Research on the Rise

The 2021 Summer Research Institute boasts record-breaking growth and participation

By Veronica Suchodolski ’19

student in lab coat in the lab

Barnard’s popular Summer Research Institute (SRI) leaped to new heights last summer, supporting 243 students as they pursued scientific research on campus and around New York City — doubling in size from its founding in 2014 and growing 33% since 2019. (SRI 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.) “It is so wonderful to be able to give our dedicated and intelligent STEM students a chance to shine again and develop skills they can use to bolster their careers,” says associate professor of psychology Koleen McCrink, who co-directed the program with associate professor of chemistry Marisa C. Buzzeo ’01.

The annual program provides students the opportunity to conduct funded research with a faculty mentor in STEM fields, while also attending panels and workshops designed to hone their scientific skills. On July 28, 2021, students presented their final research at the Lida Orzeck ’68 Poster Session, which was held virtually. “The scope and diversity of our students’ research projects was truly remarkable,” said Buzzeo after the poster session. “It was thrilling to see students back in the lab this summer, engaged in hands-on work alongside one another.”

This year’s SRI was groundbreaking not just for the size of its student cohort. More than 150 faculty members joined the program as mentors, the highest-ever faculty participation. Additionally, the Computer Science Department, inaugurated in 2019, joined SRI, with 26 students pursuing research.

“It is such a privilege to support the faculty in the execution of the Summer Research Institute each year,” says A-J Aronstein, dean of Beyond Barnard and a key player in planning SRI. “With so many students and mentors, it takes a true cross-campus effort to carry out this program.”

student and professor working together
Photos by Jonathan King

The importance of that faculty mentorship cannot be overstated. For SRI researchers Olivia Kowalishin ’21 and Esha Julka ’24, the idea for their computer science research project came from the top: Learning about President Sian Leah Beilock’s research on test anxiety motivated them to explore self-disclosures of test anxiety on social media using an area of computer science called natural language processing.

Kowalishin, the only English major participating in SRI 2021, might not have thought to do scientific research without President Beilock’s research inspiration. She didn’t take her first computer science course until her junior year. “I definitely struggled with test anxiety, so I think it’s really interesting to see how other people express that as well,” Kowalishin says of President Beilock’s work. “I really wanted to work on this project this summer because it was so focused in the actual text, and I think that’s really interesting from a computer science perspective.”

That interdisciplinary spirit cuts to the heart of SRI’s mission. “Exposure to research is a critical part of a Barnard education, and we want students to feel that they have the opportunity to thrive in a community of scholars regardless of their discipline and regardless of their specific interests,” says Provost Linda Bell.

The Summer Research Institute’s 10-week program provides student researchers with a stipend and access to subsidized on-campus housing. Student financial support for SRI is derived from a combination of grants and programs as well as the generosity of many individual donors.  The capstone event, the Lida Orzeck ’68 Poster Session, is supported by the generosity of Trustee Lida Orzeck ’68.

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