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2019 Calder Symposium Explores Diversity in the Lab and Local Communities

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Not only did this year’s Calder Summer Undergraduate Research (CSUR) Symposium feature a diverse mix of researchit also included a diverse group of student scientists and a keynote speaker who stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in and outside of the lab.

“The projects this year run the gamut, from fungus and bats, to lichens to blue-green algae, to an invasive tick, to evolution in lichens, to pollination trials, back to bats and how they are affected by light, and finally diversity in forests,” summarized Thomas Daniels, Ph.D., director of the Louis Calder Center, in his opening remarks. 

In 20-minute-long presentations, seven Fordham students spoke about what it was like to explore the sprawling 113-acre biological field station through CSUR: a 21-year-old program that allows Fordham undergraduates to conduct independent research projects with a Fordham faculty member and a $5,000 stipend. In wooded areas, Ian Sokolowski, FCLC ’20, foraged for Asian long-horned ticks with a white corduroy cloth and forceps. In the middle of Calder Lake, Julia Sese, FCRH ’20, retrieved water samples and analyzed algae blooms. 

Several of the students also shared how their projects began. Joseph Laske, FCRH ’21, recalled the day he found a wild bat while cleaning a Harlem park with members of the Students for Environmental Awareness and Justice club at Fordham. 

“I was raking some leaves, and I heard a squeak. I looked down, and there was this bat curled up on the ground in a fetal position,” recalled Laske, an environmental studies student. 

Concerned about the wild creature’s well-being, Laske snapped a picture of the animal and sent it to his professor, Craig Frank, Ph.D., who studies the effect of white-nose syndrome in bats. Could this bat be affected by the same disease, Laske wondered? 

It wasn’t. But his email sparked a conversation with Frank that would lead to Laske’s application to the CSUR program. For 10 weeks, Laske looked at how white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, grows at different temperatures and how one species in particular, the Eastern small-footed bat, is able to resist the dangerous disease. 

“Bats are important pollinators [and pest eaters]. They contribute a huge amount to the agricultural industry,” said Laske, who plans on working as a technician in Frank’s lab this fall. 

The keynote address delivered by Alexandria Moore, Ph.D., a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor at Columbia University, also explored science research. Most of her speech spotlighted her work in coastal wetland restoration. But the rest focused on her identity as a queer person of color and how it informs her work as a scientist. 

“What I have talked about so far today has been sort of referencing gaps: The first one is a gap in our knowledge of how ecosystems work and how we can do a good job at recovering them; the other one is a gap in our understanding of the differences between people and the importance of those differences that people have,” Moore said. “What I do now in my work is combine all of those things together …. What I do at the museum is I ask the same kinds of research questions that I asked at Yale. I ask them in areas where we haven’t asked them with people who never really get to be part of those conversations.”

Sitting in the audience were eight local high school students in Fordham’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP)an academic enrichment program for underrepresented youth from 7th to 12th grade—who presented their summer research posters that afternoon. 

The year before was the first time that STEP students participated in the program. One member of the inaugural cohort will be a first-year student at Fordham College at Lincoln Center this fall, said Patricio Meneses, Ph.D., who helped bring the students to the annual program. 

For DaiJon James, a rising senior at Equality Charter High School in the Bronx, the six-week research experience clarified his career path. It showed him that he wants to become a scientist—a first for his family, he said. But what surprised him this summer was the level of respect and collaboration that he experienced with his Fordham mentors, including Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D. 

“It was kind of like …  jarring because as a teenager, you don’t ever really expect to be given the kind of opportunity to show what you know,” said James, who studied how to best use teletherapy to improve post-procedure care for teenagers with liver transplants. “Working with Dr. Annunziato changed that perspective for me.” 

This summer, another student—Alexa Caruso, a rising senior at New Rochelle High School in Westchester County—performed data collection and analysis on perovskites, a promising material in solar cell research. 

“With the people and the resources that we now have in this day and age, we can definitely make something useful,” Caruso said. “What I did, it’s gonna help the future one day.” 

 

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