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 –

Tucked back in a small room in Trinity’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation, rising senior Charlie Stein ‘17 is creating his own language. Now, this language is not like the one you and your siblings created so your parents couldn’t understand your malicious plans. Stein, a mathematics and computer science major, is creating a new domain-specific programming language (DSL), with the help of computer science professor Seth Fogarty.

Charlie Stein '17 is a rising senior at Trinity University. 
The language Stein is creating will assist mathematicians who specialize in dynamical systems. A dynamical system models interacting forces over time. For dynamical systems specialists, the creation of this language is particularly important because, as of now, there is not one universal language to visualize these systems. Hence, Stein’s goal is to make an accessible language for all mathematicians to use.

For the majority of us who are not mathematicians, it may seem far reaching to claim Stein’s research directly impacts each and every one of us. Yet, it does. Dynamical systems can be used to model nearly everything, which can show researchers the trajectory of phenomenons. The example that Stein gave, and the example that his research has been focused on, is to observe the trajectory of the population sizes of animal species. Using the language Stein has created, researchers can apply a function to the dynamical system and observe the trajectory of said species. This application could help predict environmental futures, social changes, and population growth. Hence, its implications affect the general populous and are not only limited to those in mathematics or computer science. 

Stein is creating a new domain-specific programming language. 
When asked about the challenges he’s had to overcome, Stein was excited, and surprised, to report that he hasn’t had too much trouble with anything. Aside from learning R, the language he is basing his own language off of, Stein has not faced any major obstacles. However, when speaking with Stein it is hard to believe that any challenge could put a damper on his spirits.

“Every milestone is a beautiful feeling,” Stein said, demonstrating his optimistic outlook on his research. At times, Stein would even talk about the code as if it was a piece of art, calling the graphs and language “pretty” and “beautiful.” His passion and enthusiasm for the subject is palpable, which contributes to his remarkable work ethic and positive attitude. In the face of adversity, Stein is inspired by the potential for a great breakthrough. The most rewarding moment to date? “When we finally got our language to work for the first time,” Stein said, “It just made the prettiest picture. It was gorgeous.”

The opportunity to complete research has inspired Stein to consider going to graduate school. Influenced by the relationships and mutual respect he has fostered with his professors at Trinity, Stein is considering becoming a professor himself. His enthusiasm for the topic and his ability to explain complex computer science material, complete with whiteboard diagrams and online images, to an English major, like myself, certainly boasts well for his future plans.

For more information on Trinity’s computer science program, visit their webpage.
By Allyson Mackender –

Tuesday, July 26, and Wednesday, July 27, more than 170 Trinity students will participate in the Summer Research Symposium, a tradition that began in 1984 with only 10 participants. The two-day colloquium will feature poster presentations and oral presentations that highlight the experiential learning opportunities students have completed this summer. 

Yara Samman '18 is one of the students presenting at the Summer Research Symposium. 
The students participating in the symposium have all completed either undergraduate research, internships with the Arts, Letters, and Enterprise and Students + Startups programs, or projects in the Entrepreneurship Accelerator, many of which have been featured on Trinity’s Experiential Learning blog. 

The program will kick off with poster presentations on Tuesday, July 26 from 3:00-5:30 p.m. in the Center for Sciences and Innovation Atrium and Design Cube. It will continue on Wednesday, July 27 with oral presentations, from 8:15 a.m.-5:00 p.m. in multiple rooms in the Center for Sciences and Innovation.

Trinity students, faculty and staff, alumni, and members of the San Antonio community are encouraged to attend the symposium.

Please direct any questions regarding Trinity’s experiential learning opportunities or the Summer Research Symposium to Jacob Tingle.
By Allyson Mackender –

Each June the Alzheimer’s Association encourages everyone to “Go Purple” in an attempt to bring awareness to Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative brain diseases. This campaign hopes to unveil the truths of Alzheimer’s and to promote brain health. Rising Trinity juniors, Yara Samman ‘18, Thomas Oster ‘18 and Raghad Akrouk ‘18, are doing their part to help this campaign and the efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association by completing biomath research under the supervision of biology professor James Roberts and math professor Saber Elaydi. The students’ project, entitled “Modulating the Aggregation of Beta-Amyloid,” is just one of the thousands of research projects hoping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

Thomas Oster '18 is one of the students working in biology professor James Roberts' lab. 
The students explained that Beta-Amyloid is a main contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s. This protein is produced naturally in all people. However, those with Alzheimer’s do not excrete the protein fast enough, and thus it accumulates in the brain . As the protein builds up, it becomes more and more toxic, eventually killing the cell. The progression of the Beta-Amyloid protein is of particular importance to the students’ research.

The progression of Beta-Amyloid.
In its earliest stage, Beta-Amyloid is a monomer, which is a non-toxic state. However, these monomers are not removed from the body of an Alzheimer’s patient, eventually forming a toxic oligomer of aggregated monomers. As the progression continues, the protein will ultimately become fibrils, which are believed to be non-toxic. Some researchers are attempting to stop this progression before the monomer becomes an oligomer. However, the three students working on this project are attempting to expedite the process, converting the monomer to fibrils as quickly as possible. Akrouk explained that the innovation of their research is what is most exciting, stating, “[Professor] Roberts and [professor] Elaydi have a very interesting approach towards beta amyloid aggregation which allowed Thomas, Yara and I to start thinking outside the box as well.” In order to do this, the students are completing a series of time-consuming experiments and calculations.

The first project the students tackled is making their own Beta-Amyloid. Oster explained that the protein is “crazy expensive” so they are trying to genetically modify E. coli to make it for them with help from Frank Healy, a biology professor. The students are then aggregating the Beta-Amyloid, meaning they are allowing the monomers to form into oligomers, and then using a SDS-PAGE Gel Electrophoresis to separate the Beta-Amyloid by size. This gel allows the students to see how the monomers aggregate and eventually put the oligomers into a plate with neural cells to see how the toxicity affects the cells. The program they are using will show them the intensity of the Beta-Amyloid bands in the gel, at each level of aggregation. The data they receive from this experiment is then inserted into a series of mathematical equations that show them the activation energy of the cell. Ultimately, they want to lower the activation energy of the cell, expediting the progression from monomer to fibrils and minimizing the time that the cell is toxic. 

The students hope that this time consuming research is a step toward finding a cure for Alzheimer's. 
Aside from simply being time consuming, the students explained that this research has been academically rigorous. It incorporates concepts in various disciplines, including biology, mathematics, and chemistry. Much of the background knowledge is founded in biochemistry, a course that none of the students have taken. They explained that learning this foundational information has been particularly difficult, yet rewarding. Samman explained that she is now excited to take biochemistry because she can apply her research to the generalized concepts of the course. The students agreed that completing this research has given them important critical thinking skills, which they hope to utilize as they pursue medical school after graduation.

In addition to the personal applications of completing research, Samman, Oster, and Akrouk’s research has universal implications. Nearly 6 million people have Alzheimer’s, and many of these people need almost constant care. Therefore, this disease affects millions more. Oster explained that their research is important simply because of the economic impact of Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association webpage, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease to treat because it requires around the clock care. However, the students realize that their research is just a small part of a community effort. They explained that researching diseases is like “building stairs to the cure.” No single research team will can find the cure, but together they can work on small pieces to ultimately make a larger breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research.

Oster and Yara Samman '18 were recently joined by Raghad Akrouk '18 in their research. 
Samman nodded in excited agreement when Oster stated that it has been rewarding to “work on something greater than himself,” adding that it is inspiring to think he could help millions of people. To find out how you can get involved in the Go Purple campaign, or for more information on Alzheimer’s visit the Alzheimer’s Association webpage.
By Allyson Mackender –

This summer, under the supervision of communication professors Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Henderson, Katie Groke ’17 and Robyn Wheelock ’17 began a research project lovingly coined “Women Creating Comics.” After taking classes with both Delwiche and Henderson during the fall 2015 semester, Groke was approached by the professors asking if she would like to create a feminist comic book with the help of Wheelock. Both students enthusiastically agreed and with funding from the Mellon Initiative, the research became a reality.

Robyn Wheelock '17 is one of the students completing communication research.
The rising Trinity seniors agreed that the amount of creativity required to complete this project is unique. Wheelock and Groke explained that although their research is academic in nature, it isn’t like other projects that aim to produce a scholarly article. Rather, the student research will culminate in an eight part comic book series.

Groke and Wheelock each have a distinct role in the creation of the series: Groke is the illustrator and Wheelock is writing the comics. However, collaboration between the students and their professors has been key in the initial stages of research.

Within the field of comics, women are a minority in writing, illustrating, and content. Groke said this lack of representation was the team's inspiration to pursue this particular project within the communication department. The initial stages of their research involved the students poring over inaugural issues of other comics in the genre of feminist comic books. After looking at Ms. Marvel, Runaways, Gotham Academy, Locke and Key, Rat Queens, Saga, Morning Glories, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Groke and Wheelock were able to pinpoint some positive characteristics of female protagonists. However, the lack of diverse women in the comics was striking and ultimately influenced the students to create a unique cast of protagonists. In addition to creating a diverse cast, Groke explained that she and Wheelock are stressing the importance of portraying diverse populations in a more real sense and not as they are stereotyped. 

Some early sketches from the students's project.
Characterization is especially important in Groke and Wheelock’s project because not only are the characters in the students’ comics diverse in terms of race, religion, and age, they are unique because they are witches. When asked about the decision to make the characters witches, Groke said it was appealing to she and Wheelock because “minorities have been persecuted in similar ways to witches.” Instead of stigmatizing this label, the diverse characters in Groke and Wheelock’s comic embrace their identity. They even go so far as living in a coven, which they described as a “not-so-sorority house for witches.” The complexity of each of the characters is meant to give every reader someone to whom they can relate. Since comics are a part of mass media and our everyday culture, Groke explains that this representation and relatability is key to writing something that captures what is important in society.

Groke and Wheelock’s project is certainly not what one might initially think of when considering academic research. Yet, it comes with its own unique set of challenges that the students have had to overcome. Groke explained that for a typical comic illustration team there is a penicller, inker, colorer, and letterer. Although the rest of the research team is helping immensely with these tasks, much of the artwork is being completed by Groke. Similarly, Wheelock explained that “world-building” has been the most difficult part of writing. “How does magic work in this world?” Wheelock asked, “What kind of world do these characters live in?” Despite that challenges, the students are in high spirits and excited about the outcome of the project. 

Katie Groke '17 is completing the majority of the artwork for the comics. 
When asked about the meaningfulness of this research opportunity, Wheelock explained that it has reminded her how much she loves writing and working in a creative setting, which has influenced her post-graduation plans. Groke and Wheelock both agreed that they would like to pursue careers in communication after graduating next May, and would like to continue to pursue creative endeavors for the rest of their lives. Whether this is living in an inventive and lively city or illustrating comics as a hobby, both students have been deeply impacted by the opportunity to showcase their creativity in an academic setting.

For more information on the opportunities being provided by Trinity’s communication department visit their homepage.
By Allyson Mackender –

When San Antonio native and rising Trinity senior, Jake Pursell ‘17, explains his research, you are immediately struck with envy after discovering the project culminates in a trip to Italy. Pursell, a theatre major and religion minor, is not only participating in a unique humanities project, funded by the Mellon Initiative, he is also currently packing his bags for Italy.

Pursell and his research advisor, Trinity professor, Roberto Prestigiacomo, will be spending nearly two weeks in Fara Sabina, a commune in the province of Rieti in the Italian region, Lazio. After a summer of reading books and articles about Eugenio Barba’s abstract work, Pursell is finally going to be given the opportunity to be an active participant in a physical theatre workshop, led by Barba himself.

Jake Pursell '17 is a rising senior at Trinity University studying theatre and religion.
Pursell explained that the nature of his research stems from the unique qualities of Barba’s physical theatre. Barba’s work refers to a theatrical practice founded in movement and spontaneous improvisation, and he is at the forefront of this style. Barba’s actors do not use text in the traditional way. Instead of letting the text guide them, they use the it to tell a story through movement. As the founder of Odin Teatret and the International School of Theatre Anthropology, both located in Holstebro, Denmark, Barba is the perfect teacher for an aspiring actor, like the Trinity senior. 

Although Pursell spent weeks poring over texts and watching videos of Barba’s workshops, he admits that he is still nervous about the daunting trip ahead. He explained that before he was given this research opportunity, physical theatre was not necessarily something in which he was trained. Hence, the upcoming conference that he will attend in Italy will be an entirely new experience for Pursell. He joked that he does not have any idea what to expect, even citing a comedic exchange of texts between him and his advisor where he asked for fashion advice. Yet, despite these uncertainties, Pursell is excited to broaden his theatrical horizons by completing the workshop.

Pursell has been particularly inspired by the work of Augusto Boal. 
In addition to his research on and participation in Barba’s workshop, Pursell hopes to find a connection between Barba and his personal theatre icon, Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed. “Invisible theatre” is one of Boal’s unique forms of theatre, and this is what Pursell is especially interested in. In essence, this style of theatre involves actors creating, rehearsing, and performing scenes in non-organized venues. These scenes are meant to entice a response from the unsuspecting audience, or, at the very least, cause onlookers to think about and consider the social issue being addressed in the scene. Pursell is passionate about this style of theatre, citing a project he completed where he and his classmate performed a scene in downtown San Antonio in an attempt to portray the harm of emotional abuse in relationships.

Pursell explained that while at first it is difficult to find a connection between Barba and Boal, his research has proven to him that they are both innovative and groundbreaking artists. They are both interested in changing the landscape of theatre, straying from the traditional realist theatrical genre. Pursell shares this sentiment, explaining that he would like to continue to act and entertain upon graduation in a form that addresses social issues through theatre. He hopes to use his experience in Italy as an opportunity to develop as a more well-rounded actor, but also to further his connection between Barba and Boal’s work. 

Pursell will return to Trinity from Italy in July.
When asked about his advice to other students considering doing theatre research, Pursell said that if the opportunity arises, students should participate in research, even if it is entirely outside of their comfort zone. Purcell will return from Italy in the middle of July and hopes to have gained a new perspective on theatre, making him a stronger student, president of Trinity University Players (TUPS), and actor.
By Allyson Mackender –

Mollie Patzke ‘17 is back for another summer of research in geosciences professor Kathy Surpless’ lab. Along with Isaac Johnson ‘17 and Thomas Tremain ‘17, Patzke is completing research on the Ochoco Basin. The two-year grant from the National Science Foundation is giving Trinity geoscience students the opportunity to research the source of sedimentary rocks that are currently found in the Ochoco Basin.

Mollie Patzke '17 is completing researching in Trinity's geosciences department. 
Thus far, Patzke’s participation in professor Surpless’ lab has taken her across the United States. Patzke and her peers have traveled to the site of the Ochoco Basin in Central Oregon, completed chemical analyses and age dating at Washington State University, and presented their research at a conference in California. This summer, Patzke, Johnson, and Tremain traveled to Idaho to continue their research.

The Ochoco Basin, located in Central Oregon, is almost entirely covered in younger basalt. However, there are inliers of exposed sedimentary rock in the region that are of particular interest to the students. Patzke explained that their goal for this summer is to determine how far these rocks have moved to their current location using geochemical analyses and age dating. Yet, despite the complex analyses important to understanding the history of these rocks, Patzke explained that at its core, this is an earth history project, founded on basic understandings of geochemistry and tectonics. 

Patzke converts raw data into accessible graphs. 
A typical day in the Trinity lab is full of collaboration with her research partners and advisor. Patzke, Johnson, and Tremain “collaborate to convert the raw data to graphs that are easier for people to understand.” This task forces the students to divide and conquer, yet there is still a sense of palpable camaraderie and teamwork among the students and professors. Patzke explained, “We push each other to make progress on our research, but we also have a lot of fun working together. The geoscience department is a great group of people that embodies working hard but also having fun.” 

However, their project is about to get even more exciting.

The students have just returned from working in the field in Idaho, where they went to specific locations of well-exposed rocks that are of interest to them. Patzke and her team “hammered out some pieces, packed them up and took them home,” where they will now process the samples to isolate the individual zircon grains, the specific mineral they are interested in studying. 

Patzke and the other students in professor Surpless' lab traveled to Idaho this summer.
Patzke’s research is not necessarily unique; she admits that there are a few other research teams attempting to answer similar questions. However, "what's special about this project is that we are part of a larger group of scientists all tackling the same problem with different approaches,” Patzke explained, “We are analyzing sedimentary rocks while others are using approaches such as paleomagnetic analysis and tectonic reconstruction.” The fact that a community of experienced geologists are all researching the origin of this basin is not daunting to Patzke, though. Instead, she explained that at the conference she was starstruck at times after meeting prominent geologists. The project has not only allowed Patzke to test the knowledge she has learned in the classroom, it has allowed her to network with prominent scholars in her field, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of experiential learning.

When asked how this research opportunity has informed her post-graduation plans, the rising senior explained that it has helped her realize her love for field work. In fact, she pointed out that field work has not only allowed her the chance to apply what she has learned in the classroom, it has forced her to realize that the actual applications of her research are far more complicated and at times difficult to comprehend. Yet, despite these challenges, Patzke claimed that it is exciting to see a project from start to end and that “it gives you a different perspective on the information you get in class.” That is, completing research and field work has given Patzke a new outlook on the origin of classroom information; even the most elemental geoscience theories and laws were discovered by researchers completing projects, just as Patzke and her peers are doing. Patzke would like to ultimately pursue a graduate degree and complete research-based field work, as she has done in professor Surpless’ lab for nearly half of her time as a Trinity University student.

Learn more about the geosciences department at Trinity University.