Academics, Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity
Masiel Lopez '20

At Siena, our students are constantly chasing the "why" and "how." Just because the traditional academic year ends with commencement in May does not mean that our Saints stop working. Each summer our Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (CURCA), brings scholars back to campus to focus on their passions and research topics that are near and dear to their hearts. Meet a few of our 2019 scholars:

Ivory Moore’s (pictured above) passion to serve led her to join Siena’s Bonner Service Leaders team as a freshman, where she is able to use her academic skills to help her community. As Moore '20 nears graduation in the spring, her dedication to serving the community has not fizzled out. Moore worked with Nora Boyd, Ph.D., assistant philosophy professor, along with six other students  to research the food oppression on the South End neighborhood in Albany, NY. The group’s primary goal was to infer whether or not the South End could sustain a grocery store and what grocery store models would be most sustainable. 

Within 6 weeks, the group of scholars had to figure out a way to effectively reach out to the community to get feedback, look at community structures and test if there was contamination in the land for agricultural wealth building. 

“We tested the maple trees and soil for contamination, hosted community pop up talks, attended community meetings, and spoke to residents at the local farmers market,” said Moore.

She decided to continue this research for her senior capstone project and alter the question, “Will black-owned food cooperatives best address structural oppression in the South End?”

“I encourage everyone to do research at least once in your life. Whatever you're most passionate about, regardless if it's personal, use your innate ability to be curious and change the world,” said Moore. 


Student researcher and professor mentor

McKenna pictured with Smith-Hunter

Management major Colleen McKenna ’21 spent her summer researching a topic many college students are questioning. McKenna worked closely with Andrea Smith-Hunter, Ph.D, professor of management and sociology. The pair looked at the topic of college funding—more specifically, what is the cost versus benefits of student loans? In her research she examined the postsecondary characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of low-income, and first-generation college students. She argues that being both low income and first generation puts these students at risk of failure in postsecondary education.

McKenna believes students are affected by the burden of taking out loans, especially students who are of low income. 

“I was very intrigued with this topic because of the increasing costs of college and student debt in the United States. This topic affects me personally and my family, friends, and fellow classmates,” she said. 

McKenna plans to present her research at Siena’s Ted Winnowski Conference in the spring and the Academic Showcase at the end of the year

“A top priority in the United States in my opinion should be making education available and affordable to students and to educate unskilled workers who have lost jobs to outsourcing and technology,” said McKenna. 


Matt Bellis and student researchers

Mentor Matt Bellis, Ph.D., with students: Lulama Nyembe, Taylor Flynn, Spencer Tibbitts, Bala Padavala, Nichita Jamwale.

Psychology major Lulama Nyembe’s involvement as a Siena Bonner Service Leader influenced her to focus her summer research on the topic of  housing and homelessness. She worked with the Siena’s office of Academic Community engagement (ACE), Matt Bellis, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, community partners in the Albany area and worked alongside other student team members. The team was divided between people working with data, and two other students involved with creating focus groups for two organizations: Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless and Joseph’s House.  Nyembe '22 focused her research on understanding the data of these homeless shelters in order to find solutions to the issues on homelessness. 

“Having worked with the organization for a year, I came to realize how great a need there is in the area for housing and how these individuals are painfully and gravelly being affected by not having a home,” said Nyembe. 

This summer Nyembe wanted to get more involved with the individuals who seek out the housing services. This project provided her with the chance to explore an issue area where she came to care more about these issues from a different perspective. 

As she explored the data around housing and homelessness in the particular county, she was able to analyze various contributing factors to certain trends. Her psychology degree has without a doubt helped her explore more of the story that lies within the data.