trinity's new Center for Science and Innovation research facility.