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  August 27, 2001

Summer a Time of Exploration
for Undergraduate Researchers

It's a hot August morning as Callie Megargle sets out in a 17-foot skiff to do her field work on the Pawcatuck River. A light breeze offers her and two fellow students some relief from the heat.

Yesterday she took water and sea grass samples from the Niantic River. Tomorrow it will be Rhode Island's Ninigret Pond. Megargle reaches over the side of the boat and dips a pail into the water.

"Besides having a lot of fun, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to explore the type of work my field will require," says the junior, who is majoring in coastal studies.

Megargle is one of 32 students who continued their studies during the summer break through UConn's Summer Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program.

The program, administered through the Honors Program, makes funds available to full-time undergraduates who have arranged a research project with a full-time UConn faculty member. Students do not have to be in the Honors Program to receive funding.

Megargle worked with James Kremer, a professor of marine science, who studies the effect of changing land use in the coastal zone on water quality in bays and estuaries.

Kremer says this is the perfect project for a coastal studies major. "Callie's individual research is part of a larger project which has real implications in society," he says. "It's extremely useful for her to see how the work gets done in the field, which eventually will affect policy and help people make better decisions."

Megargle spent three days a week in the field collecting samples and two days in the lab testing them. "It's one thing to learn about this in the classroom," she says, "but it helps to actually get the samples and analyze them in the lab. I feel I will have an upper hand when I attend my classes this fall."

Rebecca Eleck spent three weeks this summer doing research in a different environment. The junior, majoring in physiology and neurobiology and health and poverty studies, did research on health care providers in Appalachia. She will be working with Kathryn Ratcliff, an assistant professor of sociology.

"I am really interested in helping people who need help," says Eleck, who plans to become a physician. She visited three counties in eastern Kentucky, interviewing and shadowing doctors and nurses who provide health care for mountain residents, to find out how these professionals got their start in Appalachia, what attracted them to the region, what programs they initiated, and what vision they have for the future of health care there.

She spent a week at each of three clinics: the Paint Lick Clinic run by John Belanger, a doctor who treats patients who have no health insurance; the Lend-A-Hand Center, directed by a nurse-midwif e; and the Mud Creek Clinic, where Eleck was struck by the unexpected: a natural disaster.

"The Mud Creek Clinic was hit by disastrous flooding," Eleck says. "I got there a day after and was part of the clean-up crew. There were trucks coming in from everywhere with supplies. Homes were destroyed. People were sleeping in trailers that floated down the creek for miles," she says, adding that many people needed tetanus shots, but the clinic was left with two inches of mud.

Eleck says she was touched by people's spirit. "It was amazing how the community came together to help," she says. "The first thing the clinic had to do was clean up itself. Not only did doctors, nurses and other clinic employees come to help, people from the community did also."

She says she has come out of the experience "knowing someday I'd like to have a clinic like Dr. Belanger's. He does what he does without having to worry about insurance. Someday I'd like to do that.

"After medical school, I'm seriously considering going back to a clinic, because it's not just a professional place - it's a community."

Corinne Castro's fascination with the different ways that men and women move their bodies - men tend to dominate their space, while women tend to restrict and contract their space - took her to several recreational settings to observe gender patterns of movement within various age groups. She did extensive observations at daycare and camp settings in Trumbull, Conn.

"I decided to explore this topic because I am fascinated by the fact that men and women move so differently," says Castro, a senior majoring in sociology. "I was curious about when exactly do we 'learn' these specific movements. I recalled several instances when I was told how to sit properly and I began to wonder if this was also true for males."

Castro studied how men's and women's movements varied by age group, what messages men and women receive about appropriate or inappropriate body movement and placement, and if there are situations that exaggerate or reduce gender differences in patterns of movement.

"I looked at everyday behaviors that reinforce inequality between men and women and provide us with greater insight so that we may gain full equality," she says.

Castro worked with Anita Garey, a sociologist who is an assistant professor of family studies.

"I value the opportunity to have a working relationship with an undergraduate. For me, there's the benefit of mentoring someone in their first serious research project," Garey says. "There's such excitement. It's very rewarding to help with that."

Sherry Fisher

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