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Students, Faculty Collaborating on High-Impact Research Through Sit Lux Program

January 21, 2022

ALLIANCE, Ohio — In its first year, the Sit Lux Initiative for Interdisciplinary Innovation Projects (Sit Lux) at the University of Mount Union funded three impactful interdisciplinary research projects that offered the chance for students and faculty to work together on a unique topic of interest during the summer of 2021.

Each project was centered on Mount Union’s core values of service and student learning. All submissions stemmed from, “a community need, a novel curriculum, or a wicked problem” and each group collaborated with a community partner.

The three projects chosen were: “Integrating Coding in the High School Math and Science Classroom,”  “Honoring First Nations: A Study in Land Acknowledgement at the University of Mount Union” and “Understanding motivations for participating in school sports in Alliance City Schools.” 

The Integrating Coding project was led by Dr. Richelle Teeling-Smith, assistant professor of physics at Mount Union. The group partnered with nonprofit STEMcoding Education Ohio (SEO) to develop a new, interdisciplinary coding curriculum and resources for the middle and high school classroom, to serve and train local middle and high school teachers and to expand that impact both statewide and nationwide.

Alongside Teeling-Smith, the group consisted of several students and faculty from Mount Union’s programs in biology, biomedical engineering, computer science and mathematics. The outcomes of the project featured several different coding activities for students and teachers to utilize, including: “Data Science: Earth Day,” “Probabilities in the Game of Risk,” “That was totally Random!” “Object Tracker” and “DNA Structure and Replication and Mutation.” 

The Integrating Coding group presented or will present its findings at eight different conferences or scholarly meetings throughout 2021-2022. Additionally, the “Data Science: Earth Day” project was selected by the Hour of Code project to be available as a resource to students and teachers across the world. 

Led by Drs. Niki Johnson, professor of religious studies, and Kelly Stout, assistant professor of criminal justice, Honoring First Nations stemmed from the mid-year reporting from Mount Union’s Anti-Racism Task Force. Student participants researched indigenous history of local areas, considered questions about the founding of the University on lands previously occupied by indigenous peoples and explored models for related efforts at Canadian and U.S. institutions.

The group’s initial findings indicated what they define as an “incredibly complicated” indigenous history of the land that is now Mount Union and are working on developing a presentation and display that will educate the campus community on the research. The University’s Peace Building Society will also continue work on an outline for Land Acknowledgement. 

An important study for the Alliance community of which Mount Union is a part was the Alliance City Schools project, led by Drs. Gwen Gray Schwartz, professor of English, Lori Kumler, associate professor of political science and international studies, and Beth Canfield-Simbro, associate professor of education. The project was, “inspired by a group of Alliance parents who formed last winter to discuss how to improve girls’ sports programs in Alliance.” and featured collaboration from five students working with the faculty.

The students designed, collected and analyzed 300 surveys and conducted 26 in-person interviews of Alliance high school students, coaches, teachers, staff and administrators. The group presented preliminary results to school officials in July and will continue to work with the district to analyze data as the project continues. As a result, a mayor’s committee met in the fall to discuss bolstering youth sports opportunities within the community. 

“The Sit Lux initiative is the perfect example of the mission-driven, interdisciplinary work that is the hallmark of a Mount Union education,” said Mount Union President Tom Botzman, Ph.D. “The high-impact research experiences afforded to the participating faculty and students are beneficial to both those involved and our community. I appreciate their exceptional work on these important projects.” 

The Sit Lux initiative seeks to seed ideas that can lead to tangible outcomes, such as a new course, interdisciplinary curriculum or a sustainable program for student engagement with a community partner, as the three projects illustrate.