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Students still MUSE despite coronavirus challenges

For more than a decade, TCNJ’s Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) has given students an invaluable opportunity to conduct research alongside members of the faculty. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and limited on-campus engagement this year, the program was a success with 70 students collaborating with 40 faculty members on 46 projects. The college held a virtual showcase on September 15 to celebrate their work.

During the celebration, students shared a variety of posters, audio recordings, and YouTube videos about topics ranging from redesigning coding education to the effects after school programs have on academic and social-emotional health. Highlights of the projects and presentations are archived on the MUSE 2020 website.

Curt Elderkin, director of faculty-student scholarly and creative collaborative activity, was pleased with how faculty and students were able to overcome obstacles and have a productive summer.

“The consensus among the faculty mentors was that the summer was strong,” he says. “The students were given the tools they needed to conduct their research, had regular assignments to satisfy, and learned more about their work through investigation or reading. The students also worked in conjunction with their mentors through Zoom, though nothing beats the traditional face-to-face model.”

This summer was senior Eliana Gargiulo’s first experience with MUSE. Working alongside Thendral Prabu ’22 and Assistant Professor Josh Fishburn, the trio took advantage of the quiet time away from campus to focus on their research.

“Overall, I was really happy with the experience,” says Gargiulo, an interactive multimedia major. “I never had an opportunity to do something like this before, and working with Thendral and Professor Fishburn was a pleasure. Professor Fishburn did a lot to keep the experience as fulfilling and focused as possible. Ultimately, we managed to finish writing a chapter of a creative coding textbook thanks to our research and I’m very proud of the result.”

The presentations, historically done in person, remained a point of pride for all involved in the summer program, even with the virtual format, Elderkin says.

“Even with the program being reshuffled because of the coronavirus, our students and their mentors were able to produce insightful work that is a testament to their education at TCNJ. When the students present their projects to their peers, faculty, and staff, it is a proud day,” he says.

— David Pavlak

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