Virtual summer research strengthens the community of faculty and scholars

Summer Scholars 2020

As in-person classes and events at St. Catherine University shifted to online format to fit the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, the 10th annual Summer Scholars research program pivoted as well. This year’s 13 faculty-student teams showcased their work to the St. Kate’s community in a new way — virtually. Cynthia Norton, PhD, Director of Collaborative Undergraduate Research (CUR) and professor of Biology and Women’s Studies at St. Kate’s, had no doubt the scholars were committed to the challenge. “All of the teams that were initially accepted into the program were able to continue,” said Norton. “This is in sharp contrast to many programs at other institutions that were canceled. I was impressed with the flexibility, persistence, and positive attitudes of the Summer Scholars mentors and the students.”

The transition was more straightforward for some teams than others, but they all faced the challenges headlong. Some scholars who focused on economics and psychology adjusted topics to answer questions relevant to current crises, such as housing insecurity. These teams had electronic data sets and were able to conduct their research online — this was not the case for everyone. Teams who pursued biology and chemistry research with in-person plans, like recording health care assessments or visiting a training camp, had to develop alternate projects in April. 

The faculty and students, who normally carry out their work side-by-side, quickly acclimated to their Google Meets sessions and modified topics. The mentors and mentees set academic goals, raised important questions, and provided feedback on each other’s projects. One way they did this was through weekly workshops, an integral component within the Summer Scholars program. It was in these meetings that they cultivated not only professional development but also a sense of togetherness. Dr. Norton put the students into mixed interdisciplinary groups to develop trust and be comfortable sharing their ideas. “I was apprehensive about the workshops,” Norton said. “But I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to establish such a strong community of scholars under these circumstances.” By fostering their relationships, they were able to accomplish far more than their research. 

“I believe that the opportunity to work on these projects this summer provided a space where students could make a contribution and feel that they were doing important work while little else in the world was under control,” Dr. Norton said. “This work’s collaborative nature provided a community when students and mentors were separated by physical distance. And the skills that students develop through participating in undergraduate research will prepare them to become leaders and make a difference in the world.” In July, some of the science groups were granted the opportunity to carry out on-campus lab work, but it was the initial virtual meetings that established meaningful connections. 

Meghan Mason, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Public Health and BA/BS Program Director, agreed that the virtual format’s challenges did not compromise the goals of the Summer Scholars. “In fact, by giving explicit permission to think differently about our projects, it seemed the project outcomes were more accessible to a broader audience than just narrow disciplinary silos,” Mason said. 

Mason and her student collaborator, Grace Anne Ludvik ’22 explored housing instability, a topic which complemented that of another team — Marina Gorzig, Ph.D., and her mentee, Karisa Johnson ’22, and their research on discrimination in the Twin Cities rental market. These teams formed a book club during which they read The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Dierdre Mask. 

The research and creative work led up to the Summer Scholars Closing Celebration symposium. The 2020 Summer Scholars have shown us that through teamwork, we can persevere through times of doubt.

Summer Scholars program


Summer Scholars 2020 teams


Welcoming the Dear Neighbor? A History of Housing Inequality in Ramsey County
Alexandra A S Keller ’21 International Studies, History minor; Vee Signorelli ’21 Theology
Rachel Neiwert, History


Writing an Education Primer for the Journal Genetics
Kylie Burkstrand Dec ’20 Biology
Andrea Kalis, Biology


Biochemistry and Chemistry

Synthesis of a Norbornene-Containing Substrate for the Enzyme Geranylgeranyltransferase
Haley Dammar ’21 Chemistry (ACS)
James Wollack, Chemistry

Green Synthesis of Solar Cell Materials
Hope Holte ’22 Chemistry; Badraa Al-jasim ’21, Chemistry and Biochemistry; Hil Ngouajio ’21, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Daron Janzen, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Addressing the Antibiotic Crisis: Drug Discovery in Microbes
Porhouy Minh ’21 Chemistry and Biochemistry, Math minor
Annalisa Jordan, Chemistry and Biochemistry



Measurements Recorded via Stratospheric Ballooning
Stratospheric Ballooning Investigation of the 2023 and 2024 Eclipses 

Callie Korzeniowski ’23 Chemistry, Physics minor; Anisa Tapper ’23 Math, Physics minor 
Erick Agrimson, Physics

Modeling Low-Energy Nuclear Quenching in Super CDMS Using Neutron Capture Data 
Judy Panmany ’20 Chemistry 
Hannah Rogers, Physics 



Discrimination in the Twin Cities Rental Market
Karisa Johnson ‘22 Economics and Public Policy, Statistics minor 
Marina Mileo Gorzig, Economics 

Unintended Tradeoffs: Adolescent Sleep vs. Elementary Enrollment 
Emma Kettle ’22 Economics and Public Policy; Olivia Matzke ’21 
Economics Kristine West, Economics 

Nutrition, Dietetics, and Exercise Sciences

Nutrition Assessment in St. Mary’s Health Clinic Serving Undocumented, Non-English Speaking, Latinx Patients 
Katie Lilja ’21 Nutrition and Dietetics; Teal Walters Dec ’20 Nutrition and Dietetics 
Ambria Crusan and Megan Baumler, Nutrition and Dietetics

The effect of gait training devices of gait range of motion in older adults after a six-week walking intervention Julia Clark ’21 Exercise Science pre-PT; Reilee Schepper ’22 Exercise Science pre-PT 
Lana Prokop, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences  



Gender and Sustainability: An Empirical Investigation of Ecofeminism 
Elyse Collyer ’21 Psychology
Gabrielle Filip Crawford, Psychology


Public Health

How Do Healthcare Providers Screen Children and Families for Housing Instability? A Literature Review 
Grace Anne Ludvik ’22 Public Health, Spanish minor
Meghan Mason, Public Health


Related Content:

Summer Scholars showcase 10 weeks of collaborative research