STem Applied Research and Training Projects

STem Applied Research and Training (START) projects include of range of content areas, such as 3-D printing, engineering, biology, geology, math and physics.  

Some projects are in-person at various campuses (RTP, Scott Northern Wake and Southern Wake), while other projects are virtual. Projects vary from occurring exclusively at Wake Tech to also including  partners  (Piedmont Health, Duke Lemur Center, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Requirements for projects also vary. Some projects require no previous knowledge, while others require that students either be enrolled in or have taken certain courses. The requirements for each of the projects are listed with the project.

Below are the location, mentor, description and requirements of the projects currently offered. Projects are organized by primary content area.

3-D printing/engineering

3D printed fingernail growth prototype

Project mentor: Carolyn Hoffman 

Outside partner: Duke University

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Requirements: Preference given to those who have taken DFT 170

Create and test a reliable prototype to assist in consistent measuring of fingernail growth on children. This data can be used to look at possible indicators of overall children's' health. Prototype(s) would be designed using SOLIDWORKS and 3D printed testing. Testing and redesign could happen within this semester, if time permits, or as a future project.


Shaky science: Seismograph construction and design

Project mentors: Carolyn Hoffman and Dr. Jessica Kelley

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Requirements: Preference given to students with previous computer programming or 3D design experience, but it is not a requirement.

Students build a vertical motion seismograph that is capable of detecting earthquakes of all magnitudes. They learn how to use Raspberry Pi computers, assemble components of a mobile seismograph, 3D-printing basics and the use of various software programs. This project is a collaboration between Math and Geology. Preference will be given to students with previous computer programming or 3D design experience, but is not a requirement.


UAV structural analysis project

Project mentors: Dr. John Spevacek and Dr. Chris A. O'Riordan-Adjah 

Project location: Southern Wake Campus (in person)

Students gain the knowledge of interdisciplinary teamwork efforts, understand the sequence and phase stages in an engineering project and the importance of time management and scheduling, but, most importantly, learn the engineering concepts governing this project – re-evaluating and assessing the results. The basis of this project stems from the mentors' structural and chemical engineering backgrounds, which provides the opportunity for them to share their research background. The goal and objective of this project in addition to those outlined above is to provide first and foremost the safest method and approach, efficiency, cost effectiveness, accuracy and precision to structural inspection and monitoring using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.

Dr. John Spevacek | STEM Project Mentor

Dr. John Spevacek

Dr. Chris A. O’Riordan-Adjah | STEM Project Mentor

Dr. Chris A. O’Riordan-Adjah


Biology

Aquatic flora and fauna

Project mentors: Dr. Luc A. Dunoyer and Melinda Gibbs 

Project location: Southern Wake Campus (in person)

Requirements: Availability for field work (up to a three-hour block of time)

Students help identify which fauna (invertebrates: crayfish and aquatic insects) and flora (trees, bushes, etc.) species are populating streams found in Wake County. This project will involve literature reviews, wading in streams to sample invertebrates and water quality and walking along the stream banks to sample the flora in riparian zones. Although waders and nets will be provided, this is field work, so students should expect to be outside for four hours at a time wading in cold water or walking in the forest. This project is the perfect opportunity to learn some real field skills, as well as be exposed to what an environmental consultant job is all about. Finally, students learn how to identify invertebrates and plants, determine water quality and learn more about population ecology and the natural world by exploring it themselves.

Dr. Luc A. Dunoyer Photo

Dr. Luc A. Dunoyer

Melinda Gibbs Photo

Melinda Gibbs


Cataloging invasive species in stream systems

Project mentor: Dr. Mary Staton

Project location: RTP Campus (in person)

Requirement: None

Crayfish traps will be placed in four different stream/pond locations. GPS location data will be collected for each site. Crayfish that are captured will be identified using local crayfish field guides. A claw will be removed from the crayfish to be used for DNA barcoding to further identify species. An estimated population size will also be attempted by using the mark-recapture method. Crayfish that are captured will be marked with non-toxic paint and returned to the location of capture. Traps will be reset and then checked a couple of days later to determine population size.


Community outreach for population screening

Project mentor: Dr. Rachael Walsh

Outside partner: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Project location: Virtual or Southern Wake Campus

Requirements:

Health is determined by a mix of things, including diet, exercise, environment and genetics. For some people, genetics plays a much stronger role in their health. For certain conditions, screening tests can look for diseases before a person has signs or symptoms. These genetic screening tests are used to see if a person has a strong genetic risk for developing a disease in the future. The Precision Health Genetic Screen (PHGS) is a pilot program for genomic screening in otherwise healthy adults. PHGS looks for patients in primary care practices who are at increased risk of developing high cholesterol and certain types of cancer. Patients identified as being at high risk will work with their doctors to watch for early symptoms.

The student working on this project will work with PHGS scientists to plan and implement community outreach events, such as health fairs to help recruit patients. If the student is a Spanish speaker, he or she could help with translation to create Spanish versions of PHGS educational materials. Work on this project can be conducted virtually.


Lemur microbiome study

Project mentor: Dr. Mindy Kittrell

Outside partner: Duke Lemur Center

Project location: Scott Northern Wake Campus (in person)

Requirements: None, but preference given for completion of either BIO 110 or BIO 111.

This project involves analyzing the gut microbiome of sifaka lemurs to determine how the microbiome changes in relationship to different variables. For example, we could explore how the microbiome changes over time. Or we could look to see if certain microbial species are always part of the microbiome. To do this analysis, we will isolate DNA from fecal samples collected from 36 Coquerel’s sifakas living in nine forest enclosures at the Duke Lemur Center. The sifakas were variably sampled from June to August in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. We will then perform 16S rRNA sequencing to evaluate the bacterial (and archaeal) species present in these samples.


Novel environmental antibiotic discovery

Project mentor: Anthony Blair

Project location: Southern Wake Campus (in person)

Requirements: None

In today's world, we are experiencing a crisis in the medical field: We are quickly running out of effective and useful antibiotic therapeutics. This project is designed to search for novel antibiotics that exist in the environment for the purpose of being possibly used as future therapies. This is done by culturing environmental bacteria collected for soil samples in the local area and completing it against pathogenic analogs to find new antimicrobial compounds.


Microbiological survey at Piedmont Health

Project mentors: Drs. Elizabeth Calvente and Jan Lee Santos 

Outside partner: Piedmont Health

Project location: RTP or Scott Northern Wake, as well as Piedmont Health

Requirements: None

Facilities that provide medical care must adhere to guidelines that prevent the spread of infection, such as hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting protocols. 

Piedmont Health would like to conduct a microbiological survey of their staff and facilities, including clinic exam rooms and equipment, before and after cleaning and disinfection procedures. This will involve swabbing areas and using general, selective or differentiative media to see what organisms are present. This project will allow them to determine whether their in-house cleaning and disinfection procedures are effective in decreasing and/or eliminating potential disease-causing microorganisms in their facilities. This can also be expanded to include survey of staff white coats, ties, cellphones and computer keyboards.


Pollinator diversity

Project mentor: Mary Christie

Project location: Scott Northern Wake Campus (in person)

Requirements: None

Students working on this project will help to track pollinator diversity in the Pollinator Meadow or around campus on Wake Tech’s Scott Northern Wake Campus. Students will help collect insect samples, help to identify the insects to order and determine if the pollinator diversity is changing over time.


Shared genetics of immune cell abundance and Alzheimer’s disease

Project mentor: Dr. Rachael Walsh

Outside partner: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Project location: Virtual

Requirements: None

This project would involve examining epidemiological and genetic correlations between white blood cell subtypes and Alzheimer’s disease risk. The student involved in the project would also use Mendelian randomization methods to examine potential causality of any associations observed.


Geology

Dendrochronology

Project mentor: Dr. Jessica Kelley

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Requirements: None

Students learn about the study of tree rings as climate and atmospheric indicators. Students will conduct their own research study using trees from Wake Tech’s campus and present their findings at the end of the semester.


Shaky science: Seismograph construction and design

Project mentors: Carolyn Hoffman and Dr. Jessica Kelley

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Requirements: Preference given to students with previous computer programming or 3D design experience, but it is not a requirement.

Students build a vertical motion seismograph that is capable of detecting earthquakes of all magnitudes. They learn how to use Raspberry Pi computers, assemble components of a mobile seismograph, 3D-printing basics and the use of various software programs. This project is a collaboration between Math and Geology. Preference will be given to students with previous computer programming or 3D design experience, but is not a requirement.


Mathematics

Data analysis for Piedmont Health

Project mentors: Dr. Jan Lee Santos and Anne Magnuson 

Outside partner: Piedmont Health

Project location: Virtual and Piedmont Health

Students perform various data analyses for Piedmont Health, a multi-county federal health care provider.  Using Excel, students will analyze and curate data for various applications, such as tracking costs, analyzing cost drivers, identifying patient demographic trends, identifying disease trends and more. Students should ideally have an interest in health care and have completed either MAT143 (Quantitative Analysis) or MAT152 (Statistical Methods) or have experience with Excel data analysis tools.


Analysis of health insurance data for Piedmont Health

Project mentors: Dr. Jan Lee Santos and Michael Traylor

Outside partner: Piedmont Health

Project location: Virtual and Piedmont Health

Students perform various data analyses for Piedmont Health, a multi-county federal health care provider.  Using Excel, students will analyze and curate data for insurance data. Students should ideally have an interest in health care and have completed either MAT143 (Quantitative Analysis) or MAT152 (Statistical Methods) or have experience with Excel data analysis tools.


Examining 2020 Census

Project mentor: Asli Mutlu

Project location: Virtual or Scott Northern Wake Campus

Project requirements: Have taken MAT 152, MAT 171 or higher

2020 Census results have been released and are accessible for everyone. The results of the census help determine how federal funding, including grants and support to states, counties and communities, are spent every year for the next decade. It helps communities get their fair share for schools, hospitals, roads and public works.

In this project, we explore 2020 Census data in a holistic way. First, we will ponder and form our question. Then, we will use R, an open-source language statistical program, which will enable us to answer questions of our own. As we are using R, we will clean, validate, analyze and visualize data. Ultimately, the project will be finalized reporting on the results and the implications of our findings.

The prerequisite course of this project is the completion of one of these courses: MAT 143, MAT 152, MAT 171 or higher.


Physics

Electrical, optical and magnetic properties of 2D materials

Project mentor: Dr. Narasimhan Sujatha

Outside partner: Fayetteville State University

Project location: Southern Wake Campus(in person)

Requirements: Completed or currently enrolled in Physics

This project will engage students in research by providing multidisciplinary education that will address cutting-edge science and engineering challenges. Two-dimensional materials based on transition metal carbides have unique properties, including metallic conductivity, hydrophilicity and structural diversity, and have shown great potential in several applications, such as energy storage, sensing, spintronics and optoelectronics. Dr. Sujatha will guide students by providing theoretical understanding of these structures, and Dr. Bhoj Gautam at Fayetteville State University will train students to investigate electrical, optical and magnetic properties of these materials. Emphasis will be given on optical spectroscopy and magnetic measurements, device fabrication, mathematical modeling and analysis of data, including graphical analysis. The proposed project will provide a platform for undergraduate students in research and education and promote their success in STEM discipline.


Science Communication

Hidden figures as STEM scholars

Project mentor: Asli Mutlu

Project location: Virtual or in-person at Scott Northern Wake Campus

This research project will be a bibliometric approach focused on unrecognized or negligently recognized female individuals who have courageously and successfully contributed to their respective STEM fields. The contributions of these scholars will have had a substantial impact on modern society, albeit being "hidden figures." Students investigate the careers of the scholar of their choosing and present their findings in the format of a poster or paper.