Undergraduate Summer Research

The following undergraduate research opportunities were available for Dordt students for the summer of 2020.


Mentor: Manuela Ayee– Engineering

Bioactive omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of death in patients with cardiovascular disease, however, the mechanism of action of this effect remains unclear. It has been postulated that omega-3 fatty acids modify cellular membrane structure and function by incorporation into the membrane. These changes in membrane function may contribute to alterations in cell signaling and membrane protein function. Building on recent results obtained using the Dordt University GPU computing cluster, researchers will continue to interrogate the molecular interactions between fatty acids and other membrane components, thus elucidating the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on membrane structure and function. Researchers will create, run and analyze the results of molecular dynamics simulations that model the interactions between various types of fatty acids and multicomponent cellular membranes. Through this project, researchers will gain the ability to work on complex model systems and extract results from large data sets as well as develop analytical skills and improve attention to detail, while gaining proficiency using coding techniques in various programs.


The mercy seat: Forgotten Resources for Substitutionary Atonement?

Mentors: Justin Bailey & David Westfall - Theology

This research project will explore the intersection of art and theology, specifically whether artistic depictions of the Cross offer a visual theology that safeguards the work of the whole Trinity in the atonement. Substitutionary models of atonement, especially penal substitution (the idea that Jesus bears God's wrath in our place), have often been caricatured as "divine child abuse." Our hope is to find resources in the history of theology and liturgical art to avoid this caricature, and to publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal that makes these resources plain. Our desire is that student research would also lead to a paper presentation at a regional theology conference. This project involves theological research (lots of reading), some writing, and working sessions with faculty mentors.

Surveying healthcare providers about mental health in the northwest Iowa AGRICULTURE sector

Mentors: Bruce Vermeer, Kristin Van De Griend, and Angela Kroeze Visser – Psychology

Rural Northwest Iowa has maintained a strong economy while other rural areas have experienced a decline. For example, in the U.S. economic downturn of 2008, Northwest Iowa maintained low unemployment. However, the economic status of Northwest Iowa depends heavily on the farm economy, and the Iowa Leading Indicators Index points to slowing profits for key crops. Prior economic downturns in rural areas (such as in the 1980s) led to significant impacts on the mental health status of those involved in agriculture and an increase in suicide. There is an opportunity in the current economic climate to examine the mental health trajectories of rural Northwest Iowa communities involved in agriculture during an economic downturn to better understand their mental health and access to mental healthcare. Based on findings from our Summer 2019 undergraduate qualitative research project, we will explore facilitators and gaps in mental healthcare for agriculture workers. We will survey regional primary care and mental healthcare providers regarding mental health services for patients in the agriculture sector. Surveys will be administered and analyzed weekly to assess provider mental health referral patterns and de-identified patient compliance and outcomes.

further iNTERACTIONS BETWEEN ALGEBRA, number theory, and graph theory

Mentor: Mike Janssen – Mathematics/Statistics

In this project, we will build on previous work regarding the interplay between algebraic structures, properties of integers, and graph theory. In the first two weeks, the student will get up to speed on two to three open problems, and then select one or two problems to explore. Students who will be taking Math 212 (Discrete Structures) or Math 207 (Number Theory) in Spring 2020 are especially encouraged to apply.

Creation textbook research

Mentor: Rebekah Earnshaw – Theology

This project is the initial research phase for a textbook on the doctrine of creation. I have a book contract with Lexham Press, due 2023, for a textbook on the doctrine of creation. The series explores biblical teaching, reformed confessions, and contemporary issues for a range of doctrines. It is comparable to IVP’s Contours of Christian Theology series. Lexham is the print arm associated with Logos Bible Software, so that the work will have both print and digital platforms.

Developing a dordt university poverty action lab

Mentor: Jan van Vliet – Economics

This project involves conducting a detailed study of the background, the work, the reach, and the success of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston to determine the feasibility of either establishing such a poverty alleviation program at Dordt University or to be associated with JPAL as an affiliate. The methodology involved in this determination will be to report research findings through a series of papers, each introduced by a Briefing Note (rubric will be provided) or an Executive Summary in key categories relevant to the entire JPAL organization at MIT and throughout the world. The study will investigate JPAL in the following categories: origins, philosophy, work, funding, its greatest challenges, successes and failures, and JPAL affiliates world-wide. More detail is available once the candidate has been selected. The concluding section of the report will involve recommendations regarding creation of a Poverty Action Lab at Dordt University, including anticipated problems or difficulties foreseen and the relationship of such a lab to Dordt University’s foundational documents, particularly the four coordinates.

Simulation of seismic ground motions on precast concrete bridge structures and providing structural expertise to local manufacturing operations

Mentor: Justin Vander Werff – Engineering

This undergraduate research experience will likely include two distinct types of engineering work. First, you will engage in scholarly research work related to the seismic performance of bridge systems designed for accelerated bridge construction. This work will include time-history analyses using the computer software framework OpenSees, an open-source earthquake simulation tool developed at the University of California, Berkeley. These analyses will incorporate data from actual earthquake events to investigate bridge system performance and to develop analytical models that fit measured experimental data that has already been collected. Second, you will likely have the opportunity to work with one or more local industrial partners in the structural analysis of their components or designs. In this work, you will help to improve the structural performance of concepts or designs and/or develop analytical tools that improve the understanding of how existing designs perform structurally.

Latino perspectives on Family engagement with local schools

Mentor: Mary Beth Pollema – Education

This research project involves conducting 30 interviews with Latino families in Sioux Center, in order to gain insight on their perspectives on what being involved in their children’s education entails and any unknown barriers that might be inhibiting them from engaging as they would like. This is an ethnographic study utilizing an intensive interview methodology. Also, all data will be transcribed, translated from Spanish to English, and coded.


Mentors: Nathan Tintle and Jason Westra

View more information on this project.