Grant to fund summer research program in science

PLAINVIEW – Science students at Wayland Baptist University will be able to add another dimension to their studies, thanks to a grant from the Welch Foundation.

The $75,000 grant will cover three summers of an undergraduate research program in the department of chemistry, making it possible to add the research dimension for students.

“It takes a lot of money to do scientific research,” said Dr. Joel Boyd, assistant professor of chemistry and one of two who will be overseeing the summer program. “It’s not like just going to the library; it’s hands-on work in a laboratory with consumables and expensive equipment and lots of time.”

Boyd said while the department has done some research projects with limited funds or in conjunction with the honors department, the resources just weren’t there to do a formal research program. In acknowledging that students headed for either medical school or some career in scientific research needed that exposure at the undergraduate level, Boyd and Dr. Adam Reinhart, assistant professor of biological and physical sciences, began working the research component into the degree.

The first step, taken a few years ago, was to add a research track for science majors and allow credit hours for research projects and a thesis for students choosing those opportunities. Such a plan allowed students who spent their summers at other institutions or labs doing scientific research to earn credit toward their degree.

But with the Welch grant, the summer research program doesn’t have to take students far from campus. The 10-week program will employ four students as research assistants on two different projects Reinhart and Boyd developed and will oversee. Reinhart’s project deals with investigation of the Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory (StAR) gene which produces natural steroids. Boyd’s research will deal with methods for removing the nitrogen from compounds placed in water.

In support of the project, the university chipped in free room and board for students participating as well as free tuition toward credit hours for research. Reinhart and Boyd said that move helps make the program an even sweeter deal for students and will allow the pair to use the remainder of the Welch funds for equipment and other resources needed for their projects.

“The bulk of the funds, though, goes directly to students. This really is a student-centered endeavor,” said Boyd.

Reinhart said receiving the grant is positive in several ways.

“The Welch Foundation is really interested in taking a good chemistry program and making it stronger,” Reinhart said, adding that the foundation initiated the contact with Wayland and visited the campus before asking Reinhart and Boyd to apply for funding. “It’s just so important to have the research component, because that’s really what science is. And in graduate school, you actually do more research than lecture classes.”

Boyd echoed the sentiment.

“When a student comes out of this program, they will have done graduate school in a microcosm; they’ll have done independent research, written and presented a thesis… that’s graduate school,” Boyd said. “Plus, this builds on their experience and confidence level.”

The pair said they’re hoping to develop a structured plan for students taking the research track, which would involve them in research at Wayland during their sophomore year and the following summer, then encourage them to participate in summer research programs at larger institutions and build networking contacts for graduate school or future jobs.