Hundreds of Freshmen Present Their Research at the Learning Communities Showcase

Jamie Elliott (right) and Holly Junice won first place for their project, "Conservation of Shenandoah National Park's Endangered Salamander."

Students here love to work in teams on research projects – to design and build -- and the university is happy to give them the chance to do that, as early as possible.

Take, for example, the recent Learning Communities Freshman Design Showcase, when nearly 300 freshmen divided into 79 groups assembled in the Campus Center to present their research.

For their spring core humanities class, the freshmen teams worked on research projects whose theme was multipurpose design. They received a portion of their grade for the projects and also presented them at the showcase, where they explained their work to judges.

The students said they enjoyed the projects, some of which were quite clever. For instance, one team at the showcase designed a Rubik’s Cube Scanner -- a Lego Mindstorms robot that uses light and ultra-sonic sensors to identify the colors on each side of the cube. The scanner then runs a math program that decided how many turns it will take to solve the cube.  It was the brainchild of Tim Suchodolski, who said his team enjoyed the project because it called upon theory and equations but also hands-on building.

“It was a good balance of math and building,” said Suchodolski, a computer engineering major. “It was fun building the robot but it was the math program that made it work.”

Ivan Calvachi, Betty Benony, and Vincent Santoro devised an idea for a device that exercises the hearts of astronauts. Space lacks gravity, and with no force upon it the heart weakens. The same applies for people in wheelchairs. So the three made designed  “the Beat Box,” a device which, in theory, can raise the heartbeat and exercise the human heart. All three said they enjoyed the project.

“It’s great for incoming freshmen at NJIT to get the experience of building and designing a device from scratch,” said Santoro. Calvachi added that the project allowed them to go beyond their class work and immerse themselves in research.  “We worked on this in the study lounge during our free time," he said. "We learned a lot and really enjoyed it.”

Learning Communities, an initiative run by the Office of the Dean of Students, places students in groups based on their majors. Students in groups of 15-25 take the same three courses that explore fundamental concepts in their majors. Two upper-class mentors guide each group as it explores concepts through writing, discussing and hands-on learning. Faculty, advisers and mentors meet frequently to discuss the students and their progress. As the program progresses the students bond and connect with their academic departments.

Ashish Borgaonkar, assistant dean for Learning Communities, works closely with mentors, faculty and staff to ensure that the students receive the support they need to succeed.

 “Our showcase is a fantastic opportunity for our freshmen not only to get hands-on research experience,” said Borgaonkar, “but also to get constructive feedback from the campus community, which helps them hone their skills and makes them better students and researchers.”

At the end of the showcase, judges selected five winning teams. First place went to biology major students Holly Junice and Jamie Elliott for their project “Conservation of Shenandoah National Park's Endangered Salamander.”

Second place went to undeclared majors Santoro, Calvachi, and Benony for “the Beat Box.” Third place, which drew a tie, went to electrical and computer engineering major students Alexander Panucci, Christian Dumbrique, Dakota Napierkowski, Joseph Ack, and Umar Rao for a project called “Knock Knock.” Third place also went to mechanical engineering major students Shomari Rollox, Wesley Dickson, Michael Filippidis and Matthew Roufaeal for “Multipurpose Use of Sustainable Energy.” And honorable mention was given to biology majors Nidhi Jasani and Sara Boulus for “Evolution of the Peanut Allergy and Why It Is Becoming More Common Now.”

By Robert Florida