Undergraduate research a vital part of Trevecca experience despite COVID-19

Popular media has a history of portraying the college years as a period of coming of age, diving into self-exploration and pursuing different avenues of personal growth. 

The years spent on a college campus are also often years of increased independence and, of course, thoughtful study. The coursework a student engages in during their time in college is often the foundation of the knowledge needed to enter a particular career. 

At Trevecca, priority is given to both providing opportunities for growth and discussion as well as spaces for students to become entry-level experts in their fields. 

An additional piece of the growth and learning Trevecca hopes to facilitate involves engaging in research, said Dr. Sam Green, director of undergraduate research and director of the Center of Worship. 

“It’s one thing to assign projects in class, but it’s another thing to provide this open space where the students can implement new ideas, explore different paths and discover things they had never considered before,” he said. 

Data shows that undergraduate research allows students to mature as both thinkers and doers—and that engaging more deeply with coursework and learning to ask the right questions can benefit them in the long run. 

Undergraduate research plays a critical role in every student’s learning at Trevecca. Students participate in various research opportunities in the classroom, and every student on campus has the opportunity to sign up for Faculty-Led Academic Research Experiences (FLARE). 

Green said for some students, undergraduate research can change a student’s entire trajectory. And that is exactly what happened in Katelyn Alderidge’s case. 

Alderidge, a senior history major, is a Nashville native and came to Trevecca with the intention of pursuing a career in high school education once she graduated. After her research on the Black Panther Party movement of the 1970s, however, she said higher education stole her heart. Engaging in discussion at a deeper level and conducting research into the history she had been enamored with for most of her life sealed the deal.

Alderidge said her initial research was inspired by a book by a political activist and journalist. From there, Alderidge shifted the focus of her research to the role of women in the party’s health care programs. She said she was unsurprised to find that women were essential in the party’s day-to-day operations and long-term survival. 

“I liked research before this project, but having an individualized experience made me love the process itself — tracking down hard-to-find sources, finally connecting the loose threads. This research has challenged me more than any other project and showed me that finding one source can change everything,” she said. “The research process itself has pushed me to be more open to accepting criticism, making changes, and asking questions, and the tools I've gained from my research and history courses have helped me grow as a writer and a researcher.” 

Alderidge is one of seven students who were invited to present their research findings at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Due to COVID-19, the conference was canceled, but Trevecca’s annual research symposium will serve as a platform for these student researchers to present their work. 

The symposium, an annual April event, looked a little different this year. Green shared student participants’ research and findings through an email sent to all Trevecca faculty and staff. The interactive email included links to student video presentations. View Alderidge’s presentation here

Green said an increased emphasis was placed on research as a result of the university’s re-accreditation.  

“When we had our reaffirmation for accrediting, we developed the quality enhancement plan (QEP). It was decided to focus on undergraduate research. Though we officially fulfilled the QEP as of last summer, the decision was made to make research a permanent part of Trevecca’s curriculum due to the success and an increase in student interest and engagement in multiple disciplines,” Green said. “For the last five years, we’ve had students attest to the benefits of the research opportunities. To us, that proved that these opportunities were very beneficial to students’ academic development and growth.”

Allie Fuller, a senior exercise science major, said she can attest to that. 

Fuller will graduate next month, and, in June, she will begin her training as a physical therapist. The skills she learned through research opportunities while at Trevecca will serve her well during the three-year program. 

“Because of this research, I have new lessons I can take with me into my work in the future. I hope to be the kind of physical therapist who leads guided by service throughout my career and to every patient and colleague, and this project is just one of many ways I’ve been able to learn how to do that at Trevecca,” she said. 

Green said for many students, the research they conduct as students has real-world connections both inside and outside of the work they will pursue once they graduate. 

“It gives students a chance to really invest themselves in areas that they’re passionate about and areas that they just want to learn more about. Research helps you gain knowledge and also practical application skills—you learn how to experiment and fail and start again,” Green said. “Researchers right this moment are trying to develop ways to combat COVID-19, to cure cancer, to improve the lives of people in both the smallest and largest of ways. When our students are able to see how big the world is and to see all the connections, they also see how they can be a part of that discovery process.”

Alderidge said after graduation, she hopes to continue to build upon what she has learned at Trevecca. Her next step is graduate school—a feat she never thought she would achieve. 

“Before I came to Trevecca, going to graduate school was never a thought; if I get into a program I'll be the first in my family to attend graduate school,” she said. “Without the support of my amazing advisors and the history department, I don’t know if I’d have the confidence to actually apply for anything beyond just my undergrad degree. This research has allowed me to think about what could be done in my field in the future, and my experience at Trevecca has shown me that I am capable of pushing myself much farther. I hope to gain admittance into a doctoral program and work as a history professor. TKTK.”

In addition to Alderidge, several other traditional undergraduate students participated in the Trevecca Student Research Symposium. 

Jacqueline Alvarez & Alejandra Alegria-Garcia
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Randy Carden
Negative and Neutral News: The Psychological Impact on Mood and Anxiety

Joe Cason
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Randy Carden
Procrastination and Social Anxiety

Alexandria Crumpton, Stephanie Hanson, & Kaitlyn Kleppinger
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Timothy Gaines
Marcella's Mentorship: The Charitable Shape of Education in Early Christian Monasticism

Laura Farley & Mariah Monk
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Kathy Mowry
A Woman's Place: Pulpit or Pew?

Zac Johnson
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Sam Stueckle
Nashville Snowmageddon

Daniel Magee
Faculty Sponsor: Professor Mary Schmitt
The Consumerism of the Flesh: An exegetical study of Galatians 5:13-36

Luis Ortiz
Faculty Sponsor: Professor Greg Runyan
Why Are College Students Not Getting A Stimulus Check?  

Rachel Spears & Leeanna Patterson
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Roy Philip
The Impact of the Coronavirus in Tourism in Belize: A Detailed Analysis of the Coronavirus Impact on Tony's Inn and Resorts, Corozal, Belize

Madison Swafford and Rachel Thompson
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Roy Philip
The Impact of the Coronavirus on Tourism in Belize: A Detailed Analysis of the Coronavirus Impact on Lamanai Eco Tours, Orange Walk, Belize

Bryant Underwood
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Sam Stueckle
Modeling Poetry and Music Using Graph Theory

Media contact: Mandy Crow, mmcrow@trevecca.edu, 615-248-1695