- by Mount Saint Mary College

More than 20 undergrads showcased the results of their diligent summer research on Thursday, October 15.

The virtual symposium was the culmination of the Mount’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), during which students work closely with professors, aiding them in hands-on research and often making meaningful contributions to their respective fields.

Due to the need for social distancing, students enjoyed performing research over a single virtual session, instead of the usual two summer sessions.

 As in years past, Mount professors from across disciplines acted as mentors to the students as they explored a plethora of subjects. This season, students and faculty created nearly two dozen research projects. The effort was coordinated by Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology.

SURE projects included “Annotation of Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Genomes” by Eleanora Robinson of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Sabina Zarod of Poughquag, N.Y. with mentors Merkhofer and Suparna Bhalla, associate professor of Biology; “Best Practices for Hybrid Teaching During the COVID-19 Spring Semester and Implementations It Gives Flipped Teaching” by Serena Lucarelli of Watertown, Conn. with mentor Jodie Fahey, associate professor of Chemistry; and “Knight Lights: Paving the Way for Newburgh Community Literacy Experiences” by Leila Saleh of Ansonia, Conn. and Toriana Tabasco of Hillsdale, N.J. with mentors Janine Bixler, professor of Education, and Rebecca Norman, associate professor of Education. 

The keynote speaker for the symposium was Christina Mistretta ’19, a science teacher and assistant campus minister at St. Joseph Hill Academy in Staten Island, N.Y. Mistretta was a Human Services major at the Mount with minors in Biology, Chemistry, and Religious Studies. 

While a student at the college, Mistretta participated in SURE three times, researching the effects of a poverty simulation experience on educators, teaching organic chemistry, and isolating bacteriophages. She noted that she has been able to implement all three of those experiences into her current role. 

“Research is extremely interdisciplinary,” she said. “It is not just for science majors or those getting a PhD. It is for everyone. There is always a question to ask and something to discover in any field that you enter.” 

When it comes to research, Mistretta said that it taught her an unusual but valuable lesson: how to fail, and fail well. She explained that she has a special quote on the bulletin board in her classroom: “Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.” 

“That is the greatest thing about failure – you get to learn,” Mistretta explained. “Failure allows you to troubleshoot and think outside the box. Failure gives you critical thinking skills that you wouldn’t get from instant success.”

As an educator, not fearing failure has allowed her to evaluate what worked and didn’t work in her lesson plans for the day. She can “fail well,” she said, because she learns from the experience and gets back in the classroom the next day with a new approach.

She encouraged her fellow researchers to do the same: “In your future career, do not become stagnant. Allow yourself to fail, evaluate, learn, and repeat.” 

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