Science & Technology

Summer Plunge: USU Blanding Undergrads Explore Immersive Research Experiences

Scholars participating in the 2024 Native American Summer Mentorship Program share insights from month-long Logan campus experience.

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

USU Blanding sophomore and Native American Summer Mentorship Program participant Tierra Sandoval describes a research project she pursued with bees in the lab of Biology Department and Ecology Center faculty mentor Karen Kapheim. Eighteen undergrad scholars participated in the month-long gathering led by USU's MESAS program on Utah State’s Logan campus. (Photo Dredit: USU/M. Muffoletto)

Digging into an earthquake fault, designing an aircraft wing and testing mosquitoes’ DNA are not everyday activities afforded most undergraduates, but Utah State University scholars experienced these endeavors and more as participants in USU’s 2024 Native American Summer Mentorship Program.

“I actually touched a human brain named ‘Deborah,’” said Baahozhooni Little, a second-year student majoring in general studies at USU Blanding, who participated in several research projects in the lab of Amy Odum, professor in USU’s Department of Psychology. “I also shadowed a grad student as we measured brain waves in an elderly person to detect dementia.”

Second-year student Nadia Armajo, who has not yet decided on a major, said she was fascinated by the evaporative cooling structure of the Department of Biology’s greenhouse, as well as the “green and gold beams,” which are Rayleigh-Scatter and sodium LiDAR instruments housed in a rooftop lab in the Department of Physics.

Soil testing in another lab and “spreadsheets, spreadsheets, and a lot of spreadsheets” in USU Libraries’ Special Collections were “not my cup of tea,” Armajo says, but opportunities to examine centuries-old parchment made from animal hide, along with visiting cows at the Caine Dairy Teaching and Research Center, were “awesome.”

“These were some of my greatest takeaways — I really liked what I did,” she said.

The undergrads were among 18 scholars from USU Blanding selected to participate in NASMP. This year’s gathering, which began May 13, culminated with research experience presentations June 11, by each of student participants.

“This year’s program was great,” said Hannah Wilson, who has served as the NASMP lead facilitator for three years, and is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “We finally got back to pre-COVID numbers of students, which is very encouraging.”

Formally initiated in 2015 and coordinated by USU’s Mentoring and Encouraging Academic Success (MESAS) program, NASMP provides students with an immersive introduction to four-year degree programs in a range of disciplines. Participants stay in campus housing, follow a busy schedule of tours and undertake short-term research projects in a variety of lab and field settings.

“More than 25 faculty members, along with grad students in their labs, volunteered to mentor NASMP students with projects and classes, and more than a dozen campus entities opened their doors for tours of their facilities,” Wilson said. “It’s an exciting collaborative effort involving the entire campus.”

Kylie Kinsel, a sophomore at USU Blanding who recently completed a certificate in construction management, said she especially liked visiting the agricultural and aircraft maintenance labs.

“Seeing the research activities broadened by perspectives,” she said.

Another favorite activity was working with Geosciences faculty mentors Alexis Ault, Dennis Newell and Srisharan Shreedharan at the East Cache Fault, along with other local field sites.

“I took a geology class I really liked at the Blanding campus, and the activities we did here in Logan reinforced what I’d learned and offered a chance for more in-depth study,” Kinsel said.

Sophomore Tierra Sandoval discovered she was good at catching bees, as she pursued research in Biology faculty mentor Karen Kapheim’s lab.

“I learned it’s easiest to capture a species of bee that burrows in the ground,” she said, “And I learned there are more than 4,000 officially recognized bee species in North America.”

With Kapheim and her grad students, Sandoval studied social bees, and participated in research comparing immune responses in bees collected in Panama (where Kapheim conducts research) and bees collected in the United States.

“We found the Panamanian bees were more likely to survive,” Sandoval said.

USUSA student officer Manny Manygoats said working in USU Libraries’ Special Collections was a highlight of his NASMP experience.

“As we worked, I thought ‘Man, I wonder if there’s any top-secret stuff in these documents,’” he said. “Some of the documents were hundreds of years old. I realized ‘I’m touching history here.’”

Manygoats said his library experience also alerted him to the many resources offered for students at Utah State.

“Being in this program really helped me to navigate the library,” he said. “I also loved the art museum. This whole experience helped me build my communication and life skills.”

Beyond campus, Manygoats was enthralled with the local scenery.

“I’m telling you, Bear Lake was perfect and Logan Canyon is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was in the moment.”

Wilson said the 2024 NASMP cohort was “a fantastic group of students.”

“We are continuously refining the program and always seeking faculty members and others who wish to help,” she said.

Wilson, who has served with the program since spring 20218, was assisted by co-facilitators AlLisia Dawkins, Jessica Murray and Elizabeth Wong, all of whom are USU doctoral students.

USU colleges and units participating in the 2024 program included the College of Science, the College of Engineering, the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, USU Libraries, Caine College of the Arts, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.

NASMP is supported by funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the U.S. Department of Education.

“We have a lot of people who help out with NASMP,” Wilson says. “It’s a great experience for both the students and mentors.”


Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science


Hannah Wilson
Lead Facilitator
Native American Summer Mentorship Program


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