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Alissa Strouse conducts research on what is known as the Y-Balance
Test, to determine its usefulness in assessing the effects of a
Students find many benefits in the University of Delaware’s Associate in Arts Program
(AAP), from affordability to small class sizes to an easy transition
from the two-year program on campuses in each county to a bachelor’s
degree at UD’s main campus in Newark.
This summer, five new AAP graduates from the Dover campus also benefited from the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research.
Funded by the Delaware Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE)
and the colleges of Arts and Sciences and of Health Sciences, each
student worked in a UD lab with a faculty mentor, developing research
skills and — as a bonus — gaining familiarity with the Newark campus.
“Students taking part in undergraduate research get to see what real
research involves, and they get to know a professor, maybe even one who
will inspire them to pursue STEM as a career,” said Melinda Duncan.
Duncan is a professor of biological sciences at UD and director of
education and professional development for Delaware INBRE, a federally
funded collaborative network that seeks to build the state’s biomedical
research infrastructure. As part of that mission, the program supports a
number of undergraduates who assist in research projects at UD and
other INBRE partner institutions in Delaware.
To Duncan, research opportunities are an important way to address a national STEM-retention problem.
Many students graduate from high school with an interest in science,
she said, but too often, they decide on a different major after finding
college-level math and science courses more challenging than they
expected. But being part of an actual research team can motivate
students and encourage them to stick with the STEM classes that will
help them in the lab, Duncan said.
“If you can see why you need to learn something in class, it’s easier
to work through the hard parts of learning a subject,” she said. “Early
engagement in research can really help with this.”
This may be especially important for AAP students, whose courses are
taught by UD teaching faculty, not usually by researchers, and who
therefore may not be as aware of undergraduate research opportunities.
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Alissa Strouse (kneeling) earned her UD Associate in Arts degree in Dover and is now working toward her bachelor's degree on the Newark campus.
That’s why Delaware INBRE plans to continue reaching out to the AAP
campuses to help talented students “make the connection with research,”
Thomas Giardina, assistant professor of biological sciences in the
Dover AAP, recommended several students for the summer program.
“The INBRE Summer Scholars program is an awesome opportunity for all
UD students, but it offers unique advantages to our students in the
Associate in Arts Program,” he said.
“These students are transitioning to the main campus at the start of
their junior year, which means they need to hit the ground running if
they want to participate in undergraduate research. INBRE serves as a
Sarah Trembanis, associate professor of history and faculty
coordinator for the AAP in Dover, said the students who took part in the
INBRE program this summer did well and were all hoping to continue to
“It has been an incredible success for these students,” she said.
David Satran, director of the UD Associate in Arts Program, sees
benefits to undergraduate research that extend beyond the students
“My view is that research opportunities not only support AAP student
development by engaging their imagination and broadening their
perspectives, interests and career options, they also work to connect
the research and Delaware communities,” Satran said.
“The students don’t leave their research in the lab. They bring it back to their families and communities.”
The AAP students supported by INBRE this summer worked on a variety
of projects in several different disciplines. They helped with research
on brain cancer, the effects of concussions, the development of children
who have experienced adversity, how children with autism acquire
language and the mechanics of tendon use and damage.
Alissa Strouse, who conducted research on concussions with Thomas
Kaminski in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, called
the experience “amazing” and said she was made to feel part of the lab
team family. Doing research, she said, taught her the value of patience
because results aren’t immediate.
“For all the things we know about the human body, there’s a million
other things we don’t know,” Strouse said. “I’m interested in pursuing a
career in research so that I can … provide at least one of those
For Krystal Mendez, the summer showed her some of the variety of
research opportunities available. Her primary project involved language
impairment in children, but she was also able to assist with another
project that used technology such as UD’s functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) instrument.
She said she’s become an advocate for encouraging others, especially AAP students, to participate in undergraduate research.
“It gives students the chance to see how research works and if
they’re interested in going to graduate school,” Mendez said. “If they
are, they can leave with skills necessary for graduate school and with
connections that will help them to advance in their careers.
“Being an Associate in Arts alumni made this even more significant to me.”
INBRE Summer Scholars weren't the only AAP students who took part in
undergraduate research this year. To read about some others and their
projects, see this article about a new graduate of the Wilmington AAP who studied the effects of violence and trauma on young people and this article about a group of UD students who worked with Wilmington teens.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Ashley Barnas