Summer 2015

Wesley Lacon, Silk Road, Agora, Dark Web, Business Information Systems, Undergraduate Research
Cover Story

Nine Questions of Undergraduate Research

From the dark web to poisonous spiders, undergraduates and their faculty mentors investigate big questions in a search for useful results.



ow compelling are questions?


A search for answers led Shannon Speir ’14 to sacrifice scant free time to pursue scholarly research as an undergraduate student. The cross-country athlete wanted to know if spiders could be conduits as mercury moves from water onto land.

Joselin Barajas ’16 wanted to understand how Mexican-American people deal with cancer-related pain. The results might help her father grapple with a life-threatening illness.

For undergraduates seeking answers through their own research, a TCU education has turned into a dynamic experience in curiosity.

“The process of science is something you have to do,” said Matt Chumchal, associate professor of biology and one of Speir’s research mentors.

“At TCU, we care about students. We are interested in students, and we actively mentor students,” said Linda Hughes, the Addy Levy professor of literature. “So no matter what kind of research [students] are interested in, they are going to get a lot of one-on-one help. It’s part of the campus culture.”

Across the university, professors devote time for the one-on-one guidance that undergraduate researchers require.

“It’s a team, with the faculty member providing the heavyweight background, and the student pushing the frontier,” said Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“We have curiosity. And research is directly related to curiosity. We are programmed to want to know.”
Provost Nowell Donovan

Undergraduate research has been a longtime component of the John V. Roach Honors College but has increased at other colleges and schools in recent years.

“For us, it’s an essential component of our college. Almost the core of our college mission is to engage our students in undergraduate research,” said Magnus Rittby, senior associate dean of the College of Science & Engineering. “We want to create something that’s unique and new and branches out in human endeavor, an expansion of human knowledge.”

Students who participate in research reap benefits. For example, for those seeking to further their education, undergraduate research “is going to give them an edge,” said Robin Melton, TCU’s director of the Ronald E. McNair post-baccalaureate achievement program.

“The university is allowing us to use [research] as a teaching tool, so we are really fortunate that TCU’s investment in us makes this possible,” said Chumchal. “For some [of the students], this will be a career-making experience.”

For other student investigators, the research experience might become the cornerstone of a lifelong quest for answers. “By nature we are alone among the species on the planet in that we’re inquisitive,” said Donovan. “We have curiosity. And research is directly related to curiosity. We are programmed to want to know.”


Read about these undergraduate researchers:



long-jawed orb weavers, Shannon Speir, Eagle Mountain Lake, TCU Research, Aquatic Ecology Lab

What are spiders telling us about mercury in the environment? Shannon Speir ’14 – Biology




Caitlin McAteer, transnational migration, TCU anthropology, undergraduate research

Why can’t we all just get along? Caitlin McAteer ’14 – Anthropology




Ashlyn Lisner, genetic testing, TCU pre-health, communications research

Who wants to know the future? Ashlyn Lisner ’15 – Biology / Communication




Wesley Lacon, Silk Road, Agora, Dark Web, Business Information Systems, Undergraduate Research

What can we learn from the Internet’s Dark Side? Wesley Lacson ’15 – Business Information Systems




Joselin Barajas, Nursing research, Mexican-American cancer, culturally specific health care, Harris College Nursing

How can we keep cancer patients’ cultural experiences from impeding their treatment? Joselin Barajas – Nursing




Bailey Betik, Transatlanticism, Petrarch, Fulbright Scholar, TCU English, undergraduate research

What lessons can a 14th century poet teach young people today? Bailey Betik ’15 – English




Lauren Getz, Tristan Tayag, Type 1 diabetes, bioartifical organ, engineering research, engineering undergraduate research

Could the treatment of diabetes be simplified? Lauren Getz – Engineering




Sharra Blair-Kucera, TCU Environmental Science, Rainbow Texas, water sustainability, Texas Panhandle

How sustainable is our water supply? Sharra Blair-Kucera – Environmental Science / Geology




Kevin Claunch, TCU microbiology, Shauna McGillivray, genetic undergraduate research, anthrax, staph infection research, Boller Award, John V. Roach Honors College

Does anthrax have a genetic weak spot? Kevin Claunch ’14 – Biology