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 –

Rising sophomore Benjamin Collinger ‘19 has been tasked with “Developing a Religious Diversity Profile of San Antonio,” which also is serving as the title of his research funded by the Mellon Initiative. While policymakers recognize that San Antonio has a great deal of religious diversity, they aren’t familiar with the wide array of communities and their leaders. This project gathered qualitative data on San Antonio’s faith communities and built relationships local leaders. This effort is particularly important because diversity practitioners “can’t address major issues until we understand what San Antonio really looks like,” Collinger's research advisor, religion professor Simran Jeet Singh, said.

Benjamin Collinger '19 attends and interfaith dialogue event at the Oblate School of Theology. 
Collinger spent the majority of the summer conducting interviews and attending interfaith gatherings across the city. He began with a small list of contacts, and gradually grew the list to reflect a broader swathe of San Antonio’s faith communities and collective efforts. In addition, Collinger read prominent works on diversity and inclusion to incorporate the ideas into the project, which culminates in a paper and public report on how the city can be more proactive in including religious minority groups.

When asked about the importance of this research, Singh and Collinger agreed that it has never been more relevant. They explain that faith communities are often the most active vehicles for their constituents’ civic involvement and impact all sectors of our city. Stronger relationships with local religious leaders and communities help the government to uphold its non-discrimination ordinance and inform its efforts to proactively end institutional discrimination within government and around the city.

Collinger plans on studying anthropology and international studies during his time at Trinity. 
The experience allowed Collinger to engage with local leaders at the intersection of his interests in government, religion and diversity and inclusion practices. One series of events that were particularly significant to Collinger were the Iftars that took place at the Raindrop Turkish House and houses of worship across the city. At one of these programs, Collinger interviewed an Imam in Spanish about San Antonio’s inclusion of Turkish Muslims and a variety of topics related to Latin America and Islam.

Collinger was quick to note his appreciation for Trinity’s dedication to research and the Mellon Initiative. He hopes to continue this project and see the city implement its suggestions to proactively further anti-discrimination efforts.
By Allyson Mackender – 

This summer as part of Trinity’s roster of Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) internships, Angela Wilson ‘18 is serving as an intern under the exhibitions manager at San Antonio’s Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Blue Star Contemporary, the “longest-running venue for contemporary art in San Antonio,” is the perfect setting for the rising junior to explore her academic interests and artistic passions.

Angela Wilson '18 is completing an internship at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.
As a studio art major and ALE minor, Wilson has always been interested in finding some way to combine her love for art and her interest in business. The three primary projects she manages at Blue Star Contemporary allow her to do just that. 

Brooklyn-based artist Alyson Shotz is currently exhibiting her work at the San Antonio Botanical Garden as a part of the Art in the Garden collaboration. As part of Blue Star Contemporary’s mission to make contemporary art accessible to the public, Wilson is responsible for developing a lesson plan for elementary school students that provides information on Shotz’s artwork and its place in contemporary art. Wilson claims that this project has been the most rewarding part of her internship. “I’m able to be creative when developing the plan,” Wilson stated, “And I also am becoming an expert on the artist.”

In addition to developing the lesson plan on Shotz’s exhibit, Wilson is responsible for research regarding the construction of a reading room at Blue Star Contemporary’s newly renovated location and uploading details on an app that Blue Star Comtemporary visitors can use to get more information on the featured artwork. The array of responsibilities assigned to Wilson has allowed her to realize the applications of her degree. 

Blue Star Contemporary is San Antonio's longest running contemporary art space.
“Being a studio art major is intimidating,” Wilson stated, “Because, without experience, you feel like there are no careers in the field.” However, her internship at Blue Star Contemporary has transformed this mentality. Wilson stated that working at Blue Star Contemporary has been inspiring because she now knows the possibilities available working in a museum.

After graduation, Wilson plans to get her Master of Fine Arts and work at a museum, like Blue Star Contemporary or explore a career in art education.
By Allyson Mackender – 

This summer, under the supervision of engineering professor Dany J. Munoz-Pinto, senior Rachel Tchen ‘17, junior Rodrigo Zurita ‘18, and Zach Nickle from McGill University, are researching an innovative method for analyzing tissue cultures. The research, which is titled “Effects of 3D Microenvironment and Mechanical Properties on the Neuronal Phenotype of HT22 Cells,” is an interdisciplinary project spanning the fields of both engineering and neuroscience.

Rachel Tchen '17 is a senior neuroscience student at Trinity University. 
With the help of Tchen, Zurita and Nickle, professor Munoz-Pinto is seeking to fabricate microenvironments for tissue culture research that closely resemble the native characteristic of natural tissues in the human body. In this particular project, their interest was focused on two important variables for the fabrication of nerve tissue substitutes: first, the effect of microenvironment stiffness and second, the effect of culture context 2D or 3D conditions. “When analyzing in vitro tissue cultures, most of the current research is carried out using 2D cell culture plates, which is not the best scenario since most cells in the human body actually reside in 3D structures” Tchen said, “Therefore, we want to study cells in an environment that is more like our body.” In order to do this, the students are engineering 3D gel environments and testing their potential as nerve tissue replacement using HT22 cells. This cell line was selected since it has been traditionally used an in vitro model for neural applications and in the study of the progression of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

To best model neural behavior, the students’ end goal is to create a 3D environment that closely replicates some of the features of brain tissue. Using a Hydrogel Interpenetrating Network composed of Type 1 collagen and Poly (ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA), the students are able to create a bioinspired cytocompatible environment for the cells, meaning the HT22 cells will survive in the artificial tissue and exhibit similar behaviors to those in in vivo conditions. “The HT22 cells are infected with a virus so that they’ll replicate, but they are not true neurons,” Tchen explained. Hence, the students hope by placing the cells in the engineered 3D environment they will be able to induce observable changes in the cells and direct them to express neural behavior.

Tchen is most excited about the interdisciplinary implications of her research. 
In regard to the applications of their research, Tchen was excited about its use in Alzheimer's research. “The 3D gel environment could potentially be a better model to see the aggregation of Beta Amyloid,” Tchen explained, referring to the protein studied in professor Roberts’ lab. Furthermore, Tchen was pleased with the new frontiers this research exposed her to as she enters her senior year at Trinity.

Tchen, Zurita and Nickle each bring a unique specialty to the project: Tchen is studying neuroscience and Zurita and Nickle are engineering students. Hence, their combined expertise allows for an interdisciplinary research experience, which Tchen claims has been the most beneficial piece of her research. “I’m approaching biological problems that I study in class from an engineering perspective,” she claimed, “I’m considering getting a PhD in biomedical engineering because I now know how my neuroscience degree can be used in various fields.”

Tchen’s research, which began in the spring semester, is funded by the Murchison Research Fellowship. For more information on the Murchison, visit the Undergraduate Research homepage.