More than 100 field-based research projects in sustainability science were presented on campus Wednesday in the biannual Unity College Student Conference, the college’s signature undergraduate research expo.

Research by Unity College undergraduates in 2016 examined effects of microplastics in the environment, runoff infiltration into a local sewer system, animals being treated at a local shelter, the differences between trout raised in hatcheries vs. the wild, creation of a smartphone app for students to track their food consumption choices, and much more.

“This event is always one of the premier academic events on the Unity College schedule — one I have circled on my calendar from the first day of classes,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “We get to see the kind of transdisciplinary training Unity College is known for, rigorously designed by students eager to succeed as leaders in the environmental century.

“I always come away impressed and optimistic,“ Khoury said. “These students, in collaboration with faculty advisers and partnership organizations in the community, show a level of thinking in sustainability sciences that one typically sees only in graduate school.”

The event at the Unity College Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday, Dec. 14, featured projects in various formats, including interpretive posters and oral and multimedia presentations by undergraduates.

Held in December and May each academic year, the Unity College Student Conference is the college’s signature forum for undergraduates to exhibit their research and to compete for excellence awards in a wide area of academic disciplines. Students offer research findings in environmental sciences and the liberal arts, including original artwork such as painting, sculpture, and digital and mixed media. All works are judged by college faculty, staff, and community partners.

Goals of the Student Conference are to encourage, promote, and recognize all quality academic and professional work among Unity College students; to celebrate excellence; to help build a campus culture that values attention to detail and quality work; to provide a transitional experience into professional and academic communities; and to facilitate program evaluation and community building.

“This is a true testament to our faculty and staff for going beyond traditional learning strategies,” Khoury said, “and a testament to the depth of a student-directed Unity College education.”
The Fall research event in the 2016-17 academic year was coordinated by Student Conference Committee members led by Professor of Geoscience Dr. Kevin M. Spigel. Spigel also serves as chairman of the Earth Sciences Program and director of the Unity College Undergraduate Research Program.

Among the 108 projects, several were recognized with prestigious awards, including:

  • The Unity Award for best overall project, to Cassidy Marshall and Lisette DeLoatch, for “Turbidites Effect on Fish Species Diversity.”
  • The Award for Academic Excellence, to Jennifer Meineke, for “Population Density and Home Range Size in Tamiasciurus hudsonicus in Unity, Maine.”
  • The Unity Partnership Award, for the best project completed in cooperation with external organizations, to Allison Stevens, for “Freedom Forest Preserve: Interpretive Products.”
  • The Creativity Award, to Dayson Cullivan, for his presentation, “Life of a Hunter.”
  • The Education Award, to Mikkaela Scott for “Unity College Heritage Farm.”
  • The Research Award (individual), to Katherine Cummings, for “Beech Bark Disease in Maine: Effects of Forest Composition, Density on Infection Severity.”
  • The Research Award (group), to Ben Sawtelle, Kyle Pisano, Tiffany Brown, and Tori Piger, for “Measuring Differences in American Chestnut Growth in Densely Plotted Trees.”
  • The Sustainability Award to Anya Samiljan, Jared Mummert, Savannah Sprague, and Josh Bernier, for “Reduction of Municipal Waste in Unity College Residence Halls via Alternative Disposal Resources.”
  • The Environmental Professionals Award to Brian Harris-Jones, Cassandra Cates, Sean Stewart, Gunnar Norback, Emily MacDonald, Morgan DuBois, Alyssa Silvia, and Sally Carullo, for “Calculating the Volume of Water and Sediment in an Irrigation Pond at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.”
  • The Environmental Stewardship Award, to Greg LeClair for his “YouTube Conservation: Using Modern Media for Saving Wildlife.”

For more information about the Unity College Undergraduate Research Program, click here. For a list of past winners, visit the Unity College Student Conference blog here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016