Succeeding at the Highest Level of Learning

An Interview with David Heroux, past chair of UMF’s Undergraduate Research Council
By Paul Rees ’09, UMF creative writing major

Heroux in new lab

The Michael D. Wilson Scholarship Program continues to see an increase in the number of applications from year to year, leaving the Undergraduate Research Council to make some difficult decisions when awarding scholarships. Historically, the Wilson Scholar Program has been able to support and promote undergraduate research across all disciplines at UMF. But Heroux is concerned that not having the resources could prevent students from doing their projects. “It is a UMF trait to do a lot with what we’re given,” explained David Heroux, assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the Council. “But with the continually increasing number of applicants, high quality projects are being turned away simply because the resources aren’t there. We want to get to the point where every qualified student who wants it, can do it,” said Heroux.

The Wilson Scholarship Program is devoted to helping students do well-rounded research, giving them the ability to succeed at the highest level. Heroux passionately believes that this is the best way for students to learn. “We have great students with great ideas, so let’s give them the resources,” he said.

Heroux concluded by pointing out that creative activity touches every part of campus. “Anything unique—a new poem, a piece of art, a new score—all of it could be considered undergraduate research,” said a passionate Heroux. “We need to continue to highlight and promote the best students. It’s their building block for future successes.”


Ben Engel Examines Temperature Change in Maine Ponds
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major

Ben Engel

In his junior year, Ben Engel ’11, environmental science major, embarked on an independent study project to measure and compare temperature change in high elevation ponds along Maine’s Appalachian Trail. Now, in his senior year as a Michael D. Wilson Fellow, his research has become more focused as he examines the data from a climate change perspective. Ben’s goal is to better understand the processes at work and be able to make predictions for future impacts on pond ecosystems.

His project entails extensive work in the field, hiking and kayaking to place temperature loggers in various ponds and gathering the data to compare it to past years. He meets with his faculty sponsor, Julia Daly, associate professor of geology, on a regular basis to analyze his findings. “It’s nice to be able to work alongside my professor and learn from each other,” said Ben. “She’s discovering right along with me.”

Due to the competitive selection process, Ben feels fortunate that the Michael D. Wilson Scholar & Fellow Program accepted his project. “It’s definitely an honor,” said Ben. “It’s given me a lot of practical experience in the scientific world and made me realize that this is what I want to do as a career.” Ben’s project helped him complete his honors senior thesis and gain acceptance to the University of Vermont, where he will pursue his master’s degree in natural resources.

Jacquelyn Murphy Creates an Economic Model of Community Gardens
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major

Jacky Murphy

Jacquelyn Murphy ’12 is a Michael D. Wilson Scholar creating an economic model of the costs and benefits of community gardens to potentially influence policy makers in Maine. Jacky, a business economics major, researches the effects of community gardens on aspects such as housing values, health, and sense of community and puts them into monetary terms. She plans to present her model to the Maine Department of Agriculture with the hope of increasing funding for community gardens in Maine.

“What makes this project different is that it’s not just one discipline,” said Jacky. “I study various evidence to find out if community gardening can boost economic development in a region.” John Messier, assistant professor of business economics, is Jacky’s faculty sponsor who provides guidance and insight as part of the process.

Jacky hopes the Michael D. Wilson Scholar & Fellow Program will help her with her academic and career goals. “I’d like to go into public policy for agriculture,” said Jacky. “This project is exciting because it gives me the opportunity to research something broader than my major.”

Markeith Chavous Inspires Hope through Art
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major

Markeith Chavous

Markeith Chavous ’11 is a Michael D. Wilson Scholar creating a three-screen projection art piece entitled “That Instant is Our Goal.” The art major‘s wish is for his piece to inspire hope. “My work is largely spiritual,” said Markeith. “If only for an instant, people can think slightly differently and look at the world around them more hopefully, then I have achieved my goal.”

Markeith’s project is a progression of the work he started long ago using a triptych 3-D video screen. The piece consists of three synced projections of contemporary images depicting figures in various stages of becoming and awakening. The bulk of Markeith’s work includes filming on campus, extensive traveling to film landscapes around New England, and spending numerous hours editing and syncing his footage. Markeith gathers inspiration by studying texts of various religions. “I never think about it as research, but it really is,” said Markeith. Faculty sponsor Katrazyna Randall, associate professor of art, gives critiques and feedback along the way, discussing with Markeith about how the piece relates to contemporary art and how it is working aesthetically.

Markeith plans to attend the prestigious and highly selective California Institute of the Arts for a master’s in fine arts degree in film and video, with the goal of teaching art and exhibiting his artwork in galleries. Markeith is grateful that the Wilson Scholar & Fellow Program accepted his project because, as an artist, he did not think he would have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research. “It’s a great honor,” said Markeith. “I was amazed that they would accept this proposal and be open to the idea of it benefiting others.”

Kiley Gendron Uses the iPad to Help Students with Disabilities
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major
Kiley Gendron

Kiley Gendron ’12 is a Michael D. Wilson Scholar working on a project to teach a student who is nonverbal to use the iPad as a communication device. Kiley, majoring in early childhood special education, uses an application called Proloquo2Go, which allows the student to push icons and have the iPad speak for him. Kiley’s research is helping to further knowledge of how the iPad can be used as assistive technology to support people with disabilities in school and in daily life.

Kiley visits a local high school regularly to work with the student and familiarize him with the iPad application, which is customized to his own interests. She teaches him how to answer a variety of questions by pressing illustrations on the touch screen. She uses the application to teach him basic social skills and how to interact with his peers. Kiley receives guidance throughout her endeavors from her faculty sponsor, Loraine Spenciner, professor of special education.

“It’s providing me with a lot of opportunities to advance my knowledge in assistive technology,” said Kiley. “I can take what I’ve learned and share it with other people who could benefit greatly.” Kiley hopes to present her case study at the Council for Exceptional Children’s National Conference in Washington D.C. She thinks her Michael D. Wilson Scholar project will benefit her in her future career. “The knowledge I have gained will help me immensely in my work with children with disabilities—especially with children who don’t have speech.”

Jake Hansen Hypothesizes about Appalachian Tectonics
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major


As a Michael D. Wilson Fellow, geology major Jake Hansen ’11 conducted regionally-significant research on the nature of a fault system on Maine’s Bald Mountain. Jake and faculty sponsor Doug Reusch, associate professor of geology, were able to recognize repetitions in the sequences of rock layers and infer that there was a fault in the area. If their hypothesis is correct, this is an extremely important find for geologists, providing unique insight into larger scale Appalachian tectonics.

Jake’s interest in this subject was first sparked when he conducted a preliminary mapping project followed by an independent study project about the regional geology. As a Michael D. Wilson Fellow, he was able to take his research to the next level and delve deeper into the study of tectonics. From his fieldwork, hiking the mountains and taking a variety of structural geology data points, Jake was able to compose a geologic map of Bald Mountain. He presented his research at the Atlantic Geoscience Society Colloquium in Canada and tied for an award for best student poster. Jake plans to supply Mount Blue State Park with maps and pamphlets about his findings for distribution.

Jake believes that first-hand research is the best way to learn. “There is no better way to learn than to be in the field,” said Jake. He plans to continue his education with graduate school after he takes a couple years off to hike the Appalachian Trail. He expects his research experience will help him immensely in the application process. Referring to the Michael D. Wilson Scholar & Fellow Program, Jake stated, “I think it’s a great program and I love that it spans all subjects. You don’t have to be a scientist or a historian; you just have to have a good idea and the motivation to take the research to the next level.”

Ben Villeneuve Polls Educators in Maine
By Liz Dunn ’13, UMF international/global studies and business major

Ben V.

Ben Villeneuve ’13, secondary education and English major, conducted research as a Michael D. Wilson Scholar on professional development and teaching practices around the nation. This important study provides insight into the different ways teachers can stay up-to-date in their fields and how they can put professional development into practice. The findings from this extensive project can be applied to teachers everywhere.

According to Ben, professional development, gained through conferences, journals, online classes, and local college classes, is generally required of teachers. “It takes a lot of looking to find research that has a practical application in the classroom,” said Ben. To find out why teachers are not using the information or how it can be changed to better apply to teachers, Ben collaborated with researchers across the country to develop a survey intended for superintendents in various school districts in Maine and beyond. Ben was fortunate to have the opportunity to present his findings at a conference in San Diego. “I got to meet face-to-face and learn from well-established professionals in the education field,” said Ben. “I could not have done that without the Michael D. Wilson Scholar & Fellow Program.”

Jamez Terry Hits the Books at the U.S. Library of Congress
By Chantal Berube ’10, UMF interdisciplinary studies major

Jamez D. Terry

Jamez Terry ’10 history major, spent the past several months scouring primary sources to analyze the cultural constructions of Charles Guiteau, assassin of President Garfield. Funded in part by UMF’s Wilson Scholarship Program and also by a grant from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, Terry’s work has been lauded as an “important new approach” and an “insightful look into a neglected subject.”

Terry has always been interested in presidential and political history, but it was when he saw Steven Sondheim’s musical, “Assassins!” that Guiteau’s character struck Terry with fascination. “I just couldn’t believe that someone like this actually existed,” said Terry.

Terry’s research has taken place in several distinguished libraries all over the country. “The first time I visited the United States Library of Congress, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Terry. “You sit at a table and they bring all these documents to you. It was amazing to see original drafts of things I’ve read copies of in class.”

Terry’s research project and senior thesis proposal evolved over the past couple of years starting as an assignment in his History 290 course, taught by Chris O’Brien, assistant professor of history. O’Brien notes that Terry was one of the few people who wrote a paper that worked right away. “After 20 years of teaching, Jamez is one of the best two or three students I’ve ever had—and that includes grad students,” said O’Brien. After attending four different universities, Terry finds UMF to be a perfect match. “The first class I took with Professor O’Brien was the first time I felt challenged. I had never really felt that anywhere else.”

Once Terry’s research is completed, he plans to publish the results and eventually turn his findings into a book. The research has also sparked a second project also centered on the assassination of Garfield, but in the context of religion. In the end, Terry’s goal is to create visibility around a character that not many know about. “I think we could all benefit from paying attention to Charles Guiteau and understand what happens when politics go wrong.”

Nancy Varin Investigates Maine’s Freedom of Information Act
By Chantal Berube ’10, UMF interdisciplinary studies major


Nancy Varin ’11, a political science major, has been making a name for herself in Maine politics through her Wilson Scholar research project, which investigates the interpretation and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, also known in Maine as the Right to Know Act.

Varin has always been fascinated by Maine politics. Her mother is a town clerk, which first sparked Varin’s interest in the inner workings of local and state government. She has held several jobs and internships for the Maine government. These firsthand experiences helped Varin recognize the importance of the Right to Know Act. “The more I delve into this, the more I realize how this affects us all. The State is host to a huge volume of information that is available for public consumption, whether it is for personal curiosity or to keep our officials accountable,” said Varin.

One of the most exciting parts of this research project for Varin has been the opportunity to speak with several prominent people in Maine politics. Varin explains, “People usually only come to these politicians wanting or needing something. I think they appreciate the fact that I just want to share opinions with them in a casual setting.”

Varin has been supported by many of her professors at UMF, especially Linda Beck, Associate Professor of Political Science, who has connected Varin to many of the resources that she has needed. “Professor Beck is always great to work with and very supportive. She has the gift of being able to see the big picture,” said Varin.

“Nancy is a great example of an independent, undergraduate researcher,” said Beck. “Nancy is as bright and articulate as any Ivy League student I’ve ever met. She’s a phenomenal student who is self-motivated with an intellectual curiosity and maturity of someone well beyond her years.”

Varin hopes to work for the state government one day, either as an elected official or an employee. “It has always been my goal to serve the citizens of Maine and this is another step in the process of getting there,” said Varin.

Joshua Case Travels to Both Coasts to Present His Research on Mathematics & Music
By Chantal Berube ’10, UMF interdisciplinary studies major

Joshua Case

Joshua Case ’10, a senior music and mathematics major, has been answering some complex musical questions using mathematics as part of his research as a Wilson Fellow. The project first started a couple summers ago when Case began thinking of research topics. As a student of the music program at UMF, he was required to link to another discipline as part of his studies. “Music and mathematics is talked about a lot as a broad topic,” said Case. “I wanted to think of questions that hadn’t been brought up before.”

Case’s research has focused mainly around the question of how to efficiently and accurately compute the number of chord types within a specific music system. His faculty advisor, Lori Koban, assistant professor of mathematics, has been working closely with him and has offered her expertise in Combinatorics, an important aspect of his research that deals with permutations and combinations. “It’s more of a collaboration,” explained Koban. “We share ideas and have a vested interest in this topic. We couldn’t do it without each other. He’s even given me ideas for my own research. I’m not sure that the same collaboration between professor and student would have been possible at a larger school.”

Case has given several talks during UMF’s Math Hour, which is sponsored by the Department of Mathematics. He has traveled to San Francisco to present his research at the 2010 Joint Mathematics Meeting. He also attended The Second International Conference of the Society for Mathematics and Computation in music held at Yale University. “I want to be able to show a serious, not superficial, connection between math and music,” said Case. “I hope my research will be worthy of a professional scholar.”

After graduation, Case plans to attend graduate school where he hopes to engage in an interdisciplinary study including music and mathematics. “He’s the hardest working student you’ll ever find,” said Koban. “I’m proud to have him represent UMF.”

Alumnae Meg Dzyak ’08 Takes Her Research to Grad School
By Chantal Berube ’10, UMF interdisciplinary studies major

meg and piano

Meg Dzyak ’08 was among the first Wilson Research Scholarships recipients in 2006. Her project researched the New York downtown music scene from 1970 to 1984. More specifically, her research focused on the cross between minimalism and punk and the works of Rhys Chatham—an American composer involved in the avant-garde and minimalist music scene.

After UMF, Dzyak spent time in New York as an intern at The Kitchen, a non-profit experimental performance space, and Nonesuch Records. “If I hadn’t done the research through my research project at UMF I would have been in the dark about the artists and history that I was working with every day at The Kitchen,” Dzyak recalled. “Both internships were interconnected and many of the artists who performed at The Kitchen were signed to Nonesuch. My knowledge of this music and this scene was essential.”

Currently, Dzyak is working on her masters degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Through her studies she has continued to conduct research and write papers about the New York downtown music scene. “I hope to culminate the research in a larger project down the road,” said Dzyak. In 2009, Dzyak was assistant project director and curator of an exhibit, Hearing Visions Sonores, which was held in the Marvin Duchow Music Library at McGill. It is an exhibition of graphic scores from nine Quebec-based composers. After being displayed for five months at the music library, the exhibit moved to the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Though her years at UMF are behind her, the experiences she had along the way have helped to shape her future. One of her primary mentors, UMF Professor of Music Steven Pane, helped to support her in her undergraduate research. “He totally stood by me, pushing me intellectually when I needed it, especially when I was going through some rough periods of my life,” said Dzyak. “We still keep in contact, emailing and catching up over coffee whenever I make it back to Farmington. He’s a great guy and a dear friend.”

Give to Undergraduate Research

For more information:

Dr. Lori Koban
Chair, Undergraduate Research Council