Undergraduate Summer Research

The following undergraduate research opportunities were available for Dordt students for the summer of 2017.

Developing Multiple Topical Study Materials to Help Young Adult Christians Integrate Science and Faith

Mentor: Robbin Eppinga, Biology

There is a real need for learning materials that help young Christian adults integrate concepts of science and faith. 78% of young adults that leave the faith say that they perceive a conflict between science and faith and that this conflict played a role in them rejecting Christianity. Recently, we received a grant to develop study guide curricula aimed to help Christian young adults challenging questions at the nexus of science and faith. We will be able to bring in many curricula from faculty at Christian colleges, parachurch and church organizations. These curricula need to be edited. The resources that are used in each curriculum must be checked for copyright usages. The materials need to be set to an easy-use format with clarity and consistency. 


Understanding Volleyball Shoulder Pain Using Biomechanical and Survey Techniques

Mentor: Kayt Frisch, Engineering

In a recent regional survey of female high school volleyball players, 40% of respondents reported that they had experienced shoulder pain not due to a traumatic injury. The survey found correlations between pain and self-reported ball contact volume, which is consistent with baseball which has a well-established correlation between throwing volume (usually tracked via pitch count) and arm pain.

Our research group is exploring possible connections between shoulder pain, high swing counts, and the biomechanics of hitting and serving a volleyball for middle school, high school and college female volleyball players. We hope to eventually establish connections between shoulder overuse injuries, training volume and training techniques and use that knowledge to create best practices for injury prevention.

This summer’s work on this project will have two foci – one on creating a more detailed pain survey that will be administered longitudinally during the fall of 2017 and one on creating baseline biomechanical measures of hitting and serving a volleyball.


Simulating Decision-making in Hurricane Katrina 

Mentor: Donald Roth, Interdisciplinary

Have you taken a History course where you’ve taken part in a “Reacting to the Past” exercise?  My goal is to develop something similar to this revolving around the planning and response phase of the run-up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The student researcher will help me in this by first researching the event deeply, then helping me identify key roles which students should fill and searching for primary documents which can be used to help students in the simulation understand their roles and the events that are taking place. 

Once a sufficient body of documents have been assembled and edited, we will work together toward gamifying components of the simulation in order to allow for participants to experience some of the uncertainty and other dynamics involved in decision-making during a time of crisis. 


Metaphor and Discipleship

Mentor: Donald Roth, Interdisciplinary

This project will further my research into the way that our imaginations link our heads and hearts together.  Specifically, the student researcher will have the option of exploring further lines of research identified during the summer of 2016, including: the role of imagination in the functional self, exploring the various ways we imagine both the kingdom of God and our roles as disciples, investigating the insights of J.I. Packer’s concept of antinomy as it might inform a sort of taxonomy of discipleship, and other ideas.  



Ukrainian Mental Health in the Post-Soviet Era 

Dr. Mark Christians Dr. Luralyn Helming Dr. Mark McCarthy 






Mentors, from left to right:

Mark Christians, Psychology
Luralyn Helming, Psychology
Mark McCarthy, History
Nathan Tintle, Statistics (right)

This international Research Experience for Undergrads is funded by the National Science Foundation.  Students will participate in a cutting-edge research experience in the current health of the developing country of Ukraine. Students will travel for 2 weeks to Ukraine with a faculty mentor. They will then spend 8 weeks on Dordt’s campus where they will be in multidisciplinary groups to develop research questions, carry out literature reviews and iterative data analysis, and disseminate research findings under the mentorship faculty. 


Connecting Algebra and Discrete Mathematics via Edge Ideals

Dr. Mike JanssenMentor: Mike Janssen, Mathematics

The mathematical notion of a graph uses vertices and edges to model pairwise relationships between objects, such as people in a social network or pages on the web. Graphs also have many interesting intrinsic combinatorial properties of their own, and graph theory is an extremely active area of modern mathematical research.  It is also possible to understand graphs from the point of view of abstract algebra by defining an ideal in a polynomial ring which describes the connections present in the graph. We are then able to glean combinatorial properties of the graph via algebraic properties of the ideal, and vice versa.

Our first task will be getting up to speed on the relevant concepts from algebra and graph theory. We will then work on a decade-old conjecture about certain ideals related to odd cycles. We will use open source software to gather data to support or refute the conjecture. Given time, we can take the project in any one of several directions, depending on the interests of the student and mentor.


Editorial Assistance for a Scholarly Monograph in New Testament Studies

Dr. Benjamin LappengaMentor: Ben Lappenga, Theology

In the summer of 2017, Dr. Lappenga will be in the final stages of a co-authored monograph on the topic of “The Faithfulness of the Risen Christ” in the letters of Paul. At this stage, a number of important editorial tasks will be needed, specifically the compilation of bibliographical lists, creating useful indexes, and assisting the authors in formatting and style edits. 




Biostatistics/Statistical Genetics

Mentor: Nathan Tintle, Statistics

Click here for an external link to this project.





Exploring the Expression of Key Genes Affecting the Agronomy, Physiology, and Ecology of Intermediate Wheatgrass

Dr. Jeff PloegstraMentor: Jeff Ploegstra, Environmental Studies

For the past 5 years, Dordt College has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Land Institute investigating and developing Intermediate Wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) as a perennial grain crop. In preparation for the request for federal grant funds, two summer research students will help design and implement several pilot research projects related to the agronomy, pathophysiology, and gene regulation of Intermediate Wheatgrass. Sample projects will be related to questions of gene expression during infection and herbivory, productivity under various nutrient regimes and seeding densities, changes in soil quality and soil microbiome with a perennial grain crop.



Spanish Language Translator for Special Education Resource Materials

Mentor: Kathleen VanTol, Education

Responding to the need to develop special education programming in other countries is not simply a matter of translating a description of the US system into another language. Any program that is going to be effective needs to take into account cultural norms and expectations. As an extension of prior work, I am creating materials for use in implementation of special education in Latin American countries and am looking for a student who can assist with translating these materials into Spanish.  



In Search of Additional Neurobehavioral Measures for Executive Function Tests

Dr. Bruce VermeerMentor: Bruce Vermeer, Psychology

Current neuropsychological tests of executive function render reasonable data regarding an individual’s cognitive functioning. However, because of their design, resulting data from them is limited in scope. This summer we are using motion-capture technology in an attempt to identify additional neurobehavioral measures that might be drawn from one such test.