Research Projects

Projects are listed by department, but some are interdisciplinary.  Make sure to read the entire list as you search for projects that interest you.  In addition, many professors who are not on the list below are happy to work with Research Fellows.


Microbial Source Tracking, Dr. Brooks Crozier

In Dr. Crozier's research lab, students pursue MST or Microbial Source Tracking. The aim is to discover the source of bacteria in water, which could be pathogens, or could be indicators of contamination from leaky sewer infrastructure, livestock, or just wildlife. Students at all levels will learn how to perform PCR, qPCR, gel electrophoresis and microbial community analysis, including common microbiological methods. Students from this lab have presented at national and regional meetings, sampled in other states, met researches within the MST field, gotten jobs related to microbiology and similar fields, and have gone to graduate, medical or other professional schools.

Developmental Biology in Zebrafish, Dr. Chris Lassiter

My lab studies how a single cell becomes a functioning animal through the process of embryogenesis. In particular we study how the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, affect embryonic development. Some projects study the absence of these hormones while others look at endocrine disrupting compounds from the environment and their effect on embryonic development. Recent projects have investigated the developing heart and jaw after embryos were exposed to environmental endocrine disruptors.

Dragons, Fossils, Ethnobotany, and Bryophytes, Dr. DB Poli

The Poli lab focuses on plants, but in many different ways. Currently the lab explores how plant fossils from 350 million years ago influenced dragon lore, ethnobotanical connections in Appalachia, and the evolutionary physiology of bryophytes. Students who join the lab develop their own projects within these categories. Current projects explore the flammable nature of lycopod spores, medicinal compounds in snapdragons, connecting museum collections to educational development, moss as a bioindicator for metal contamination, and more.

Exploring Genomes, Dr. Marilee Ramesh

Did you ever wonder what you could study if you had the entire blueprint of an organism at your fingertips? DNA and genes provide such instructions to construct living organisms. My research works with whole genome sequences to address questions about evolution and function. This is an approach that combines genetics, molecular biology, and computer science. My main research focuses on the completed genome of a small mushroom, Coprinopsis cinerea, to characterized genes and elements that play roles in organizing and stabilizing the genome. We have identified transposable elements and histones genes in this genome. Currently we are working on developing a method to disrupt genes to enable more detailed genetic characterization of specific genes. The majority of genes in this organism have not been studied offering a wealth of options for new students. I am also interested in applying genomic approaches to local issues in our community. A second project focus on our local variant of the American Chestnut, Castanea dentate, and developing a PCR assay to test offspring of American and Chinese Chestnut crosses for desirable traits. Ideally, we would like to screen offspring for chestnut blight resistance (from the Chinese Chestnut parent) and desirable American Chestnut traits specific to the local Catawba variant. 

Soil Microbial Physiology, Dr. Meg Steinweg

My lab focuses on soil microbial physiology to better understand how climate change will impact soil nutrient cycling, with a primary focus on carbon. I'm more interested in what the microorganisms are doing and how they are changing their activities rather than identifying specific microorganisms. Climate change has the potential to alter soil carbon loss through changes in types of material found in the soil, altering the availability of those materials, and through changing what materials microorganisms use. We use a variety of field, lab, and computer techniques to better understand changes in microbial physiology under different climate change scenarios. In our lab you really do get your hands dirty!

Business Administration and Economics

Psychological Capital, Dr. Johanna Sweet

Dr. Sweet researches psychological capital - the composite of hope, self-efficacy, optimism, and resilience - in the workplace. She is currently conducting a study of Roanoke College freshmen and how psychological capital relates with GPA and student retention. This is a longitudinal study. The goal is to create intervention initiatives that may be successful in enhancing academic psychological capital. Dr. Sweet is also interested in motivational theory, and performance management in the workplace.


Chemical Synthesis and "Green Chemistry", Dr. Skip Brenzovich

From plastics to drugs to food additives, chemical synthesis permeates our lives. However, the process of making and designing new molecules leads to the production of large amounts of waste materials. Using the tenets of "Green Chemistry", our lab is investigating the use of solid-phase catalysts to reexamine reactions to produce a process that reduces both costs and waste. During the project, students will learn the process of chemical synthesis while exploring the design of new chemical reactions and the creation of new and interesting molecules.

Using Diels-Alder Reactions to Model Self-Healing Polymer Systems, Dr. Gary Hollis

My research interests lie primarily in the area of synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry. Synthetic methods are developed in order to facilitate the conversion of one molecule into another. In addition to this goal of investigating molecular construction, methods development contributes basic chemical knowledge concerning the properties of the species and the reactions being studied. My research students learn basic techniques in organic and organometallic synthesis (including inert atmospheres, syringe techniques, extractions, etc.), methods of purification of organic compounds (including distillation, recrystallization, and column chromatography), and the means to identify compounds using modern spectroscopic instrumentation (most usually 1H and 19F NMR spectroscopy). My current research is on synthesizing, purifying, and characterizing fluorinated dienes and dienophiles to use as Diels-Alder substrates.  This work is part of a larger effort through a collaboration with Dr. Paul Deck at Virginia Tech.  While my lab at Roanoke makes small molecule species, Dr. Deck's research group uses these monomers in Diels-Alder polymerization reactions with the goal of making polymers that can self-repair.

Inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals for light downshifting applications, Dr. Steve Hughes

With 7% of the world's total power production going to lighting, we need to improve the way we use our power. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are already considerably more efficient when compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, but even they have room for improvement. The majority of energy loss in an LED is in the phosphor, which shifts the color of the light to the warm white light we enjoy. Semiconductor nanocrystals make ideal phosphors for LEDs because they strongly absorb the ultraviolet light from the LED and re-emit that light at desired visible wavelengths. The goal of this research project is to design and synthesize new, "greener" nanocrystals that do not contain any toxic metals. The materials system we have targeted for our initial effort is that of silver gallium sulfide (AGS). In addition to having the ideal light absorption and re-emission properties that are desired for this application, this semiconductor system also has the added benefit of being a tunable, ternary system. This means that by careful control of the growth parameters, the band gap of these particles should be tunable to emit light across our visible spectrum from blue to red light. The success of this project has the potential to define a new model of phosphor for lighting our future.

Tuberculosis antibiotic resistance, Dr. Tim Johann

Tuberculosis is a terrible disease that is responsible for more than one million deaths each year (World Health Organization). The management of this disease has been complicated by the infectious agent developing resistance to many of the antibiotics used to treat it. We aim to produce, purify, and characterize proteins that contribute to the various resistances demonstrated by this bacterium. By doing so, we hope to gain understanding that would help other research groups produce better antibiotics or use current antibiotics in a more effective manner.

Electrochemical Sensor Development, Dr. Richard Keithley

My research is in the field of analytical chemistry which can be thought of as the development of novel instrumentation and sensors to measure complex chemical phenomena (basically, I am a LEGO chemist). Specifically, research in my lab is focused on fabrication of devices that can be used by other scientists around the world to monitor molecules of biological importance including neurotransmitters and molecular oxygen. Specifically, if a student is interested in working side-by-side with me, they will be involved in the construction of a novel type of carbon-fiber ultramicroelectrode, a sensor that is 10-100 times smaller than a human hair. This type of research is not the traditional "wet chemistry" students may first think of when they think about chemistry. However, if you are interested in chemistry and like building things with your hands, this project is for you! 


Folktales, New Pedagogy, and Learning Narratives, Dr. Lisa Stoneman

Want to work across disciplinary lines to create a unique research product? Student researchers in my lab work among a team of other students and professors to address topics from an interdisciplinary perspective. Together, we operate as a "think-tank" learning collaborative. I have two main research projects: 1) innovative work with dragon folklore that is connected to fossils, and 2) an educational study of transdisciplinary methods of research and teaching. The folklore project entails cataloguing, reading, and analyzing dragon stories from all over the world. This project has many entry points and the content is flexible according to student interests. The education study involves social science research on the effectiveness of a transdisciplinary research and teaching environment. Both of these projects provide valuable opportunities for students interested in presenting and publishing their work. Those looking to stay with the research team for multiple years are particularly encouraged to apply!  

Environmental Studies

The Case for Transit, Dr. Laura M. Hartman

Public transit is good for a community. It increases public health, decreases air pollution and traffic, and helps lift people out of poverty. It also benefits tourism and the local economy. And yet, few medium-sized cities like Roanoke adequately support it. This is a multidisciplinary research project at the intersection of environmental justice, policy, transportation planning, ethics, and community organizing. It is also community-engaged research. We use evidence supporting the importance of transit, we draw on (and sometimes generate) knowledge about local government and transportation systems, and we leverage connections to local community organizations, in order to strategically advocate for better transit locally.

Human-Landscape Interactions in the Earth's Critical Zone, Dr. Kathy O'Neill

Human communities depend upon the land. From clean drinking water and agricultural food production, to the wood, fuel, and soil resources needed to sustain a growing population -- all depend upon the complex interactions between water, soil, and living organisms that occur at the Earth's surface. At the same time, human development is clearly having an impact on the ability of soil and water systems to continue to provide these ecosystem services. Of perhaps greater concern, projected human population increases and enhanced standards of living worldwide are expected to double the demand for food and clean drinking water in the next four decades, a time period during which the Earth's terrestrial systems will also need to adapt to changes in climate, declines in global biodiversity, and shifts in global land use patterns such as deforestation and urbanization. Research under this program will address human interactions within the Earth's Critical Zone, the relatively thin layer that extends from the top of the tree canopy to the base of drinking water aquifers. Project objectives will depend, in part, upon the prior experience and interest of the student. However, some example projects that could be pursued under this fellowship include Quantification of nutrient and carbon inputs in an aggrading forest system at the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory, Use of GIS and field measurements to evaluate changes in land use/land cover and carbon sequestration potential in the Roanoke Valley and the southern/central Appalachian ecoregion, Development of outreach and educational materials related to the Earth's Critical Zone and the Critical Zone Observatory network, and Evaluation of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with water use/treatment on the Roanoke College campus and within the Roanoke Valley. 

Sustaining Vulnerable Water Systems, Dr. Chelsea Peters

Water resources are rapidly changing in response to climate and development pressures. Population growth, landscape alteration, and climate change lead to compromised water quality and quantity issues globally. My work is motivated by these challenges and aims to develop creative solutions for sustainable water resources management and human adaptation to environmental change. I use a variety of field techniques, modeling approaches, and datasets to bridge hydrology, geology, and environmental studies. I also strive to generate educational and decision-making tools in my projects. Project opportunities depend on students’ interests and prior experience.  A few examples of projects include (1) assessing the influence of groundwater flow into Roanoke Valley streams using thermal cameras, (2) examining relationships between groundwater pumping and estuary salinity along coastlines in GA and DE, and (3) generating recommendations and educational materials for sustainable development of water resources in Bangladesh and Kenya.  

Fine Arts

Performance Studies & Music Analysis, Dr. Gordon Marsh

Dr. Marsh's digital humanities project involves creating and developing an on-line resource for performance studies. The first stage of the project is to archive and analyze recorded performances (audio and audiovisual) of a limited selection of solo piano works. The second stage is to produce original scholarly work in the field of transformational theory and phenomenological analysis. The field of performance studies in music is relatively new: modeled on theatre studies, the goal is to redirect the scholar's attention from the printed score-the typical limits of academic music-to an often ignored or overlooked subject, the performance of that score. Our research question seeks answers to questions about what's lost in studying the score alone and what's gained in studying its different performances. Since data points derive from the recorded performances and their comparison in terms of musical structure and meaning, the opportunity for undergraduate research ranges from collecting and cataloguing, at its most basic level, to developing theories and interpretations about how the significance of a work is revealed in how performers play the work.

Reconstructing Ancient Egyptian Society through Ceramic Analysis, Dr. Leslie Warden

My research seeks to reconstruct Egyptian society through the lens of the archaeological record. Rather than dealing with pharaohs, I and the students I work with concentrate on understanding average people: where they lived, how they lived, how they moved through the landscape, how their culture and their traditions changed over time. Ceramics is the core of these analyses as they are the most common artifact type to be found in excavation. The research fellow will have the opportunity to work hands-on with archaeological documentation from at least one current project in Egypt, mostly from settlement sites. Students with interests in archaeology and the ancient Mediterranean world are encouraged to apply. Visual skills and technical drawing skills welcome. No previous knowledge of ancient Egypt is necessary.

Health & Human Performance

Improving Health Equity through Cross-Sector Community Development: The Roanoke Valley Community Healthy Living Index, Dr. Liz Ackley

Considerable variations in resident health status can be observed across Roanoke's diverse city neighborhoods, with the most adverse health profiles displayed by residents living in least affluent areas. Largely a consequence of inequitable distribution of resources supporting healthy living, leaders in the non-profit, city government, healthcare and academic sectors are actively working to address disparities in infrastructure as a means to improve resident health. The Roanoke Valley Community Healthy Living Index (RV-CHLI) serves to catalyze these collaborative efforts, proving baseline indicators to community partners to facilitate awareness of the impact of "place" on resident health outcomes. Adapted from a previously validated tool developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the RV-CHLI combines powerful spatial technologies (GIS) with objective measures of resident health and perceptions of access to healthy living resources. By prioritizing a translational research approach, the RV-CHLI empowers cross-sector stakeholders to make informed decisions in the development of projects and programs seeking to improve community health. If you have ever wanted to change the world one neighborhood at a time, this translational research experience might be for you.

Sport Management Research, Dr. K.C. Mayer, Jr

It's all about sports... My research primarily revolves around sport fans in the areas of Sport Consumer Behavior, Sport Marketing, and Sport Finance, as I aim to seek a more complete understanding of the factors that can impact sport consumption. A project could fall into any of the following three areas. In one area, I explore why consumers Attend sports, such as fan motivations, stadium elements, and game experience/atmosphere. A second area I explore is the opposite end, with Non-Attendance to sports, and the factors that can constrain or prevent fan attendance to games. A third area of sport consumption I am also studying has to do with Premium Seating in Sports, which includes Luxury Suites and Club Levels at sport stadiums. Lastly, I enjoy being able to introduce students to research, which aids their future careers in sport through an enhancement of critical thinking skills, and being able to explore making data driven decisions.

Understanding the choices we make: A psychological, physiological and kinematic examination of human motion, Dr. Matt Rearick

Whether you are walking, communicating with a friend or reaching out to grasp a familiar object, what often appears to be an effortless movement is in fact the product of many complex spatial and temporal interactions between the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the muscular and physiological systems. Given this complexity, a number of approaches have been used to study human movement control, ranging from measuring the electrical activity of muscles and the brain, to tracking physiological responses, to quantifying motion and forces during the execution of single and multi-joint movements. Nevertheless, even after years of research, it still remains unclear how the CNS "chooses" a particular movement form and subsequently controls and modulates this motion within the context of a given situation (say, from a changing environment or varying task demands). The research ongoing in the Health and Human Performance Lab uses a naturally occurring experimental model - humans walking while using hiking poles and under loaded conditions - to examine several research questions related to how the human CNS makes decisions about movement control and how it modulates motion depending on context, both internal (e.g., mood) and external (e.g., speed of a treadmill) to the individual. The primary goal is to systematically examine the entire functional range of walking under these different conditions. Once described, further experiments will manipulate context in very specific ways in order to elucidate the control variables for this movement form. The hope is this research line will provide insight into how the CNS makes its' choices.


Genealogy of Slavery at Roanoke College, Dr. Jesse Bucher

The Genealogy of Slavery project focuses on the specific history of slavery at Roanoke College and the surrounding region. This research will attempt to identify the enslaved people whose labor helped build Roanoke College. Student researchers will utilize local archives, census records, and other sources to expand our understanding of the legacies of slavery at Roanoke College. The research project will supplement broader efforts to think about and commemorate regional histories of slavery. Moreover, the project will trace the epistemic genealogy of Roanoke College, and the role that slavery and institutional racism have played in shaping the institution.

History of the Netherlands and the Dutch Golden Age, Dr. Michael Hakkenberg

I have a long-standing scholarly interest in Dutch history, and more specifically in the cultural and religious history of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I would like to engage a student in my ongoing research in Dutch history, and especially use a student for bibliographic work, collecting resources, and reading and summarizing scholarly articles (while much of the scholarship on the history of the Netherlands is in Dutch, there is also a large body of literature in English). In addition, I would like to use this student to research and develop resources that could be used for two new courses that I would like to teach: a history (or perhaps INQ) course on the History of the Netherlands and also a May travel course on the Dutch Golden Age. It would be invaluable to me to have a student who could research and put together resources (texts, images, websites, museums) for these courses. While pursuing this work, the student would learn the basic skills and techniques of historical research: searching databases, literature review, compiling bibliographies, evaluating sources and websites, and more. And the student might even learn a little Dutch along the way.

Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, Dr. Samantha Rosenthal

The Research Fellow will work with Dr. Samantha Rosenthal, Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of the Public History concentration, on the activities of the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, a community-based queer public history initiative founded in 2015. Activities of the project include: building and maintaining a physical and digital archives of historic regional LGBTQ+ materials; conducting oral histories with community members; designing and leading queer history walking tours; putting together digital exhibitions; and much more. As a community-based project, the Research Fellow will work closely with LGBTQ+ organizations and individuals across the region in the planning and execution of projects and initiatives. This is a great opportunity for students interested in the intersections between scholarship and activism; historical research and community organizing.

Math, Computer Science, & Physics

Measuring Player Engagement in a Motion-controlled Virtually Reality Game, Dr. Durrell Bouchard

I want to create video games that are more fun and more engaging by creating games that are aware of and capable of responding to a player's mood.  The research fellow will create a video game using the Unreal game engine and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset that tracks user movement using the Microsoft Kinect.  The game will be used as a testbed for an experiment to determine if it is possible to detect changes in player movement that correspond to different levels of engagement with the game.  Ultimately, this will be used to create a game that responds to the engagement measurements to make, hopefully, a more fun game.

Teaching and Learning in the Calculus Classroom, Dr. Hannah Robbins

I do research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) which attempts to rigorously assess the effectiveness of different ways of teaching. Most dedicated teachers are constantly trying to figure out what worked and didn't work in their classrooms, and SOTL allows us to use statistical methods to do this in a more scientific way. Roanoke College recently changed the structure of its first year calculus courses, and I'm currently working on a SOTL project to assess how effective this change has been at increasing student success in calculus. You don't need any calculus or statistics background to get involved in this project, only an interest in helping improve our understanding of when educational change works.

Graph Theory and Mathematics, Dr. Karin Saoub

Graph theory is a branch of mathematics concerned with the interactions between discrete objects and the information that can be derived from the structure they create. Applications of graph theory include network analysis, storage allocation, and optimal routes. Past student projects include: identifying influential people and how information spreads within a social network (such as Facebook or Twitter); analyzing food access in two distinct Roanoke City neighborhoods; and modeling the capacity and usage of the DC Metro. Successful research students must have an interest in mathematics or computer science and a willingness to work through new concepts. Future projects include, but are not limited to, the Asymmetric Traveling Salesman Problem, Vertex Coloring, and Social Network Analysis.

Modern Languages (Spanish)

Literatures and Cultures of the Gulf and the Caribbean, Dr. Dolores Flores-Silva

This project could involve a student who may be interested in any aspect of the cultures or literatures of the Gulf of Mexico region, including Mexico, the US South, and Cuba, and extending even into the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, or Central America). The student should have strong skills in Spanish and could work with me on research involving the history, literature, folklore, economy, music, ritual, and culinary traditions of the Gulf of Mexico region from Veracruz to New Orleans and Havana. The student could help me put together audiovisual digital material for a Gulf website, for classroom usage, and for my conference presentations. The student could help me with research on Mexico, Cuba, and the Gulf South of the US, and could perhaps even co-present with me and my research partner at conferences within the region.


Prejudice, Empathy, Evolutionary Adaptations, and Moral Decision Making, Dr. Chris Buchholz

I am interested in a range of research topics including how empathy shapes our moral decision making. Recently, I have conducted a series of studies examining increasing prejudice and discrimination during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The goals of my research are to both understand how we make moral and ethical decisions as well as to find ways to apply those to the real world. Much of my research has an evolutionary theoretical background. Self-awareness, theory of mind, empathy, and morality are all the result of evolutionary forces and a deeper understanding of those roots is essential to understanding how we make moral and ethical decisions today.

Self-Processes, Motivation, and Social and Academic Adjustment, Dr. Danielle Findley-Van Nostrand

In Dr. Findley-Van Nostrand's lab, there are several ongoing research directions broadly centered around the interrelations among individual-level differences in self-processes (self-esteem, self-concept clarity, and other constructs) and motivation (social goals, achievement orientations), and adjustment in the larger contextual domains of social interactions (broadly speaking, including aggressive and prosocial behaviors, peer group status and acceptance/rejection) and academic achievement and persistence (overall, and in STEM-specific fields) during late childhood, adolescence, and early/emerging adulthood. Studies in her lab typically draw from the theoretical perspectives and methodology of multiple fields of psychology and education, and as such, allow for a broad range of experiences for student researchers. Students in the lab, depending on interests, goals, and experience level, work on a variety of tasks, from working with existing data, coding/analyzing data and conducting literature reviews, to designing and carrying out independent studies.

Computerized Neuropsychological Testing, Dr. David Nichols

Classically, neuropsychological testing has been done with paper and pencil with the goal of observing large scale differences in how long the tests took or overall performance level in order to rule out or rule in particular clinical diagnoses. The current project will involve developing and testing new computerized versions of neuropsychological tests that take advantage of being able to record movements over time. This allows for a dynamic understanding of performance that may reveal performance differences between individuals at a finer diagnostic level. Students with interests in experimental psychology, neuropsychology, and/or computer science are encouraged to get involved with this project.

Psychology of Relationships, Dr. Darcey Powell

Dr. Powell studies relationships, specifically parenting and romantic relationships. Her lab’s projects on parenting tend to focus on: their evaluations of themselves, their expectations for their co-parent, and their division of caregiving labor. Her lab’s projects on romantic relationships tend to focus on: the initiation of relationships (i.e., talking) and the dissolution of relationships (i.e., ghosting). Students in Dr. Powell’s lab are facilitated in developing their research interests, as they relate to relationships, and encouraged to consider projects that will help them achieve their post-graduation goals. The tasks students engage in are varied and largely determined by students’ skills, interests, and goals. Therefore, tasks include but are not limited to: annotating articles, analyzing previously collected data, recruiting participants, assisting with fellow students’ study set-up or protocol enactment, writing a literature review, and conducting their own independent study. Students with interests in the social sciences (e.g., psychology, education, sociology, communication) are encouraged to apply to become involved with these projects.

Public Affairs

Autism and Coordination in Education Policy Networks, Dr. Bryan Parsons

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." The U.S. system of federalism decentralizes power across 50 states and thousands of local communities. As one might imagine, this creates both challenges and opportunities for implementing major public policies, from education to health care to the environment. Drawing from classic theories of social capital and collective action in politics, my research broadly examines how public and private organizations form policy networks to share information and coordinate policy decisions at the state and local level. Specifically, I use social network analysis (SNA) examine how local governments, school districts, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations develop collaborative partnerships regarding issues related to the needs of children on the autism spectrum in the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The project currently includes data from two field surveys and will involve future field surveys in different states and localities.

The Death Penalty, Dr. Todd Peppers

I am a member of the Department of Public Affairs whose research interests include the death penalty.  To date, I've co-authored two books on capital punishment, and I used research assistants for both books.  I am currently working on a number of new projects related to the death penalty, including doing research on two biographies of death penalty activists as well as creating a website on the history of the death penalty in Virginia.  This research will continue into the 2019-2020 academic year. I could use a research assistant to help collect historical documents related to the two biographies as well as the website.  The assistant would also help me transcribe interview notes. Not only would the assistant conduct on-line research, but they would also travel to the Library of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia with me to do research in their death penalty archives.