Friday, June 27, 2014

Student explores more efficient soil remediation options

This summer, Hannah Edwards ’16 is searching for a better way to remove toxins from soil.

She started her summer research by contaminating several containers of soil with lead, an element that is known to cause developmental defects, especially in younger people. Then she started experimenting with plants to see which would best remove through a process called phytoremediation.

“We’re trying to show that phytoremediation is an economically viable option for brownfields and vacant lots in general, but especially in Lynchburg,” she said.

Her quest for a better way to clean soil started during her first year at Randolph when John Abell, an economics professor, took some of his students to visit Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm and nonprofit in Lynchburg. The farm is operated in greenhouses on a former brownfield site that was remediated by removing a significant amount of soil and bringing new soil in.

“There has to be a better way,” Edwards thought.

There is—phytoremediation is an effective way to cleanse soil, and Randolph students and professors have experimented successfully with the process before. However, as Edwards learned more about phytoremediation, she saw a common problem: the plant that is best at removing lead is a type of corn that is not native to Virginia and requires a lot of water to grow.

This led Edwards to propose a project for the Summer Research Program. She wrote her own research proposal and asked professors to advise her on the project this summer. Sarah Sojka, an environmental studies and physics professor, and Kristin Bliss, a biology professor, agreed to help.

Edwards faced some roadblocks in her research. For example, some of the plants she was growing for the tests died. However, she did get a strong population of ragweed for the tests.

She planted the ragweed, as well as corn, in several containers of soil that had various amounts of lead. This week, she harvested the grown plants, dried them, and began processing them with nitric acid to determine the lead content.

Finding a native species that can pull lead from soil but requires less water to grow would help make phytoremediation more feasible, and even economically beneficial. “If you can’t show people that a plan is going to make them money, it doesn’t matter how good it is for the environment, because they’re not going to see it as the best option for them right now,” she said. “You have to be able to give them hard figures.”

Edwards plans to incorporate her findings into a report on how phytoremediation can be used effectively in Lynchburg.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Michels Plaza graces cover of national architectural journal

Randolph College has landed the cover of the June issue of the Landscape Architect and Specifier News.

The magazine, which is a popular industry trade magazine, featured Randolph’s new Michels Plaza on the cover of the magazine and in a major article inside.

The article details the efforts of the College and the designer to create a gathering place on campus that helped blend the historic feel of campus with the new modern look of the Student Center. The plaza includes a fountain, two bubbling pools, amphitheater-style seating, and amazing views of back campus and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The plaza, completed in 2013, has become a popular spot for the entire Randolph community.

To see the online version of the magazine, please go to The article on Michels Plaza begins on page 40.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teaching institute and science camp continue education research

Three  Randolph students and three Randolph professors are spending this week with local teachers and children at the Jubliee Family Development Center in Lynchburg.

Thao Nguyen ’17 helps a participant in the science summer
camp at the Jubilee Family Development examine a flower.
The annual science camp at Jubilee is part of an ongoing research project that aims to improve science education. Randolph has hosted the camp for at least 10 years as a way to examine how hands-on, experiment-based science lessons impact the way teachers and children think about science.

The camp is part of the 2014 Teacher Institute, which is a special program for K-8 teachers in Campbell, Bedford, and Amherst County Schools, Lynchburg City Schools, and New Vistas School. The institute, funded through a grant from the State Council of Higher Education, trains elementary and middle school teachers to better teach science with an emphasis on using hands-on and inquiry based methods. Randolph is in its sixth year of offering the institute, and last week, more than 60 local teachers participated in this year’s program, “Despicable Me—Getting Your Minions Interested in Science and Math.” Teachers selected for the institute received a stipend, recertification points, and equipment.

Several of the institute’s participants are joining the Randolph students and professors at Jubilee this week. While the local teachers put the lessons they learned from the institute into action, the Randolph professors and students continue their ongoing research by observing the teachers and the children.

Hart Gillespie ’15 leads a game of science-themed BINGO.
“There are some major problems in science education that our research project addresses,” said Hart Gillespie ’15, a student helping with the project this year. “One is the phenomenon that students lose interest in math and science as they get older and as they progress through school. In general, the Jubilee science camp and the institute have been shown to improve the perceptions of students towards science.”

In addition to helping operate the teaching institute and science camp, the Randolph students help contribute to resources that will allow more teachers to implement interactive science lessons.

Gillespie, a physics major, has been editing lesson plans for The New Science Teacher, a web page that disseminates information about hands-on approaches to teaching science and math. Shaun Chopp ’15, who is majoring in biology, has been editing videos from last year’s Jubilee camp so teachers can watch the experiments for lesson ideas. He also is recording experiments during this week’s camp. Thao Nguyen ’17, majoring in global studies, has been doing a literature review to find sources to be cited in a paper being written by the Randolph professors.

They each have different perspectives that allow them to contribute to the project in unique ways. “It takes everyone's skill sets and applies them in different ways,” Chopp said. “It’s been a pretty fulfilling project in that sense.”

Nguyen, who comes from Vietnam, said it has been interesting to see how science education is done in the United States. “I think the project will help to promote active learning and help teachers to make science and math more fun,” she said.

Peter Sheldon, a physics professor and director of the Center for Student Research, Peggy Schimmoeller, an education professor, and Amanda Rumore, director of the Summer Research Program, are the Randolph professors who oversee the project.

Randolph students selected for the Davenport Leadership Program will also volunteer at the camp on Friday.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Randolph renames donor society in honor of William F. Quillian, Jr.

Randolph College has renamed one of its giving societies in memory of William F. Quillian, Jr., the College’s fifth and longest-serving president.

Quillian was the 2010 Commencement speaker.
The Legacy Society, which recognizes people who have included the College in their estate plans, has been renamed the Quillian Society. Randolph College President Bradley W. Bateman announced the change during a donor recognition event at the recent Reunion for alumnae and alumni.

Quillian, who died on March 4, led the College for 26 years and oversaw significant changes such as campus expansion and racial integration of the student body. “Upon his retirement, Dr. Quillian took on an even more active role in the Lynchburg community,” Bateman said. Quillian was co-founder and executive director of the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust, which administers and invests gifts and bequests to benefit people living in the Lynchburg area. He also was the force behind the founding of the Lynchburg chapter of Leave A Legacy, a nonprofit that encourages people to include charitable causes in their wills.

Quillian’s wife, Margaret Quillian, and his daughter, Anne Quillian, were present at the announcement to represent her family. Anne presented Bateman with the yellow doctoral tam that members of the Class of 1959 gave to her father upon their graduation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Student research zeroes in on motivations and obstacles for volunteers

Abigail Smith ’15 hopes her Summer Research project will help more young adults to spend time serving others in their communities.

She is researching the factors that influence the decisions of Randolph College students to volunteer—or not volunteer.

Abigail Smith ’15 interviews Pujan Shrestha ’15 about his thoughts on volunteering.
“It’s a part of their life that hasn't been explored,” Smith said.

When she took a class on research methods taught by sociology professor Danielle Currier, she had to design a research experiment. She took interest in volunteerism because of her own experiences with volunteering when she was growing up in Jamaica.

As she worked on that project, she learned that there was not much published research on the motivations behind volunteering. She asked Currier to advise her for the project during the Summer Research Program.

Currier was not planning to get involved in the Summer Research Program, but Smith’s request changed her mind. “One of the best ways to change things on a micro level is by volunteering,” she said. “I wanted to know how we could help more students here want to do it.”

In the spring, they prepared a survey about volunteerism and had 91 students complete the survey. This summer, they are conducting interviews with other students who are on campus.

To determine which factors are most influential in volunteering decisions, they will watch for correlations and patterns in the responses of both the survey and the interviews.

n addition to asking about motivations for volunteering, they also are finding out about the barriers that stop some students from doing service. For example, last week they interviewed a student who pointed out that when he does have time that he could volunteer, he does not always have access to transportation to go somewhere.

This summer’s work will be a pilot study and the basis for further research in the fall. Smith plans to involve students from other colleges, too. The project might result in her senior paper, and she thinks she may continue the research in graduate school.

She enjoys getting to apply the concepts that she has explored in the classroom setting. “This has given me a chance to use all that I have done, putting what I've learned to the true test,” she said.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Study abroad in Europe offers glimpse of world war history

A group of Randolph students recently spent two weeks in Europe learning about two wars that challenged and changed the continent, as well as the world.
History professor Gerry Sherayko and communication studies professor Jennifer Gauthier led the students on an international study seminar titled “Museums, Memorials and Memory: Britain and the Two World Wars.”

They visited a variety of sites that memorialize World War I and World War II in England, Belgium, and France, including the Churchill War Rooms, Coventry Cathedral, and Flanders battlefield, as well as other historic sites. The journey allowed students to take an in-depth look at the way war is memorialized.

“By studying and having discussions about these war memorials, we have learned a lot about how each nation and its people remember the past, as well as how public memories have contributed to the construction of a British national identity,” said Phuong Tran ’15. “Without being on the site and experiencing the memorials ourselves, we would never be able to understand how the British cherish and value their past.”

You can view some of the photos from the international study seminar in this Facebook photo album.

Evolution, psychology, and physical attraction

Open up almost any magazine aimed at teenagers and young adults, and you can find numerous articles about how to be attractive, either through the way one dresses, acts, or talks.

Two Randolph students are working on scientific research into the topic of attractiveness. But their work is designed to lead not to more dating advice, but to an increased understanding of how concepts of attractiveness have evolved.

Sandeep Poudyal ’16 became interested in the topic in an evolutionary psychology class in which he learned that there have been many evolutionary explanations for heterosexual physical attraction, but there are fewer explanations on homosexual attraction. An idea for a research project began brewing.

“I thought it would be fun to explore some more stuff about heterosexual attraction, and find some new information on homosexual attraction,” he said. He proposed a summer research project with Dennis Goff, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology. He also invited Lauren Mason ’16, who wanted research experience to help prepare her for graduate school.

Goff explained that many aspects of physical attraction can be explained by the evolutionary impulse to reproduce. Women evolved to seek strong mates who would be interested in supporting and protecting children, while men have an evolved attraction toward characteristics that signal fertility.

The group’s goal is to design an experiment that would gauge the influence of various characteristics on physical attraction. For the past few weeks, they have been reading articles to get ideas. “We’ve been doing a literature review and looking at possible studies to replicate,” Mason said. They plan to look at how facial characteristics, voice, and personal traits such as humor or intelligence affect attraction.

They will measure the physical attraction associated with those characteristics by administering questionnaires that people will complete. For example, they might play two voices and ask participants which one is more attractive, or they show a picture and ask the participants to rate the face for attraction.

Poudyal said the group plans to administer the survey to a few people this summer to collect pilot data. This will set the stage for more in-depth research with more participants in the fall. The same survey would be administered to homosexual and heterosexual participants to yield a broader scale of data.

The students have enjoyed the summer research, especially the ability to work closely with a professor who helps them develop ideas. “You don’t have to compete with anyone else for the personal attention that you very much want from a professor,” Poudyal said.

He added that the project has helped him confirm his plans to continue researching and earn a Ph.D. after college. “I definitely know that this is what I want to do in the future,” he said. “That is why I decided I want to do research this summer. You learn so much that you didn’t know anything about in the beginning.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"The Play's the Thing" in this Summer Research project

When Grace Gardiner ’15 puts pen to paper, she usually writes poetry that focuses on an image. But when English professor Gary Dop asked if she would like to write plays with him and another experienced playwright this summer, she jumped at the opportunity.

Gardiner is working on several plays for a Randolph College Summer Research Program project titled “The Play’s the Thing: A Communal Creative Jaunt through Dramatic Structure.” She and Dop began the summer by examining the dramatic structure in existing plays, then they set out to craft their own.

When Dop was interviewing for a position on the faculty, he taught a practice class on the opening image of a play. “That stuck with me,” Gardiner said.

Dop and Gardiner are meeting regularly with Jim Peterson, a Randolph English professor who retired last year, to read and discuss the plays that they are writing.

Gardiner’s play is about a college student who is accused of rape but has no idea whether he is guilty because he had blacked out on the night of the alleged assault. The play portrays him searching his soul and wondering whether he really is capable of harming someone. At the end of the play, the audience may have opinions, but not a definite answer, about his guilt or innocence. “It’s more about his journey,” Gardiner said.

Dop said handling the question in this way requires mastery of complex storytelling, and Gardiner is doing it well.  “We don’t know how to feel about the protagonist. He is, at moments, an unlikeable character, and that makes the journey more interesting to watch,” he said. “We’re wrestling with his guilt or innocence as well.”

Dop described the play he is writing this summer as a “postmodern magical realist surrealist absurdist play” as well as an over-the-top comedy that tells the story of a character looking for a job. “It’s certainly a non-traditional kind of drama,” he said. “I’ve played with conventions in some of my scripts, but never this much.”

Gardiner said the project has helped her expand her knowledge of how to structure and tell a story. “In a play, you can’t just take a step back and describe an image. It focuses on the dialogue and the characters’ actions,” she said. “That has been added to my arsenal of writing skills.”

Later this summer, they will send their plays to the National Playwright Center for critical feedback. They also will participate in a high school summer playwriting class that Dop has taught for a couple of years. Gardiner also hopes to organize a reading so people can experience a small performance of her play.