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Realizing Our Best

Conducting research in microbiology has been an academic highlight for Hannah DeRespiris, a senior pre-med major at UD. This hands-on experience tops her personal list of academic achievements, and it might not have been available without the support of UD donors during One Day, One Dayton.

Last spring during the day of giving, UD supporters made 377 gifts totaling more than $120,000 to the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fund for Excellence, and this allowed Dean Danielle Poe to direct funding to summer research opportunities for students like DeRespiris through the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program. The college helped 89 students conduct summer research through the program, and Poe hopes to double that number for more students like DeRespiris.

“I never thought I’d be involved in undergraduate research,” said DeRespiris, who experienced the benefits of the program while working with Yvonne Sun, associate professor of microbiology. “Dr. Sun is awesome. Conducting research with her has definitely challenged me to think. It’s made me a better student, more responsible and a better critical thinker overall.”

That’s saying something for the pre-med major and honors student who has already been accepted to medical school. She’s been active in service, completed the Berry Summer Thesis Institute, had leadership roles in Alpha Epsilon Delta, and has even been an active member of the UD Dance Team, regularly performing at UD Arena — which she describes as surreal.  

According to Sun, UD students like DeRespiris have helped change the way she thinks about research.

At the University of Dayton, Sun sees research as an opportunity to mentor students and engage them in ways that can’t be done within the classroom. Sun explained that students at UD, especially high-achieving ones like DeRespiris, have a ton on their plates with service, activities and organizations. They are also under the impression that they can’t make any mistakes, especially students wanting to attend medical school. Research provides students with the opportunity to fail and learn — about the topic and about themselves as active learners.

Sun re-envisioned how she would mentor students in a more holistic way. The result has been a win for everyone involved. With a team of over 15 undergraduate students, Sun provides a learning environment to tackle real-world problems. “I still want to solve huge issues in human health, and we are,” said Sun. Their current research is studying how certain bacteria respond to their environment so that these bacteria can be controlled and more people protected. 

The work has immediate benefits, too. DeRespiris’ research was included in a published, peer-reviewed article, which helped her stand out in her medical school applications. And it wouldn’t have happened without the assistance of donors. For that, she is thankful. And so is UD.

“The College’s operating budget doesn’t have enough margin to provide these opportunities for students,” said Poe about the summer research positions. “But I know that when we give these opportunities, we’re at our best. Philanthropy allows us to realize who we are when we’re at our best.”

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