Dordt holds summer undergraduate research on campus

“Each year, faculty members propose projects that are appropriately scoped for an undergraduate research student with faculty mentorship,” says Dr. Angela Kroeze Visser, director of the Kielstra Center.

This summer, Dordt University will once again host undergraduate research opportunities. These research endeavors are sponsored by the Kielstra Center for Research and Grants, which enables students to work with faculty mentors as they conduct research and report on their work.

“Each year, faculty members propose projects that are appropriately scoped for an undergraduate research student with faculty mentorship,” says Dr. Angela Kroeze Visser, director of the Kielstra Center.

Engaging in the process of mentored research has many benefits for undergraduate students that range from practice of specific skills like writing, data collection, analysis, or lab techniques to piquing their interest in a topic and spurring them to think more deeply about an area of interest, adds Kroeze Visser.

“At its best, undergraduate research develops students who are excited about learning, can think deeply, and persevere when the process of scholarship is challenging – students who are well prepared for graduate school or other professional opportunities.”

Here is a look at the research taking place at Dordt University this summer:

Microfinance in Liberia

Mentor: Dr. Jesse Veenstra; Business, Accounting, and Economics

Research Student: Josiah Wittenberg

The Kendei Empowerment Foundation is a Christian microfinance organization that provides loans and grants to individuals and groups in Liberia. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of the Foundation's program on loan and grant recipients and to examine the influence of pastoral involvement on the success of the program. The student researcher will assist in data analysis, assessing the research question, and assessing the study's findings. This study will provide valuable insights into the impact of the Kendei Empowerment Foundation program on loan and grant recipients in Liberia.

The Insects of Northwest Iowa: Illuminating Hidden Worlds in Natural and Agricultural Landscapes

Mentor: Dr. Jeremy Hummel, Agriculture

Research Students: Beatrice Shackelford and Levi Landman

This project will investigate two aspects of insect ecology in Sioux County, Iowa. The two parts of the project will occur concurrently. The first part of the project is a study of the host plants of a recent soybean pest, the soybean gall midge (SGM). Recent evidence shows that this pest can attack more crop species than just soybean, but the full range of SGM host plants is unknown. Previous summer research at Dordt identified white lupine as a host plant, and we will particularly focus on other domesticated and wild lupines as potential host plant species. This part of the project will involve field data and SGM specimen collections, lab rearing of SGM, and potential DNA extraction and preparation for sequencing of SGM samples.

The second part of the project is a continuation of previous insect survey work at Oak Grove Park in Sioux County. The focus is on ground-dwelling predatory beetles, but assessments of pollinators or other important functional insect groups will also be made. This part of the project will involve field data and sample collection and laboratory identification. We will also continue developing insect outreach materials for the Prairie Woods Nature Center at Oak Grove Park.

Connecting Beauty, Complexity, and Diversity in an Ecological Game

Mentor: Dr. Jeff Ploegstra and Brittany De Ruyter, Biology; Brad Hickey, Gaming

Research Students: Emma Nydam and Kaeley Meyer

Our goal is to develop a game based on the prairie ecosystem and plant diversity that will establish a foundation for understanding and valuing diversity in ecological settings. Our intent is additionally that this foundation, developed in an unthreatening context, can translate into fraught contexts and conversations around diversity in society. By placing a heavy emphasis on the aesthetic aspects of the game, we also hope to reinforce that diversity is not just functionally good. It is also tied up with beauty. It is something that we should value and enjoy.

Studying the Role of Memo1 in Zebrafish Development

Mentor: Dr. Tony Jelsma, Biology

Research Students: Jordyn Woodruff and Molly Stiemsma

This project will build upon previous research done at the University of Iowa in the summer of 2022. Memo1 is a protein that functions in cell motility in a variety of contexts, including embryonic development and cancer. Mutation of the memo1 gene in mice results in abnormal facial development and neonatal death. We studied the function of Memo1 in zebrafish, which is an excellent model system to study development. Surprisingly, mutation of the memo1 gene in zebrafish resulted in apparently normal embryonic development but the animals died at about 2 weeks. Student researchers will follow up on this research to investigate a) the role of maternal Memo1 in supporting early development and b) what changes occur at 2 weeks to cause the fish to die. In this project you will learn techniques like zebrafish husbandry and breeding, embryo microinjections, molecular genetic analysis, recombinant DNA technology, and various histological techniques.

Exploring Discrete Mathematics

Mentors: Dr. Mike Janssen, Dr. Marissa Chesser, and Dr. Nate Benjamin; Mathematics and Statistics

Research Students: Elisa Benthem and Cooper Burkel

In this project, we'll explore questions in discrete mathematics. Possibilities include developing strategies for games on graphs, building connections between algebraic and discrete structures, and others as suggested by the students and/or faculty mentors. Students will have the opportunity to be the primary driver of progress on their chosen topics and will share their results in multiple venues throughout the summer and fall.

Molecular Simulations of Protein Interactions

Mentor: Dr. Manuela Ayee-Leong, Engineering

Research Students: Mia Toomey and Diego Santiago

As part of a multi-institutional project aimed at positioning Iowa as a leader in advanced biomanufacturing, student researchers will assist Engineering faculty with modeling proteins for diagnostics and therapeutics. Other tasks to support the Engineering department and faculty will be assigned as needed, including small projects and administrative tasks. A variety of computational techniques such as molecular dynamics simulations, protein docking, and statistical data analysis will be used.

Constraining QCD Parameters Through the Optimization of Chebychev Systems and the Application of the Hoelder Inequality

Mentor: Dr. Jason Ho, Physics

Research Student: Brody Driesen

Calculating the physical properties of many particles (such as the mass, decay rate, or magnetic moment) requires a precise understanding of how particles interact. When precise values are unavailable, we can turn to mathematical properties to determine bounds on these properties. Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) is the theory of strong interaction within the Standard Model of particle physics, describing the interactions of particles that make up most of the visible matter that we interact with daily. Quarks and gluons are the subatomic particles that interact through the strong interaction. In this project, we will explore a long-standing tension in the Standard Model of particle physics--- the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon and tau leptons. The muon and tau leptons are larger, more exotic siblings to the electron we know and love. We will look at how QCD contributes to magnetic moment of these particles and explore two different mathematical techniques to narrow in on the true value of the anomalous magnetic moment of these particles.

About Dordt University

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Located in Sioux Center, Iowa, Dordt is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education,, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers