Among the first-years, peer mentors, resident advisors and other student leaders, select upperclassmen were also able to return to Eckerd’s campus early to continue their research. While they are still taking classes remotely like the rest of their classmates, they log on in their dorm rooms when they are not busy in their labs.
In early August, when the phased reopening of Eckerd was announced, various professors advocated for their students to return because the research can only be done on campus with the necessary facilities and lab space. Since no students were able to conduct on-campus research over the summer, allowing them to come back early provided a way for them to attempt to catch up what they lost this summer.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison said that they limited the number of students that could come back to have as few students as possible during the pandemic.
“It is primarily students in the Natural Sciences Collegium because those are the students most likely to be doing research that requires campus-based instrumentation or who are doing hands-on, in-person, campus-based research that could not be carried out remotely,” Harrison said in an email.
Cody Miner, a senior biology major, arrived on campus the week of Aug. 23 to continue his research after a long, quiet summer.
“Especially for us science kids, we can’t really do anything without a lab so it was the most unproductive summer ever,” Miner said.
Miner is now unable to do a senior thesis project since he could not collect vital data this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A member of the Ford Scholar program, Miner and the other scholars are usually funded to stay on campus over the summer between their junior and senior years to do work for their senior projects.
Although he cannot complete a thesis, his early arrival to campus does allow him to continue his research to develop a publication with his research mentor, Assistant Professor of Marine Science and Biology Cory Krediet. Miner studies how Aiptasia, a type of anemone similar to coral, responds to bleaching events. Bleaching occurs when the special relationship between anemones and algae breaks down, often resulting in the deaths.
“Because we left early I'm still working on some of the pilot stuff and just getting everything set up, so I'm not actually in data collection yet,” Miner said.
Miner is using special technology with a “flowcam” to count the number of algae within the anemones before and after bleaching events. He then will watch the anemones under different conditions to see how they survive and reproduce without the algae.
“I can follow who's who as they’re budding off little baby anemones,” Miner said.
Another Ford Scholar, senior biology major Mlana Lore, was also approved to come on campus early for her yeast research project, supervised by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Crystal Young-Erdos. Besides reading published literature, Lore could not do much research this summer without the lab equipment.
“We need our yeast strains, we need everything in the lab, so there's not really anything you can do from home,” Lore said.
Lore uses yeast as a model organism to study a certain protein that has implications for lung cancer in humans. She said that being on campus in the lab is important to getting the research done, and some days she is in the James Center all day on the weekends.
Miner, Lore and other research students arrived on campus the week of Aug. 23. For some, it was a scramble to get ready since they were notified very close to their move-in dates.
Junior Sophia Chernoch, a volunteer in Professor of Marine Science/Geosciences Gregg Brooks’ lab, found out while already on her way to Florida. She also has an off-campus internship, which she needed to be in the St. Petersburg area for, but couldn’t afford housing on her own.
“I'm very thankful to Eckerd for being able to let us continue doing our research,” Chernoch said.
According to Harrison, the professors drove the approval process. They reached out to administrators and housing in order to get their students back for research. Collegial chairs also consulted with faculty to see who needed student researchers in order to keep projects on track, especially when outside funding was driving the research.
Junior Nicole Vandale volunteers for the microplastics research project, under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Marine Science Amy Siuda and Professor of Biology and Marine Science Shannon Gowans, and is back on campus. Siuda and Gowans sent their proposals advocating for students’ return shortly after the phased reopening was announced.
I've gotten so lucky to have them as mentors, they're amazing, and they took care of everything I remember when I was freaking out about it,” Vandale said.
With not many faculty or students using facilities for classes, or people around in general, these research students are taking full advantage to get their work done.
“Thankfully, here we're able to go into the lab, especially right now since there's no classes in Galbraith,” Chernoch said. “There's only three of us, so we're very spread out so we're actually all able to go to work at the same time.”
Not all students are on Eckerd’s campus, but the scientific research will still continue thanks to the presence of essential students.