Four CSB, SJU students show research at State Capitol

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January 21, 2019

CSB senior Abigail Borgmeier

CSB senior Abigail Borgmeier

Rachel Nelson

CSB senior Rachel Nelson

Michael McGill

SJU senior Michael McGill

Nathan Williams

SJU senior Nathan Williams

These days, going to a state capitol might have different meanings for different people.

But for four students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, it was a chance to show off their undergraduate research.

The four – CSB’s Abigail Borgmeier and Rachel Nelson and SJU’s Michael McGill and Nathan Williams – were part of the 2019 Minnesota Private College Scholars at the Capitol event Jan. 23 at the Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul. The four students were nominated by their faculty mentors and selected by the Undergraduate Research Program to represent CSB and SJU.

The annual event featured 30 research projects conducted by 43 students. They represented 16 private colleges in the state.

Borgmeier, a senior biology major from St. Peter, Minnesota, presented research on “The Effects of Cover Crops.” She wanted to investigate the effects of cover crops – grown after a farmer harvests their primary crop – on the growth and development of the following corn crop. Her adviser is Stephen Saupe, professor of biology at CSB/SJU.

“I have found that I love doing research and in particular presenting it,” Borgmeier said. “Poster presentations are my favorite way to communicate my research because you get to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who is genuinely interested in your work. This event gave me even more experience communicating my research to people who are outside of my field of study, which is crucial in science communication.”

Nelson, a senior integrative science major from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, presented research on “Measuring Physiological Changes to a Division III Collegiate Cross Country Season.” Her goal was to assess how physiological variables change over a competitive cross country season in Division III female athletes. Nelson is a four-year member of the CSB cross country team.

“I really enjoyed teaching others from outside my field of study about my research subject and engaging in conversation with a wide array of people,” said Nelson, whose adviser is Mary Stenson, associate professor of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at CSB and SJU. “It was a great experience getting to talk to people outside of my field of research and hear their feedback and interest in my project.”

McGill, a senior biology major from Mahtomedi, Minnesota, presented research on “Plant Genome Editing Using CRISPR/Cas9: Investigating the Role of TEN1 in the Maintenance and Protection of Telomeres in Arabidopsis Thaliana.” His study describes the creation of a CRSPR/Cas 9 construct to generate a TEN1 knockout in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.

“This was a good experience for me as it allowed me to grow more comfortable in sharing my research with the wider community,” McGill said. “Up until this point, much of my research has stayed between me and my research adviser (Katherine Leehy, visiting assistant professor of biology at CSB/SJU), so it was great to culminate all of my work into something to be shared at the Capitol.”

Williams, a senior economics major from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, presented research on “Factor Biases in the Lumber Milling Industry, 1850-70.” The aim of his research was to determine whether 19th century lumber milling technology had a bias toward using relatively more capital or labor over time. His adviser is Louis Johnston, professor of economics at CSB/SJU.

 “My experience at the Capitol was the first time presenting my research in a poster format,” said Williams, who added the event was the highlight of his career at SJU. “Having chosen to research a fairly complex topic, attempting to condense my work into something that could be quickly grasped was a genuine challenge. However, it caused me to focus on the fundamental points most important to my research, and helped me crystallize much of my conclusion.”

All four said CSB/SJU encouraged and supported their research.

“Since we are smaller and are not always driven by funding, we have more freedom to pursue our own interests and still utilize the faculty as mentors,” Nelson said.

“I think this speaks volumes about the research being conducted at CSB/SJU,” McGill said. “Many of the politicians and other civilians who stopped by were very impressed to see that research with CRISPR/Cas9 is being conducted at SJU.”

“From the formation of my research question to my conclusion, I was supported and encouraged by faculty,” Williams said. “They served as a perennial resource, and helped make my research experience both academically and personally fruitful.”

“When I was searching for colleges as a high school senior, the availability of research opportunities was very important to me,” Borgmeier said. “CSB/SJU helped me to find research opportunities at other universities through summer internships. And, professors in my major have been very helpful in encouraging me to search for and create opportunities to do research on our campus as well as elsewhere.”