Exploring Possibilities in Research Southern Oregon University Summer Research Experience

Exploring Possibilities in Research: SOU’s Summer Research Experience

About the Program  

Spanning various academic departments, from Chemistry and Biology to Computer Science and Mathematics, and under the guidance of faculty mentors, the SOU Summer Research Experience engages students in projects that push the boundaries of conventional knowledge. This initiative, rooted in the university’s dedication to academic excellence, extends to students bridging diverse disciplines, empowering them to immerse themselves in scholarly inquiry and research.   

The program began in the summer of 2021 when the Chemistry department initiated the ChemREx program, made possible by a generous contribution from the Roger E. Hatton Fund and McIntyre Scholarship. This program facilitated a faculty member’s collaboration with a select group of students, engaging in a 160-hour summer research endeavor spanning four to eight weeks. The culmination of their efforts resulted in a comprehensive written summary encompassing experiments, results, and discussions, along with a public presentation.   

Expanding its scope, STEM introduced BioREx, CSREx, and MathREx programs in the summer of 2023. 

About the Professors and Research  

Within the Biology department, Dr. Ashley Robart lead a project researching the world of three-spined sticklebacks and examining nest-building behaviors. Dr. Nick Stewart explored the realm of chromosome alterations, shedding light on their persistence and impact on female meiosis.  

In Chemistry, Dr. Mike Tylinski’s lab endeavored to make lithium-ion batteries safer through water-based electrolytes. Computer Science faculty, Dr. Daniel DeFreez and Dr. David Pouliot, focused on source-to-source compilation and practical improvements to symbolic execution, respectively. Dr. Brandon Ashley in the Mathematics department guided students in unraveling the Darboux integrable partial differential equations.  

Sherry Ettlich, Retiring Director of the School of Science and Business & Professor of Mathematics, says,

“The program gives students first-hand experience with the work done by researchers and often inspires students to pursue graduate studies, which open more research-related career options.”

She goes on to say, “When pursuing admission to graduate schools, evidence of research activities such as this, especially that result in co-authored papers or conference presentations, make their applications stand out from others and are becoming more and more important to being successfully admitted to more competitive programs.” 

Mimi Pieper: Programming Prowess and Professional Growth  

One such student is Mimi Pieper, a current Senior majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Rhetoric and Reason. Over the course of her time at SOU, Mimi has contributed exceptional leadership skills to a number of roles including the Finance Chair for the international NACURH Conference, a mentor in the Honors College as well as a Trustee on SOU’s Governing Board. In addition, she has worked as a software engineer for the nonprofit, Develop for Good, and as a data analyst intern at the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network.   

Mimi’s summer research project focused on expanding an open-source tool called angr, a symbolic execution engine utilized for security purposes in computer science. The goal was to reduce the state explosion phenomenon, a challenge faced when dealing with massive code bases. Despite encountering obstacles in understanding the intricate code base, Mimi’s dedication and collaboration with her faculty advisor, David Pouliot, resulted in a self-directed project that contributed to creating an open-source tool used across industries.  

SOU Research Sustainability Scholarship Student

Mimi Pieper, SOU Computer Science student & Scholarship recipient

Mimi attributes much of her academic success to the Honors College at SOU, describing it as a “massive help” that made her university education financially feasible. In addition, the exceptional Computer Science faculty and the support of the program have pushed her immeasurably in the right direction. 

Navigating the complexities of open-source projects presented significant challenges, especially with a lack of specific documentation on this issue. Mimi’s determination to understand and modify angr for her research showcased her technical skills. Reflecting on her academic journey, Mimi expressed gratitude for her major’s preparation, emphasizing the importance of the foundation laid in the early years. The research experience added an impressive entry to her resume and equipped her with skills crucial for navigating the world of software engineering.  

Mimi encourages future students to engage actively with their faculty advisors, emphasizing the importance of seeking support when needed. Mimi says,

“The Summer Research Experience opened doors to a world of possibilities, allowing me to dive into the depths of open-source software and contribute meaningfully to industry tools. The experience enhanced my technical skills and helped me to go deeper into the landscape of computer science.”  

David Higginbotham: Where Academia and Practice Converge  

David is a senior majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Math at SOU. Despite being a non-traditional student, his passion for physical chemistry motivates him to excel. As a father and a student, David invests his time in both academia and practical application.

David spends much of his time in the Science building on campus where he works in tutoring, research, and math grading. With a previous degree in Communication, David embraces the challenges of STEM. He aspires to work in the world of science communication. His desire to demystify complex concepts stems from the enthusiasm he experienced when others shared their passion for scientific subjects.  

Under the guidance of Professor Mike Tylinski, David researched the simulation of the physical properties of battery solutions, particularly water-based ones with highly concentrated ions. Unraveling the complexities of these solutions, the focus was on understanding how to make them viable alternatives to everyday batteries.  

Challenges of the project included navigating the complexities of simulation, software choices, and installations, though he successfully built a simulation system. David appreciated the interaction with faculty which deepened his understanding but also provided a unique, one-on-one engagement that transcends his traditional classroom setting. David’s work exemplifies the power of  hands-on experience, has enriched his CV, and also instilled a new confidence for tackling research.   

As David reflects on his research journey, he extends a word of advice to fellow students: don’t let the fear of rejection deter you from applying to research programs. Often, the assumption that others are more qualified leads to missed opportunities. His experience serves as a reminder that determination and effort are recognized and rewarded.  

SOU Research Chemistry Scholarship Student

David Higginbotham, SOU Chemistry major & Research Scholarship recipient

David says about the research experience, “Finding oneself in a room where you feel like the ‘dumbest person’ is being in the right room. Interacting with faculty in a one-on-one setting not only makes accomplishments more rewarding but also provides insights that go beyond the classroom, allowing for the asking of more outrageous questions and, in turn, a deeper understanding of the subject matter.”  

Igniting the Future: A Call to Empower Emerging Scholars  

The experiences of Mimi and David show the incredible influence of the Summer Research Experience and transcends mere scholastic pursuit—it’s where intellect and ingenuity coalesce. The program instills a culture of inquiry and fortitude, endowing participants with the acumen to navigate the challenges that await them. Ettlich says, 

“Working one-on-one with faculty on research is most valuable in the opportunity students gain to apply their learning to current research problems and get hands-on experience in the field. This summer program allows students to do more intense work that can be accomplished in an academic term. The scholarship support makes it affordable for them as well.” 

To contribute to the Summer Research Experience, kindly click here. Your backing propels the journey of aspiring researchers.