Skip to main content
Belmont University logo

Biology Scholar Communities

The Summer Scholar Communities program blends the structure of a summer session class with the format of a research team focused on a faculty-designed research project. Students spend 16-18 hours per week for eight to ten weeks on a research project, working with several other students and faculty mentors. The Summer Scholars Program provides students and faculty the opportunity to conduct collaborative research for which the students receive course credit.

The Summer Scholar Communities Program differs from traditional undergraduate research in that students and faculty from various disciplines across the College of Sciences and Mathematics meet regularly over the course of the summer to share results, to learn from each other, to present their research findings and discuss challenges and commonalities. The students present their findings at a poster session at the beginning of the fall semester as well as at Belmont's Science Undergraduate Research Symposium (SURS) in the fall.

Since the summer of 2003, over forty research communities have been formed involving over one hundred students in the areas of Biology, English, Mathematics, Computer Science, History, Psychology and Sociology. Many of the communities continue year after year with the same faculty mentor but a new group of student participants.

Summer Scholars 2017

Flyer with information on the summer scholars poster session 2017
Summer Scholars Facilitate Research Across Campus
A student participates in the Summer Scholars session on campus.

Belmont’s Summer Scholars program, now it its 15th year, provides the opportunity for faculty to mentor groups of students throughout the summer as they conduct important research. Since it began, more than 60 research communities have formed among more than 200 students in English, mathematics, computer science, biology, history, psychology and sociology. This summer, 18 students and 4 faculty are participating in the programming.

This summer, a number of projects are underway. These include:

  • A group of undergraduate researchers who are modeling Parkinson’s disease and treating the Parkinson’s-like worms (C elegans) with novel reagents to determine their effectiveness for relieving symptoms, led by Professor of Biology Dr. Nick Ragsdale. The group hopes their work may inform new therapies.
  • Students who are growing cells that have been isolated from cancerous tumors to test potential treatments with the hopes of uncovering new chemotherapeutic agents. This team is led by Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Chris Barton.
  • Biology Department Chair and Associate Professor Dr. John Niedzwiecki’s team, a group of students who are characterizing predator-prey responses in local snail populations to explore differences in response of snail size, as well as native vs. non-native predators. This work seeks to understand stream health, an important ecological endeavor.
  • A final group of students who are working alongside Professor of Biology Dr. Lori McGrew and measuring the effects of treatments on anxiety levels in zebrafish. These studies will add to a growing body of knowledge about zebrafish which will increase their usefulness for modeling human disorders.

A student completes research during the Summer Scholars.

The importance of undergraduate research opportunities are immense for student success. “Evidence suggests that undergraduate research facilitates student learning both by increasing student interest/motivation, and fostering critical thinking skills through the application of the scientific method,” McGrew said. “Summer Scholars also develop a sense of community.  While their projects differ, the shared experience of conducting research that they planned with all its successes and failures, creates a strong bond among the student participants.”

This fall, participants will present their findings on campus during the Science Undergraduate Research Symposium and off-campus at regional or national meetings.

Summer Scholars 2016

biology scholars compare diverity of plantsscholars on the grren roof of a Belmont academic building
Dr. Darlene Panvini's research group
worked on two different projects.   
Sargoel Rezanejad and Kelsey Saint Clair used DNA Barcoding, Biolog Ecoplates, and pitfall traps to compare the diversity of plants, bacteria, and macroinvertebrates on one of the JAAC green roofs to the McWhorter green roof. Anna Anderson and Gary Noel set up a six month study to analyze the decomposition of native and non-native leaves under different environmental conditions. 

biology scholars exploring cancer cells 
biology scholars expose cells to chemotherapy

Dr. Chris Barton 
mentored a group of 4 students who explored the effects of multiple compounds on the growth of cervical and colorectal cancer cell lines. Our ability to identify, quantify and classify, genes that are specifically expressed is essential to our understanding of how cells respond to chemotherapy. Anna Margaret McDonnell, Kerry Sommers, Sarah Anderson, and Diana Neculcea exposed cell cultures to a variety of chemotherapy agents and then measured cell viability and examined the expression of specific genes including genes implicated in cancer.

biology scholars study zebrafish memoryDr. Lori McGrew led a group of students utilizing Danio rerio (zebrafish) as a model organism and focused on assessment of anxiety or memory in the fish.

Austin Demaagd, Stephane Morin and Sam Zacovic
measured anxiety in the fish following treatment with various pharmacologic agents. Curt Brown, John Longenecker and Mohamed Darwish used a T-maze to assess memory in zebrafish that had been exposed to different medications.

The Summer Scholars students will share their findings with the Belmont community during a poster session in the JAAC third floor atrium at 10:00 AM on September 3rd. Please come by to hear about their discoveries!

Summer Scholars 2015
summer biology scholars          summer biology scholars at work

The College of Sciences & Mathematics hosted a poster session for summer scholars and faculty members to showcase their summer research projects.

Dr. Chris Barton's research group -- Taeler Dahm, Robin Weyman, Eleyah Tanwar, Nelly Grigorian, Jeff King, Vian Pulous, Jasmine Mohn, and Morgan Turner -- explored the ways in which cells respond to environmental stresses.  Human cells are constantly exposed to multiple forms of stress.  Perhaps the most common stress encountered by our cells presents in the form of damage to our genetic material, DNA.  DNA damage can be caused by numerous stimuli such as exposure to ultraviolet light (UV), radiation, or oxidative stress.  Due to this, cells have a very large number of genes that are expressed specifically under conditions of cellular stress.  Our ability to identify, and classify, genes that are specifically expressed during times of cellular stress is essential to our understanding of how cells respond to these potentially-damaging DNA mutations. By exposing cell cultures to a variety of stresses and then examining the expression of specific genes including genes implicated in cancer.

Dr. Darlene Panvini’s research group -- Lindsay Millward, Katlin Stodard, Ayda Porkar Rezaeieh, Laura Horton, Sara Haney, and Walter Burn -- focused on two major studies: a study of the impact of restoration on water quality at Richland Creek and a study of the relative abundance of exotic invasive earthworms in a preservation area.  The Richland Creek restoration occurred this past year as trees were planted in the riparian zone by a nonprofit organization.  Two sites were chosen:  a site with relatively newly planted trees and a site with mature trees in the riparian zone.  This data will provide a baseline, foundation set of data of the restoration site for future studies as the trees mature.  Water quality was assessed by two measures.  First, a macroinvertebrate survey.   Second, water quality was determined by examining nine variables that are used to determine a Water Quality Index (Q) and compared among the two sites.  The nine variables are:  temperature, pH, nitrates, turbidity, presence of E. coli, total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demand, and phosphates.  The worm study team collected data on the distribution of worms and plants in different plots, removed the exotic species, and then re-sampled.  The initial data collection serves as a baseline data set to compare to future studies at this site. By sampling the occurrence of the exotic species and then removing them, I can bring students to this site in future years to determine the recolonization rates of plants – both exotic and native – at this site.

Dr. Lori McGrew's research group -- Lindsey Cheek, Lindsey Dennis, Samantha Gould, Tessa Shupe, Araceli Garland, Donald Hoyle, Brandy Sweet and Melissa Wolf -- worked with Danio rerio (zebrafish) as a model organism and focused on assessment of anxiety or memory in the fish.  Zebrafish are easily maintained and manipulated.  Zebrafish, as vertebrates, have additional complexity that is useful for behavioral models.  While these fish have long been used by developmental biologists, their utility for neuroscientists has only recently come to light.  Their social structure and conditioned behaviors are beginning to be characterized. Experiments that test memory in the fish are performed in a T-maze, captured on video, and analyzed to determine how often the zebrafish chose the correct side and how long they took to make their decision.  Our data suggest that fish treated with cannabinoids, tricyclic antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering medications in the statin family, all have impaired working memory.

Previous studies in our lab demonstrated that the antimicrobial agent, triclosan, had a negative effect on working memory in adult Danio rerio. Current studies examined the effect of triclosan on zebrafish embryos and larvae.  We found that chronic low doses of this antimicrobial agent resulted in slower growth and development in the fish.  Once the fish reached maturity, we compared their working memory to that of the control group.  A second group of zebrafish embryos was exposed to video recordings either continuously or for several hours each day.  We found that the constant exposure group had a significant increase in mortality. Taken together, our data suggest that a number of commonly prescribed medications and chemicals have a detrimental effect on working memory in Danio rerio, and potentially on humans.  Because of the growing body of research and their cost effectiveness, zebrafish are gaining acceptance as a model organism for preliminary drug trials.  

biology summer scholars doing presentations          summer scholar poster sessions

Summer Scholars 2014
biology summer scholars 2014 poster sessions                     Biology summer scholars 2014 presentations

Summer Scholars poster session for summer scholars and faculty members to showcase their summer research projects

Dr. John Niedzwiecki mentored a group of students whose research focused on predator avoidance behavior.  These students collected snails from a nearby stream and measured the snails’ ability to detect and avoid predators. The snails were able to detect differences in type and size of the predator as well as how long ago the predator was present. Students who worked with Dr. Niedzwiecki were Nicole Knowles, Taylor Mills, Raina Burley, Sonia Kadakia and Brielle Davis. These students will also present their findings at the Tennessee Academy of Sciences meeting at Walter State Community College and Belmont’s Science Undergraduate Research Symposium (SURS) this fall.

Dr. Lori McGrew’s research group used zebrafish (Danio rerio) to assess differences in memory and anxiety following treatment with various chemicals.  The chemicals tested by this group included: nicotine, buproprion (an antidepressant), triclosan (an antimicrobial), a pre-workout supplement and a cannabinoid-like compound.  The students were able to determine that both triclosan and the pre-workout supplement increased anxiety while the cannabinoid compound and buproprion decreased anxiety as measured in the Danios. Student researchers were Karah Parker, Iqra Wahid, Hensley Barnes, Jaime Wesley and Cassie Wyatt. These students will present their findings at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington, DC and Belmont’s Science Undergraduate Research Symposium (SURS) this fall.


Dr. Darlene Panvini mentored a group of Biology and Environmental Science majors investigating the "Impact of Exotic Plants on Abundance, Diversity, and Distribution of Earthworms". The students participating were Sarah Gilmore (Environmental Science), Kari Morse (Biology) and Megan Swaine (Environmental Science). 

Dr. John Niedzwiecki
mentored a group of Biology and Environmental Science majors including Court Reese, Valini Ramcharan and Kyle Sullinger (all Biology) along with Hannah Martin (Environmental Science). Court worked to determine the relationship between two populations of salamanders by comparing mitochondrial DNA. Valini and Kyle studied the effects of size and predator cues on snail behavior.  Hannah's project used Geographic Information System (GIS) to collect data about local environments.

Dr. Lori McGrew had a group of Biology majors who worked with Danio rerio (zebra fish) to explore the effect of different compounds on memory and anxiety in the fish. Allison McCoy and Jen Myer, used antidepressants to treat the fish and then measured the effect on the fish's working memory. Katie Farrell tested the homeopathic compound, Bacopa, to determine whether this herbal supplement had an effect on working memory or anxiety in zebra fish. Jordan Gann measured anxiety in zebra fish following their exposure to the pesticide glyphosate.

Dr. Nick Ragsdale's Caenorhabditis elegans Group - Liberty Foye, Anderson Webb, Brad Gill and Scott Kim; Rachel Garland continued work on the role of oxidants in the formation of Parkinson's like disease.

Dr. Darlene Panvini's Groups
 - Jessica Braden, Emma Ghulam Jan, and Anna Witherspoon compared rates of photosynthesis and stomatal density in leaves of exotic vines to native vines; Sylvia Alsup, Lida Ghulam Jan, and Lauren Land compared macroinvertebrate diversity in areas of the Little Harpeth River 

Dr. John Niedzwiecki's Groups - Bellamy Hawkins and Breanna Poore worked on chemical detection of predation cues in an aquatic snail; Parth Majmudar looked for signs of "intelligence" in Orconectes crayfish; Janet Steen and Amy Nesius successfully developed microsatellites for use in Spotted salamanders;Rachel Chandler studied streamside salamanders -- She was able to present that work as a poster at the International Evolutionary Biology conference in Ottawa, Canada this past summer with Dr. Niedzwiecki. 

McGrew Zebrafish Group:  Alesya Borisyuk, Tristan Daniel, and Vishan Ramcharan

Niedzwiecki Behavioral Ecology of Snails Group:  Abader Almosawi and Kelsey Grant

Ragsdale C. elegans Group:  Samera Berhane, Sylvia Chac, and Roxie Musharrafeia

Murphree Medical Entomology Group:  RaeAnne Lauffer, Rachel Serfass, Libby Thorndike, and Ryan Baker


McGrew Zebrafish Group:  Taylor Andrews, Steven Avers, Taylor Beazley, and Katy Parsley

Niedzwiecki Behavioral Ecology Group:  Caleb Binkley, Amy Fehrman, Mark McFarland, and Ati Osinusi 


McGrew Zebrafish Group: Kelli Boone, Abby Murphy, Bao Nguyen, Ola Osinusi, and Alyson Singh

Niedzwiecki Salamander Group: Sara Bentley, Kendra Cowan, Chris Pilny, and Beth Schriner


Grammer Insulting C. elegans through Chemicals and Pathogens Group: Sachin Amin and Christina Inman

McGrew Zebrafish and Learning Group: Jeanna Bardin, Jackie Hunter, Roshni Patel, and Taylor Walter

Murphree Conenose Bug Group:  Dana Halchak and Ludia Kim

Niedzwiecki Behavior and Ecology of the Streamside Salamander Group: Will Baugher, Ginna Beazley, and Lauren Oeser

Ragsdale Worms in Our Community Group: Josh Cortopassi, Cy Eaton, Robbie Gibson, and Brittany Myers


McGrew Zebrafish and Behavior Group:  Adam Gilliland, Michelle Howell, Becky Repasky, and Jelena Stupar

Ragsdale C. elegans as a Model Organism for Studying Biology Group: Stephen May, Chelsea Wilson, and Bethany Woodard


Grammer Chemotaxis Group: Ananta Bhatt

McGrew Worm Brain Consortium Group: Stacey Apple, Adam Militana, Becky Repasky, Trisha Siewnarine, and Corey Winfree

Panvini Biology and Ecology of Exotics Group: Neely Osteen, Amanda Simpson, and Rejana Wells

Ragsdale Worm Group: Kelly Deweese, Ashley Dozier, Michel Mosby, and Kristen Sorensen


Grammer, McGrew, and Ragsdale Worm Brain Consortium: Jimmy Berthaud, Tuyen Bui, Trisha Siewarine, Kelly Deweese, Ashley Dozier, Ricky Patel and Meg Voss

Panvini Biology and Ecology of Exotics Group: Lee Griggs, Amanda Stinnett, and Rejana Wells


Panvini Exotic Plants Group:  Kristin Furman, Alex Grzeszczak, and Jenny Pollard

Ragsdale Worm Group:  Scott Russell