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Research into all walks of life

Five MU undergrads get a head start as researchers


Julie Hutton, left, and Lacey Schisler are one of many MU undergraduates conducting research projects for an academic head start.

Julie Hutton
Hometown: Mansfield, Mo.
Major: Early childhood and elementary education

Lacey Schisler
Hometown: Troy, Mo.
Major: Elementary education

Seniors Hutton and Schisler’s junior-year research project aimed to identify factors that contribute to at-risk schools’ academic success. At-risk schools are those whose students typically score below average on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). “We identified schools deemed at-risk by a multitude of factors, such as the number of students on the free lunch program and teen pregnancy rates,” Schisler says. “Of these schools, we then identified which ones had MAP scores above the state average.” After interviewing representatives from each school, Hutton and Schisler determined that high levels of collaboration between teachers and among teachers and administrators had the largest influence on students’ success.

Joseph Beeman

Hometown: Nevada, Mo.
Major: Biology; women’s and gender studies

In his senior year at MU, Beeman studied xenoestrogens, or environmental estrogens. “Environmental estrogens are chemicals in the environment and in industry that behave like hormonal estrogen,” he says. “We try to identify these estrogens in the environment and predict what they’re going to do to someone’s body so that they can be effectively used or avoided.” Examples of xenoestrogens include bisphenol-A, a chemical found in some plastics that is purported to cause brain and reproductive problems in fetuses, infants and children who have been exposed; tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug that helps block cancer cell growth; and resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine that is being studied to determine its disease prevention potential.

Patrick Toomey
Hometown: Hinsdale, Ill.
Major: food science

Jonathan Sprinkle
Hometown: Liberty, Mo.
Major: chemistry, French

In their senior years at MU, Toomey and Sprinkle researched best practices for pruning Missouri wine grapevines. One part of the vine — the persistent woody lateral — is fairly common in normal vineyards, says Eli Bergmeier, who supervised Toomey and Sprinkle in the field and is a graduate student at MU’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology (ICCVE). When pruning, “it’s customary for people to either leave or take off — depending on their experience — the persistent woody lateral,” Bergmeier says. “And while this particular aspect of viticulture has been studied on Californian and native American grapes, it hasn’t been studied on Missouri’s hybrid cultivars. In fact, some of the literature for other species conflicts with what we’re seeing on our vines.”

In an attempt to close the literature gap, Sprinkle and Toomey established research sites across Missouri to study three Missouri cultivars: chambourcin, norton and vignoles. Because it takes years of data to determine the best practices, incoming ICCVE students will carry on the project.

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