By Jefferson Geiger
Wagner College is a small liberal arts institution that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with larger universities because of a secret weapon: undergraduate research. At Wagner, students of all ages and in many fields practice real-world research techniques that a typical undergraduate won’t see until they’re working on a post-graduate degree.
“The American Association of Colleges and Universities lists undergraduate research as one of its high-impact practices,” Provost Tarshia Stanley said. “At Wagner College, we agree that providing student learning experiences through research is imperative, and we look for ways to enhance those opportunities.”
Along the way, Wagner undergraduate researchers develop close working relationships with their professors.
Senior microbiology major Ian Massaro has jumped from project to project in the same neuroscience lab since his sophomore year. His research has focused on neurogenesis — the brain’s capacity to regenerate upon traumatic brain injury — in zebrafish.
“I'm grateful that I chose Wagner because going to an institution like this — where they really focus on a hands-on experience — I don't think I would have the research repertoire that I do if I had chosen a different school for my undergraduate education,” Massaro said.
His collaboration with Biological Sciences Associate Professor Heather A. Cook; Chris Corbo, a former Wagner professor now at Jacksonville University; and Sara Guariglia from the New York State Institute for Basic Research has already allowed him to attend conferences and publish a peer-reviewed article in the Microscopy and Research Technique journal.
Massaro presented two posters about the different aspects of zebrafish research at the Society for Neuroscience Conference this month. He plans to present at the Eastern College Science Conference in April.
Research into Wagner’s First-Year Program
While Connie Campbell ’22 now works as a high school case manager in Philadelphia, she is still involved with Wagner research. Alongside Bernadette Ludwig, associate professor of sociology and faculty director of Civic Engagement, the pair published a paper in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning in June — a rare example of published work that includes an undergraduate student researcher in the social sciences — and presented at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in August and Campus Compact this month.
“I think just being able to develop a more personal relationship with Dr. Ludwig has been really amazing,” Campbell said of working on the research, even past graduation. “Because you don't always get to do that with professors.”
The study shows that first-year students who spent more hours tutoring West African refugees and immigrants were more supportive of community-based learning. More significantly, Bernadette said, when the facilitating professors fully integrated service learning in their class, students were more likely to support it, better able to see how it is relevant to real life and more likely to agree that it helped them become more aware of their biases. However, when faculty did not fully support or integrate service learning, these desired positive changes did not occur.
As Campbell described learning with the refugees, “If you're not going to do it right, don’t do it at all.”
Ludwig, a first-generation student, has enjoyed mentoring Campbell, and she is now working on another paper about the benefits of community engagement for college students with Seong Gillespie ’23.
“You as a professor need to make sure that you motivate and support them across the finish line,” Ludwig said. “It’s a great opportunity because, generally speaking, not many undergrad students in social sciences publish peer-reviewed papers. In addition, it is really rewarding to work with an undergraduate student on research that is actually about them.”
Like the academic conferences Campbell and Massaro have attended, the Wagner College Celebration of Scholarly & Artistic Student Work will give students from all disciplines an environment to present and promote their scholarly achievements through oral presentations, poster displays, exhibits, and artistic works next year. The event will be held on Thursday, May 2, 2024. Alumni, friends, prospective students, and families are invited to attend.
Students and faculty interested in presenting their work can apply here.