Student Researchers Make Waves at the 2022 SURF Symposium

Randolph-Macon College celebrated the conclusion of this summer’s undergraduate mentored research at the 2022 Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Symposium. The 34 student research fellows shared presentations on their remarkable work with topics ranging from artificial intelligence in social media to the Japanese Supreme Court. Their oral and poster presentations summarized their findings at the end of a nine-week summer fellowship program that allows students a paid, hands-on opportunity to research in their field of study. 

In opening the Symposium event, Provost Alisa Rosenthal spoke about the importance of the work the students completed, the habits of mind that the process of researching cultivates, and the value of the faculty mentorship that supports it.  

“Also worthy of celebration is the context in which you all have completed this research – an experience of mentorship with a professor who made you excited about learning, who cared about you as a person, and who encouraged you to pursue your goals and dreams. This up-close experience of engaged and personalized support is a hallmark of SURF and, not coincidentally, a hallmark of the experience of students who go on to thrive and succeed in their future endeavors,” Rosenthal told assembled students, faculty, and friends and family of the student researchers. 

Grace Holderman ‘23 shared her work from the forest, exploring new techniques in invasive tree species management. For Holderman, this year in SURF is special because it was her second in the program. “SURF was an amazing experience that I know I can not find anywhere else, especially since I was able to do it twice in two different fields [political science and biology].” 

“SURF allowed for me to develop my public speaking skills,” reflected Shannon Benton ‘23, who spent the duration of the summer researching how French Women of the Renaissance contributed to the literary debate on courtly love. “I also found it very interesting to look at documents in both the original French (or updated into modern) and then in English. It gave me insight into what decisions translators have to make and how some of those decisions can alter the original meaning of the text.”  

Benton plans to rely on these important experiences to help her with her future goal of going to graduate school. “SURF has given me a great research experience by allowing me to focus on and flesh out a project which I can highlight on graduate school applications. Completing the SURF program brings me one step closer to that future and also allowed me to get a glimpse into the world of academic research,” she said. 

It is not just students who benefit from these research opportunities; Randolph-Macon’s dedicated faculty relish the time spent mentoring students. “The students gain hands-on experience with research in the field, and I learn how to become a better mentor,” noted Professor Dr. Michael Rodruck of the Physics, Engineering and Astrophysics department who helped Rebecca Sauls ‘23 examine data gathered by the Hubble Telescope to look at star clusters in a nearby galaxy. Rodruck said, “Research is always new, and nothing ever works exactly how it should, so it is a great way to become more familiar with the scientific process and understand how progress is made.”

Several student participants will continue their research during the school year, further exploring the topics they introduced during the SURF program.

This year’s SURF participants were the 26th group of student researchers since the program was first introduced, thanks to the generous support of Benjamin Schapiro ’64 and his wife Peggy. The SURF program remains under the leadership of co-directors Art History Professor Evie Terrono, and Serge Schreiner, the Dudley P. and Patricia C. Jackson Professor of Chemistry.