Campus / News / January 16, 2019

Seniors prep for future with research




Jenn Erl


Senior Jenn Erl knew she wanted to do an honors project that helped the people who contributed to it. She drew on her experiences in classes and extracurriculars to design a project looking at the system for interpretation and translation in Galesburg schools.

“A lot of what I’ve been doing also throughout my time conducting the project is asking the participants how they feel I could be helpful and what kind of information would be helpful to them,” she said.

Besides the desire to help, Erl was also inspired by an interpreting course in Spanish she took her freshman year and an interpreting internship this summer for a legal aid website.

Erl has been working with the Galesburg school system and said she strongly appreciates the help teachers and administrators have provided. Teachers have also helped her by giving her handouts, so she can see how translation currently works in the system.

“Everyone who I’ve interviewed within the school district has been incredibly giving of their time and incredibly kind and have invested a lot of personal time in the project, which I deeply appreciate,” she said.

Right now, Erl is getting ready to interview the families that need interpreting and translation services, who are often immigrants from diverse cultural backgrounds. Galesburg schools need French translation the most, according to Erl.

The need for French presents a bit of a problem for Erl, because her Modern Languages track has focused on Spanish and German. So, she said she might need interpreters herself. Still, she says she finds herself lucky to be able to do the research.

“I feel really lucky I’ve been able to do it,” Erl said. “I have learned a lot about the people who need interpreters, what it’s like to go through that process and to arrive in a situation where you realize you need an interpreter,” Erl said.


Julieta Cervantes

Senior Environmental Studies and International Studies double major Julieta Cervantes took what she learned from her experience of studying abroad in Mongolia as inspiration for her senior research which she will be completing in the spring.

While abroad, Cervantes interned for an organic skincare company called Lhamour, which she says is big in Mongolia. Cervantes grew interested in the ways economics play a role in the environment.

Cervantes said that Lhamour, along with many other organic companies, are sourced from nomadic herder families. She is investigating whether or not Lhamour follows through with their claim that this process benefits those families.

“Lhamour puts on this face of ‘we’ll diversify their income and make their lives better,’ which is what a lot of organic products kind of do,” she said. “So I’m looking to see if there’s any actual data to support that, like if their incomes are diversified or increased, if they’re able to more easily send their children to school.”

She is finding it difficult to communicate between here and Mongolia and wishes she had thought of this project while she was still there. Cervantes is making it work, however, by asking her study abroad academic advisor to reach out to herder families in Mongolia and get data from them. She thinks that this would be more accurate than merely taking income data into account.

Her project will help her complete both her Environmental Studies and International Studies majors, though she will have to make two separate presentations taking slightly different perspectives. The overall aim of her research is to investigate whether or not organic companies follow through with their claims.

“I just hope to show that there’s a way for companies to do what they say that they do and to have data to back that up,” she said.



Joe Hilger

Senior Joe Hilger is working on an Honors Project that expands on research completed by Professor of Chemistry Andy Mehl, who has been working on a hydrogel project for around 15 years.

“He started working with a protein, and then looking at its different properties he kind of realized if he engineered it in different ways he forms a hydrogel,” he said.

The protein, which Hilger says comes from E. Coli, can have practical benefits. The hydrogel project can have medical applications due to its tendency to swell. It can aid in the treatment of bad burns or cuts as well as aid in the administration of various medications.

Hilger’s project involves using a Scanning Electrical Microscope (SEM) to view the protein and to understand how it forms the polymers. As the SEM is new to Knox, much of Hilger’s efforts have been figuring out its workings. Hilger spent the last term learning how to use the SEM. This week, he has been performing microsopsy, spending three to four hours in the lab every day.

“It’s been very experimental in terms of methods and figuring out what to do and kind of trying to get the best images,” he said.

Hilger is working on the project independently with guidance from Mehl, with other students working on projects expanding on different branches of Mehl’s project. He said that past students have been helping build the project over the years to what it is now.

Hilger will present his findings in front of his Honors committee near the end of Spring Term. He says that this experience is meant to prepare students for graduate school, during which students must present and defend their dissertations.

“So the idea is to prep you for that, putting your research in front of people and getting grilled and getting questioned,” he said.

Sam Jacobson, Co-News Editor
Sam Jacobson is a junior majoring in philosophy and potentially minoring in creative writing or psychology. She started volunteer writing during spring term of her freshman year, and worked as a staff writer during her sophomore year.
Connor Wood, Editor-in-Chief
Connor Wood is a senior with a double major in English Literature and Environmental Studies. He started as a volunteer writer and then staff writer his freshman year and was a news editor his sophomore and junior years. He has also worked as a communications intern for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and as an intern with Unified News Group, both in the Madison, WI, suburbs.

Tags:  biochemistry education environmental studies graduate school honors senior research

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