Indiana State University Newsroom

SURE ground: Indiana State students study sustainability as part of programs

July 30, 2013

In a house surrounded by green, growing gardens, a psychology student studies energy neutral homes, while another examines the economic impact of brownfields near housing developments. Meanwhile, a business student analyzes sustainability practices of various corporations.

For three of the Indiana State University students participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) through the ISUcceed Program, combining conservation and sustainability research with their majors made perfect sense.

The Charles E. Brown African American Cultural Center developed the ISUcceed Program three years ago to help increase retention rates at Indiana State.

"The goal of the program is very simply to help students make the transition from high school to college," said Stephanie Jefferson, director of the center.

This summer, ISUcceed partnered with the SURE program to give students the opportunity to conduct science research. The internship goes beyond lab experience, also requiring them to present their findings to members of the SURE program. Additionally, the ISUcceed students shared their final results during the Indianapolis Black Expo, which took place July 19-21.

Caroline Savage, assistant director for the Institute for Community Sustainability, said that the three students were given the "big, broad topic of sustainability" from which the students created their research projects tailored to their interests.

"We guide them, but the majority of this work is completely self-directed," said Savage. "Their work with us requires responsibility and motivation that far exceeds the level expected of their peers."

She said the result of their hard work is the acquisition of "invaluable skills" that can be used in college and beyond.

For Jacoby Sherrell, a freshman psychology major from Gary, Ind., experience gained through the ISUcceed Program has been as much about an increased awareness of who he is as a student as it has been about the actual research.

"I definitely believe that it has helped me figure out a better sense of myself in knowing who I am and what works for me," said Sherrell of his research experience.

He focused his studies on energy neutral or "net-zero" homes-houses that produce clean energy. He said that his research has not only looked into the benefits of home owners going "off the grid," but also how to harness already-present energy in houses to make them more efficient.

Sherrell said that his research of energy neutral homes has allowed him to "come out of [his] comfort zone and try new things.

"Now when a professor says, ‘Does anyone want to help me with any studies? Have any research experience?,' I can actually say that I have research experience," he said.

In addition to increased confidence in the classroom, Sherrell knows that the research practices he has learned during the summer will give him a head-start as he enters higher-level psychology courses.

"Psychology is based on research," said Sherrell. "Through this program, I am getting a better idea of what it means to be a researcher."

Tionna Harris, a senior and fellow psychology major from Madison, Ill., echoes Sherrell's sentiment, saying that the research she is conducting this summer uses the same methods as those of psychology.

"In the past, I've written papers and done research, but this is just different because it's my own research and data that I'm going out to collect," said Harris.

For her summer research, Harris compared the property value of houses near brownfields-plots of land contaminated by pollutants- to those that are not. A President's Scholar, Harris cites the annual trip out West with President Dan Bradley and other President's Scholars as inspiration for her project.

"That was my first exposure to nature," she said of her trip in May 2013, "so being able to learn more about the environment, I felt like [the trip and the research project] went hand-in-hand."

Harris hopes that her research can bring an awareness to the "many little things that everyone can do to pitch in" to reduce environmental contamination.

Harris also said that the experience will help her when she applies for grad school, a primary goal of the ISUcceed program.

"The goal of the ISUcceed and Summer Undergraduate Research Experience is to introduce students to research, science research, to learn what it's like to be part of a team in a lab and also to prepare them for graduate school," said Jefferson.

Sophomore marketing major Yahzmine Rodriguez of Indianapolis, Ind., researched what companies are already doing to reduce pollution. Rodriguez used EPA reports and annual reports from corporations to discover any differences between businesses that use sustainability practices, such as "cutting back on using raw materials," and those who do not.

"I'm starting to understand how to work with annual reports, how to interview individuals at the corporate level," said Rodriguez.

She thinks that her ISUcceed research experience has helped her gain the professionalism required in the business world and is looking at the possibility of presenting her findings as part of her Honors thesis when she graduates.

All three students credited the African American Cultural Center for being a great asset to furthering their education while at Indiana State, each emphasizing that the center is not just for minority students.

Sherrell encouraged students to be "more aware of the resources" available to them through the center.

"They are definitely willing to help you," said Sherrell of the faculty of the African American Cultural Center and the ISUcceed Program. "As long as you are willing to help yourself, anybody will be willing to help you."

Although the students have career plans outside of the science field, they are grateful for the opportunity ISUcceed provided over the summer to educate themselves about sustainability and conservation.

"Even though sustainability is not a part of what I actually plan on doing in life, I feel that this information was definitely helpful," Harris said.

Photos: Rodriguez works on data she collected. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell Sherrell inputs data he collected on energy-neutral homes. ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes Harris shares her research into property values near brownfields with Tom Steiger, director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity. ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes

Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or