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Student summer research spans mice to measurements

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by Michael Voth

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Rebecca Claassen and Paul Regier were two of the Bethel College students who spent at least a part of the summer doing science research, in two quite different contexts.

Claassen, a senior biology major from Moses Lake, Wash., conducted a survey of the small mammal population in the Sand Creek Trail area east of campus. This marked the beginning of a longer-running project to track the impact of the oak woodland restoration plots planted by Professor of Biology Jon Piper.

Claassen spent three nights a week for four months placing and monitoring 24 traps and collecting data on three different small mammals: Hispid cotton rats, prairie voles and deer mice. She collected data from a total of eight different plots – four control plots where nothing was planted and four plots with trees.

One of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the project, Claassen says, was the process of designing the experiment and developing the protocol so others can repeat it in the future and attempt to track change over time. Piper, her faculty sponsor for the project, was invaluable in this process, she adds. Junior Blaire Mayhue, a fellow biology major from North Newton, assisted Claassen by helping place and set the traps.

Claassen’s attraction to the project stemmed from her interest in animal biology, the fact that she worked for Piper last summer and was familiar with the kind of projects he directs, and the chance to incorporate her specific interests into the research. She applied for and received a Bethel College Undergraduate Research Grant and also worked as one of Piper’s assistants in the prairie restoration project.

“The experience I gained in creating and executing my own experiments was valuable,” she says, adding that she hopes the research can be continued over subsequent summers in order to give insight into the effect of changing ecosystems on local animal life.

Regier, a senior math and physics major from Newton, had a somewhat different research setting. He participated in the University of Oklahoma’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (OU REU) program in the field of metrology, the science of measurements (not to be confused with meteorology, the study of weather patterns). The OU Industrial Engineering department and a grant from the National Science Foundation made the project possible.

Regier participated through a Bethel connection – 2007 graduate Johann Reimer, who served as one of the directors of the program. Reimer had contacted Bethel Professor of Physics Don Lemons about the REU. Lemons recommended it to Regier, who applied and was accepted.

Regier and 11 other undergraduates spent the summer on the OU campus in Norman, conducting research and touring potential places of employment for future engineers, including Halliburton and several aerospace plants.

Regier worked alongside students from schools all over the United States including, in addition to OU, Auburn University, Georgia Tech, the University of California-Santa Barbara and the University of Oregon. His research partner was from Oklahoma Christian University.

“I felt very well prepared for the experience, thanks to my training at Bethel,” Regier says. While all his fellow REU participants were very intelligent, he adds, Bethel prepared him better for understanding and using the math fundamentals and concepts necessary for the research they were doing.

In fact, Regier’s research on wireless ad hoc networks went so well that he discovered an entirely new algorithm and is likely to be published as a co-author of two different papers on the topic, a notable achievement for an undergraduate. He also managed to parlay his experience into his senior seminar, which he presented at Bethel in mid-September.

While Regier thoroughly enjoyed the OU program, he says he is still “somewhat skeptical of the institution of engineering.” Unlike many of the REU participants, he says, he has aspirations beyond simply making money and hopes to find research that might be more meaningful to him.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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