At Unity College, our students get involved in research on a wide variety of subjects – even as an incoming freshman. Because of our low student to faculty ratio and strong commitment to applied learning, Unity students have easier access to engage in research compared to students at other, larger institutions.
Research is definitely rewarding, and there are other benefits as well. Unity College students have opportunities to present the results of their research at at regional, national and professional society meetings, on-campus twice a year at the Student Conference.
What is Undergraduate Research?
Undergraduate research is “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline” www.cur.org. This novel work may be accomplished in any discipline either within or outside the classroom. Unity College is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and as a result has access to the latest information on trends in undergraduate research, funding, conferences, and more.
Why is Undergraduate Research important?
Together with their faculty mentors, students work on transdisciplinary projects and in doing so, form strong connections with faculty and other outside organizations. Students engaged in undergraduate research experience personal growth, develop confidence in their work, and advance their critical thinking skills. Statistics show that students who conduct research as part of their undergraduate education are more likely to continue with professional education; enter into the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields; and are twice as likely to consider continuing on to pursue graduate school.
How to get involved?
Unity College has numerous outlets for students to participate in undergraduate research including credit-bearing research classes, work study opportunities, thesis classes, and classroom-based research projects. Our research program also sponsors a grants program, The Student Academic Engagement Fund Award, to help students cover the costs associated with their research. We can also help connect students with external funding agencies. Information sessions are offered regularly throughout the year to keep students up-to-date and informed with all research-related activities going on.
SAEF Award – Student Academic Engagement Fund Award
The SAEF will award up to $500.00 to any student in a given semester to be used to complete a research project, present at a professional society meeting, or fulfill some other academic pursuit deemed eligible by the committee. Proposals are reviewed on a competitive basis at the beginning of each semester.
Project Assistant/Project Leader
Unity College has two courses designed to give students an outlet to work closely with faculty members on research projects, outreach opportunities, or program initiatives outside of traditional classes. The Project Leader designation is reserved for students who take the initiative to develop these opportunities.
Creative Thesis, Senior Thesis I and II and Applied Thesis Options
Unity College students in any discipline can pursue a thesis, where students work closely with faculty advisors to develop a research topic, implement a rigorous lab, field or studio based project and present this original thesis work in a public forum.
Faculty-Student Research Projects
Lost but not forgotten: Restoration of the American chestnut tree – Dr. Matthew Chatfield
The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once a foundational species in forests across much of the eastern United States. Beginning in the early 1900s, however, an introduced fungal blight has decimated this species to the point of functional extinction. A massive citizen science effort to restore this iconic tree to the wild, among the largest ever conducted for a single species, is now in progress. Through a partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation, Unity students are engaging in experiments at McKay Farm and Research Station and through plantings on experimental plots throughout central Maine. All of these many experiments are designed to refine planting protocols and determine the conditions needed for restoration of this ecologically important and culturally significant species to the wild.
CONSERVATION & COMMUNICATION – Elk and Ptarmigan – Dr. Jennifer Clarke
North American elk are an iconic species in the western US, and populations are being reestablished in parts of their original range in the eastern US where they had been extirpated. Although elk are popular in our national parks as “watchable wildlife” and elsewhere as a game species, the function of the males’ haunting bugle calls remains unknown. The bugle call has been assumed to attract females and repel rival males but no data exist supporting those functions. My research aims to identify the function of the bugle and determine if isolated populations exhibit “dialect” differences.
Conservation of Wood Turtles in a changing world – Dr. Matthew Chatfield
The Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic turtle that has experienced widespread declines throughout much of its range. The mixed aquatic-terrestrial life history of the Wood Turtle, coupled with sensitivity to human disturbance, may be partly responsible for the species’ vulnerability to habitat fragmentation and degradation. In spring 2015, in partnership with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and many other Unity faculty, I initiated a mark-recapture study on a nearby population. We are also conducting a radio-telemetry and habitat mapping project that substantially expand upon the existing mark-recapture study. The goal is to understand how habitat use and movement patterns may be influenced by habitat fragmentation and degradation. Understanding these complex interactions will help provide a foundation for making informed, evidence-based management decisions.
Melt – Deanna Witman
The ramifications of the Industrial Revolution altered the global climate via rising waters, increased temperatures, and climate refugees and altered the cultural climate via new inventions, such as photography, which has served as witness and now a vehicle for awareness and activism via its earliest methods- the salted-paper photograph. Melt continues the tradition of activist photography by documenting the shifting climate, drawing awareness to changes in world climate via participatory art.
Satellite images were gathered via the internet, and photographs were printed in the 19th-c. salted-paper photographic process, creating new landscapes. The exhibition images were created to be ephemeral, fading over the course of the exhibition, invoking a sense of change and drawing attention to the global shift. Viewers are invited and encouraged to revisit the fading landscapes to experience the disappeara
Gulf of Maine Coastal Ecosystem Survey
I have just wrapped up a three-year integrated, interdisciplinary investigation of the coastal zone of the Gulf of Maine (project blog; final report). Our multi-agency science team simultaneously sampled ocean physics, plankton, fish, birds, and mammals to develop a working model of biological hotspots that will aid in marine spatial planning in this region. Unity student Samantha McGarrigle ’17 assisted with sampling activities in 2016.
Student-Led Research Projects
Rae-Ann MacLellan-Hurd : Why is the pond green?
Unity pond is plagued by algal blooms in the summer months. Nutrient loading of phosphorous and nitrogen is a key factor leading to the blooms. The goal of this project is to quantify the inputs of these nutrients focusing on phosphorous, the key limiting factor, to make more informed decisions to address the algal bloom problem. Water samples, sediment samples, and soil samples have been taken to build a model of inputs of phosphorous into Lake Winnecook. The samples are used to determine values for runoff, tributary inputs, and sediment water interface reactions. The samples along with GIS modeling will create an input balance model of phosphorous. This will be used to determine which input areas remediation should focus on. Sediments samples were taken once a month through the years from five locations to determine if release of phosphorous from the sediment was occurring. Water samples were taken at depth to coincide with the sediment samples. Water samples were taken at all the tributaries along with discharge measurements to determine concentrations of water entering the pond. Soils samples were taken to determine concentrations of phosphorous likely to enter the water though runoff. All of the data will be compiled into a dynamic systems model for future use.
Greg LeClair : A Reason to Shell-ebrate
In the spring of 2015, Greg and other Unity College students began working a wood turtle research project, which was developed by Dr. Chatfield and Dr. Cheryl Frederick, Associate Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education, through a partnership with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Greg and others would search for turtles in various locations in central Maine, where they would mark them; collect data such as shell size, claw size, sex, and sometimes even take DNA samples; and then send them back on their way.
The Unity College Student Conference is held at the end of each semester in order to showcase the extraordinary work that our students have completed and celebrate excellence in academic achievement.
The conference features traditional research, multi-media works, art installations, and a variety of other creative projects.
This spring, due to coronavirus, we are holding a “virtual” Student Conference below that provides students with an opportunity to showcase their work. This showcase is not a direct recreation of Student Conference, but allows us to mark the occasion and celebrate student accomplishment nonetheless.
The goals of the Unity College Student Conference are to:
- Encourage, promote, and recognize all quality academic and professional work among Unity College students
- Help build a campus culture that values undergraduate research
- Provide professional experience presenting in an academic community