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 RTP, Scott Northern Wake or Southern Wake campuses, while other projects are virtual. Projects vary from occurring exclusively at Wake Tech to also including  partners, such as 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

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.


Biology

Aquatic flora and fauna

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

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

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 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

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: UNC-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 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.


DNA barcoding

Project mentor: Dr. Rachael Walsh

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Requirements: For AS majors completing the Biology track, must have already completed BIO 112. No requirements for AS majors in chemistry or physics tracks or for non-AS students.  

This project uses DNA barcoding techniques to answer an independent research question. Students will complete literary research about DNA barcoding and brainstorm their own research question. They will use DNA barcoding in the laboratory to help answer their research question. There is also opportunity for students to work on troubleshooting and fine-tuning the DNA barcoding protocol that we currently use. We are specifically looking at troubleshooting the protocol for insects and fungi.


Small World Initiative

Project mentor: Greg Johnson

Project location: Scott Northern Wake Campus

This project follows the protocol of the Small World Initiative, a global project developed by Yale University. This project addresses the issue of antibiotic resistance. We will be searching for potentially new antibiotics by screening organisms that live in the soil. The soil is a very competitive environment for bacteria, and some develop the ability to produce substances that impede the growth of other bacteria. Included in the scope of this project, we will search for these antibacterial-producing soil organisms and identify their species and even isolate the compound they make.


Chemistry

Single molecule vs. solid state UV-Vis absorption spectroscopy

Project mentor: Jessica Reel

Outside partner: North Carolina State University

Project location: Scott Northern Wake Campus

Requirements: Completed General Chemistry 1 (CHM-151 or equivalent). Preference is given to students with in-person lab experience, but it is not a requirement.

The application of new organic electronic materials in state-of-the-art optoelectronic devices like light emitting diode displays or solar cells relies on detailed quantification of the response of these materials to light absorption. This can be complicated by the vibrational motion of individual molecules and also by the response of molecular aggregates in solid state environments. It is important to tease out these different contributions by complementary studies of isolated molecules in dilute solutions and of molecules in device-relevant solids (thin films or bulk crystals).

In this project, students will survey the single-molecule optical absorption properties of advanced organic semiconductors, such as nonfullerene acceptors and other important chromophores, primarily in solution to determine single molecule electronic and vibrational coupling effects. They will complement these experiments in select cases by comparison with solution-deposited thin films and/or crystals and contribute to the research group's growing database of detailed electronic structure information.


Geology

Mapping 3D changes in Piedmont and Coastal Plain river corridors

Project mentor: Gretchen Miller

Outside partner:  North Carolina State University

Project location: Southern Wake Campus and North Carolina State University

Requirements: Completion of GEL 111 or other introductory Geology course

The goal of this project will be to make GIS StoryMaps that help to tell the geologic, geomorphic and human history of regional waterways by leveraging historic maps and the most recent topographic mapping technologies. This project will focus on the Neuse River and may expand to other important North Carolina waterways, like the Cape Fear or Catawba rivers. Relative Elevation Models combine science and art  (eARTh) to generate compelling images of river corridors that are useful for geologic/geomorphic interpretations. 

Students considering working on this project may have interests in:

  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Lidar topographic data
  • Natural and geomorphic history of Wake County
  • Human history in Wake County – anthropogenic change 
  • Historic maps and aerial photos
  • Remote sensing and computer coding
  • Earth as art – art in the natural sciences

Student learning activities will include training in GIS, Lidar topography, geomorphic interpretation/mapping and field reconnaissance along the Neuse River Greenway to photograph and ground-truth natural and anthropogenic features identified in the REM images that the students create.


Dendrochronology

Project mentor: Dr. Jessica Kelley

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

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.


Mathematics

Correlating health care outcomes with proximity to fast food/green space

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.


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.


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 to 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.


Science communication

Hidden figures as STEM scholars

Project mentor: Asli Mutlu

Project location: Virtual or 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.


Science education

Mindset matters

Project mentors: Melinda Gibbs and Dr. Rachael Walsh

Outside partner: North Carolina State University

Project location: Southern Wake Campus

Interns will assist in data analysis for an ongoing collaborative mindset study between Wake Tech and North Carolina State University. The purpose of the mindset study is to evaluate how students' mindsets affect their peers' self-efficacy, growth mindset and academic performance. Additionally, this study will look at whether group demographics (marginalized, gender) impact mindset pairings. Interns will assist in the analysis of the study but will not be study participants.