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 Allyson Mackender –

Danielle King ‘17 is realizing the implications of her mathematics degree while completing the Biomath research this summer funded by NSF UBM-IRBM (National Science Foundation) program under the supervision of math professor Hoa Nguyen and biology professor Frank Healy. Along with students Kristen Rundstein ‘18 and Melissa Whitman ‘18, King is modeling E. coli chemotaxis through simulation using MATLAB.

Danielle King Mathematics-001-060816.jpg
Danielle King '17 is a math major at Trinity University. 
Professor Nguyen is developing the simulation code in collaboration with Hakan Basagaoglu PhD at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) to describe the experimental data produced by professor Healy’s group in Biology. A previous article detailed Nguyen, Basagaoglu and Healy’s work with Trinity Engineering student, Cameron McKay, which resulted in a paper that King is using as the foundation for her research. In order to run the simulations, King utilizes a combination of the Rapid Cell (RC) model implemented by professor Nguyen and the lattice-Boltzmann model (LBM) implemented by Basagaoglu, which, put simply, imitate the chemotactic behavior of an E. coli cell with biased random walk toward a food source. Chemotaxis refers to the biochemical mechanism inside the cell that produces its motility to move toward a chemoattractant or away from a chemorepellant. 

King has been tasked with creating a domain that includes multiple chemoattractants and potential repellants. In doing so, King hopes to discover why E. coli cells are drawn to certain chemoattractants over others. She aims to answer questions of survivability versus sensitivity. That is, she hopes to discover whether an E. coli cell is drawn to a chemoattractant because it serves some benefit to the cell or because it is present in a higher concentration in the domain.
An example of one of the domains that King is using in her research. 
At times, King has found it challenging to grasp the concepts of this project because they are deeply rooted in biology. However, King explained that the simulations she is completing are meant to mimic the ways bacterial cells move in the body. She explained that the primary difference between her current simulations and the the actual biological applications is that in her simulations the cell moves through Newtonian fluid, or water, and in the body the cell moves through non-Newtonian fluid, like mucus. Hence, King is attempting to use code to simulate the movement of E. coli in non-Newtonian fluid and in a complex domain, with either multiple chemoattractants or with a repellant, in order to more fully understand the movement of bacterial cells in the body.

As a rising senior, King is particularly excited about the opportunities this research has provided her. King explained that there is a line between theoretical and applied mathematics, and until recently she was unsure what path she would like to take upon graduation next May. However, her experiential learning opportunity and her mentor, professor Hoa Nguyen, have encouraged her to attend graduate school and continue doing research in applied mathematics. In fact, King will be continuing her research in the fall, as she is the recipient of the Mach Research Fellowship for Biomath.

By Allyson Mackender –

During finals week each spring, the senior engineering students gather on campus to present their finalized senior design projects. These presentations are a culmination of two semesters of hard work and demonstrate the design, build, and test of an engineering system. There were four senior design projects during the 2015-16 academic year.

Trinity's engineering seniors take classes and complete research in the Center for the Sciences and Innovation (CSI).
The first group, comprised of Avva Bassiri, Brad Carbajal, Tim Davison, Derrick Horvath, and Sarah Xiang, worked to design and build a fuel cell system that generated hydrogen to power a small commercial fuel cell. The primary goals of the project were to produce 3-5 watts of energy and to use a renewable energy source. According to Bassiri, the group chose to use a water splitting method, potassium hydroxide as the catalyst for their electrolyzer, and a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell to produce their desired power output. The group explained their decision to use hydrogen from electrolysis, which was a component of their benchtop design, claiming that the electrolyzer produced low wattage and was inefficient. However, it met the desired power output of 3-5 watts and was a renewable source, making it an evident choice for their particular project. These components were combined using the overall design of a tabletop system that can be easily used by students, making it accessible to aspiring engineers.

The second group, consisting of Sang Choi, Duncan Frasch, Owen Rettenmaier, Andro Suskavcevic, Zach Tuten, and Shawn Sunday, tested an E-coli chemotaxis algorithm with a robot in a dynamic, 2-dimensional environment, which Tuten lovingly called “the arena.” Put simply, chemotaxis refers to movement towards or away from chemicals. The robotic chemotaxis model was meant to mimic the behaviors of E-coli, which, “uses chemotaxis to find local food maxima” with a robot. Within their six-foot by six-foot arena, the group monitored the movement of the robot using a camera suspended above. The group used a temperature gradient as a proxy for chemicals due to its ease of accurate measurement. The robot would make its way toward a peak temperature, move past it, stop, turn randomly, and attempt to return to the high temperature area in a biased random manner. According to Tuten, “with improved technology... a swarm of such robots could be released to find truffles or sources of chemical spills.”

Trinity engineering students work in the CSI Engineering Labs.
The third and fourth groups carried out projects that were proposed by the Trinity community. The third and largest group to present featured the work of Garrett Rapport, Atungo Anassi, Mike Curran, Jon Hoffman, Tynan Guerra, Patrick O’Connor, Chris Lee, and Johanna Schipperijn. Rapport explained that the goal of the project was “to build a system to determine how many parking spots are available in all of the lots accessible from the Tiger Pass entrance on Shook Avenue by Lightner and Prassel.”

Parking on campus can be a nightmare, often times forcing seniors who live off-campus to drive around aimlessly until they finally find a parking spot fifteen minutes away from their class. Hence, this project, which began during the 2014-2015 school year and continued this year, is beneficial to Trinity students. The group utilized a camera overlooking the “choke point” on Tiger Pass, located between Prassel and Lightner residence halls, where all cars must pass to enter and exit the Y lot and where many sophomores and juniors park. The camera communicates with a software that compares video frames to previous frames, and separates the foreground and background to count moving figures, which in this case is cars entering and exiting the lot. The information is displayed on boards located in the lot and is directed to a website and Android app for updates on the go. The completed project met specifications and in the end was able to identify the number of vacant slots with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The fourth and final project of the day, which was presented by Caitlin Barrett, Celia Fitch, Mikaela McDonald, Taylor Piske, Mitchell Kight, and Arsenio Gonzalez, was also a continuation of a project started during the 2014-2015 school year.

Piske explained that the group's goal was to “build a semi-autonomous robot designed to give prospective students and visitors a cool tour of CSI.” The team referred to this robot as the CSI_Borg 2.0 and claimed it is the only robot of its kind, as far as they know. The robot, run by a dead reckoning system that uses sonars to orient the robot, explains the features, history, and happenings of CSI. Another great feature of the robot is that when the tablet is turned on, the robot displays an engineering bio page that explains all the wonderful things Trinity students are doing. The project has evident applications to current and prospective Trinity students as it showcases one of the most prominent and beautiful buildings on campus.

Successes and Challenges
After watching each of the groups’ presentations, it was clear that the engineering design project was a successful endeavor for the engineering seniors. They each explained the benefits of completing the project and were successful in meeting their goals, although Tuten explained “there were some modifications to the scope of each project as each team discovered unanticipated difficulties.” It was clear that these modifications were meant to address the many challenges that the groups faced. Each of the groups seemed to agree that the biggest obstacle faced was time management, since the project had very few hard deadlines.

Rapport explained, “With classes, you settle into a routine and you generally know exactly how long assignments will take,” but when completing the design project things can take much longer than anticipated when they face problems: “What seems like an hour of work can quickly turn into 10 when complications arise.” Another challenge the groups faced was completing the project with the resources provided. Piske wrote, “CSI was a beast. Glass walls, lots of sunshine, a complicated layout, moving furniture - these all made designing a robot that could navigate the building intelligently without running into anything a big challenge.” However, instead of looking at this complication as a frustration, the group used it as an opportunity to network with local professionals and get advice from skillful engineers. Despite the various challenges, the groups were in agreement that the experiential learning opportunity was an overall wonderful experience.

All engineering students are required to complete a year-long design project during their senior year. 
As graduating seniors, the engineering design project was an opportunity to work on projects that imitate the type of real world applications their engineering degrees will require of them. As many of them pursue further education or begin a career in engineering, the project gave them the tools necessary to thrive.

Lessons Learned
1. Each of the students explained that the design project taught them the important skill of working with others. Collaboration with students who learned, worked, and thought differently was at times challenging, but ended up giving the students the opportunity to communicate with others in their field, which is a crucial skill as they enter the workforce or pursue more education.

2. Secondly, each of the students explained that it was exciting to implement the theoretical knowledge they gained in class in a tangible way. Rettenmaier gave an example of this application, explaining that their knowledge on “how to efficiently use a technique called a design matrix, where you rank your choices in a variety of different categories, and then use those rankings to make a decision” was something they learned in class but were able to implement throughout their project. The application of classroom material was demonstrative of the success of a Trinity engineering degree. Without the theoretical background, the students would not have been able to complete the projects. Yet, despite the guidance and help of Trinity professors, the autonomy of the projects was something the students cherished. Rapport even claimed that this was his favorite experience of his academic career because the experiential learning aspect gave him the opportunity to work without anyone telling him which direction to take the project. The opportunity given to senior engineering students demonstrates the successful endeavors of Trinity undergraduates and exemplifies the importance of experiential learning in shaping the education of students.

The students were mentored and led by their academic advisors Farzan Aminian, Mahbub Uddin, and Peter Kelly-Zion.

More information about Trinity’s engineering department can be found here.
By Allyson Mackender –

When thinking of academic research, video games may not be the first thing that come to mind. However, this summer, Daniel Conrad ’18 is studying just that. Conrad, a double major in philosophy and anthropology, is joining the ranks of humanities students participating in research with funding from the Mellon Initiative. Under the supervision of philosophy professor Andrew Kania, he is writing an academic paper on the philosophy of video games, which he hopes to present at conferences over the coming year and eventually publish. His research will also be integrated into a Philosophy of Film course that professor Kania is teaching this fall. 

Daniel Conrad '18 is working with professor Andrew Kania on research exploring the philosophy of video games.
Although video games are at the center of Conrad’s research, his academic foundation lies in philosophical discussion of art and aesthetics. Conrad’s article will be a response paper to a previously written essay that claims if something is art it cannot be a game and vice versa. Conrad hopes to disprove this theory, proving that games can, and in some cases should, be considered art. In order to do this, Conrad needs to explore the ontology of games. Put simply, Conrad will consider what it means for something to be a game and to be an artwork, a task that is harder than it may initially seem. In fact, professor Kania chuckled when asked to define any terms important to the research, as that is the goal he and Conrad are attempting to achieve by completing this project.

The study of the philosophy of video games is a rather new and innovative field that has grown with the industry. Conrad explained that the significance of his research is founded in the cultural importance of video games. "The video game industry is massive and continuously growing," Conrad claimed, making any research on the topic important to our cultural understanding of media. 

Conrad has been exploring various texts for information on video games and aesthetics.
Thus far, Conrad has been busy reading countless books and academic articles on video games and aesthetics and has created an extensive annotated bibliography, These initial research stages have been challenging, yet rewarding, considering Conrad recently began to draft his article. Conrad explained that the biggest obstacle he has had to overcome is being an active reader. After all, some texts are far more interesting than others, making it tiresome and difficult to get through the more dull texts. However, instead of allowing the occasionally tedious task of reading to defeat his interest in the subject, Conrad has used the opportunity to develop his critical thinking and writing skills. 

Conrad sees this experiential learning opportunity as a “sort of bookend” to his philosophy major, which he should complete within the next academic year. Participating in undergraduate research has given Conrad the opportunity to become an expert on a particular topic within his field and has enhanced his experience as a philosophy student. More so, Conrad’s experiential learning opportunity has opened up new possibilities for the future, including the pursuit of a graduate degree in philosophy. 

Conrad is double majoring in philosophy and anthropology. 
Conrad emphasized that "research at Trinity is absolutely doable and is definitely worth pursuing." Just as he actively sought out his research fellowship, he encourages other students to look for similar opportunities by networking with their professors and peers.
By Allyson Mackender –

Megan Medrano’s '17 research in the Modern Languages and Literatures department this summer seems like a perfect match. When Spanish professors Rosana Blanco-Cano, Rita Urquijo-Ruiz, and Dania Abreu-Torres began asking students to assist them in the composition of their newly imagined book, Cinelatinidades: Gender, Sexuality, and Cinema in the Americas, it’s hard to imagine they could have found better students than Medrano, Diana Chavarria '18, and Cindi Marin '18. A McNair Program scholar, a communication major, and a bilingual student, Medrano was thrilled when the three professors reached out to her about writing three chapters for the book, which they hope to publish in the next year. 

Medrano '17 watches and analyzes Mosquita y Mari.
The project is giving the professors and students the opportunity to analyze 20 films directed by Latin American and Latina women filmmakers, who are frequently underrepresented in scholarship. In fact, when Medrano began her research, the lack of literature on Latina and Latin American female directors made the initial steps of the project difficult. Unlike traditional Hollywood films that were created with huge budgets and big celebrity names, the independent films that Medrano is analyzing have very little literature written about them. Most of these films are created independently by Latina directors with limited financial resources, which Medrano says puts them at an inherent disadvantage in the film industry. Hence, Medrano and the other students are relying on a single book as a sort of guide, while incorporating other sources on national cinema and queer identities in cinema and applying them directly to specific films.

Despite the challenges that Medrano has faced, her research has been incredibly rewarding. She claims that her favorite part of her research is getting to watch and pull clips from the three movies she is analyzing: La Mission, Pelo Malo, and Mosquita y Mari. Therefore, her current stage of research is particularly fascinating because she has the opportunity to analyze three short clips from each film using specific concepts related to the use of camera angle, lighting, and overall film techniques. These standards for analysis are methods Medrano learned in her communication classes and are crucial in understanding the detailed significance in the three films she is writing about. By the end of the summer, Medrano expects to finalize the drafts of the three chapters she is writing for the book, which analyze the female perspective and queer identities in independent films. 

Some of the resources Medrano is using to complete her research.
Medrano captured the significance of her research explaining that the current film industry is dominated by the white male vision. As she and the other students have begun exploring the independent female perspective, “there have been noticeable differences” in the two perspectives, Medrano said. However, not only is this research important to the industry as a whole, it also holds personal value to her. As a communication major, Medrano is excited to share that she has been able to complete numerous video projects with the help of Trinity’s communication department. The department has given her the opportunity to engage in the creative process and has influenced her future education and career goals.

Upon graduation in May 2017, Medrano wants to pursue a PhD in Latino studies, or a similar field. In the long run, she hopes to create independent films herself, specifically documentaries on the Latino population in the U.S. Her interest in film was reignited after taking classes on documentary film and Latino artistic expression in the fall of her junior year. And her research this summer has furthered her interest in the field. She is passionate about joining the ranks of independent women filmmakers looking to capture the voices of populations whose stories are often forgotten or misrepresented.

Medrano would like to pursue a PhD in Latino Studies after she graduates in May 2017. 
The project received its funding from the Mellon Initiative, which requires students to go through an extensive application process outlining their interest in and qualifications for the proposed topic. More information about the Mellon Initiative at Trinity can be found here.
By Allyson Mackender —

In a small room on the third floor of Trinity’s Center for Science and Innovation, complete with only one computer and a whiteboard, Zeina Zayat ‘18, under the supervision of chemistry professor Steven Bachrach, is completing computational chemistry research on the transition state of bipyridine-like molecules. Through the use of Gaussian, a computer program that allows students to visualize their calculations, Zayat is analyzing Diels-Alders reactions to see how modifications in the diene, which in this case is the bipyridine molecule, will result in lower energy in the transition states.

This is Zayat's second summer doing research in the chemistry department.
A previous article written for this blog by Mariah Wahl explained similar research being completed by Ann Andrews ‘16 in the Summer of 2015. However, Zayat explains that her research this summer has one crucial difference. While Andrews was completing her research on organic superbases, Zayat is researching the transition state of a Diels-Alder reaction as opposed to acid/base reactions. This unique aspect of Zayat’s research is what she finds most exciting, claiming that her favorite part of theoretical chemistry is that she is able to create models that no one else has ever seen before. In fact, she explained that sometimes the models and reactions completed on Gaussian cannot be done in a wet lab.

Zayat explained that each day she and the four other students working on related projects, Nick Morrison ‘18, CJ Guzman ‘18, Skylar Cho ‘18, and Caileen Tallant ‘16, can go to the lab at their convenience where they will run a series of extensive calculations. In order to find a transition state, Zayat must run four calculations to find the optimization and frequency of the molecule. After completing the first two calculations, GaussView will ideally show Zayat one negative vibration. Fortunately, Zayat reserved her basic understanding of quantum mechanics, which she learned in required pre-research classes, and simply explained that this imaginary vibration shows the ways in which bonds are being formed or broken. 

Zayat looks at molecules using the GaussView program.
More interesting, though, is that many of Zayat’s calculations are based on a guessing process. Gaussian creates output files based on the calculations that Zayat completes and if her guess is off, the output file can either take a long time to complete or it will not optimize to a true energy minima. The longest time that Zayat has seen for a calculation to complete was two days on a 16 processor computer. Zayat claims that this guessing process is the most challenging part of her research, especially because when completing transition state calculations “if you guess wrong you are ‘going uphill’ until you get it right, whereas with optimization calculations you can ‘go downhill’ until you bottom out.”

At the conclusion of Zayat’s research this summer, she expects to prove that it is advantageous to engage in computational chemistry. Theoretical calculations completed with Gaussian ultimately allow researchers to see what is plausible without using resources inefficiently. Zayat claims that the most direct application of her research is to show that not all chemistry research must be done in a wet lab. In fact, it sometimes is a better use of resources to complete computational chemistry and occasionally researchers can analyze molecules and calculations that couldn’t be done in a wet lab.

When asked about what effect her participation in Dr. Bachrach’s research has had on Zayat, it was clear that Trinity’s experiential learning opportunities have had a great influence on the rising junior. She came into college expecting to pursue a career in the health professions, but now would like to get her PhD in chemistry and become a professor. Zayat explained that in the fall semester, amidst a busy class schedule, she realized that she missed doing research, relying on her class labs to get her fix. This was the moment she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in academia, giving her further opportunities to complete research and teach.

Zayat’s advice for anyone considering experiential learning opportunities in college? She encourages anyone who has the chance to apply for research, even if they are a first year student. Her research after her first year as a chemistry student culminated in her biggest accomplishment to date: being published as a co-author in Dr. Bachrach’s article titled “‘Planetary Orbit’ Systems Composed of Cycloparaphenylenes,” which appeared in the Journal of Organic Chemistry in May 2016.