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SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOW: Alexandria Bender ’27

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Posted on Thursday, June 20, 2024

Alexandria Bender is one of 10 students selected for this year’s Summer Research Fellowship at Westminster College. Alexandria is a sophomore honors student and biology major from New Castle, Pa. She and her faculty mentor, Dr. Helen Boylan ’95, are examining “The Effects of Nature Theory on Stress,” for their research partnership. Bender is an active member of the Agape Bible study group on campus as well as a member of the Treble Choir, Concert Choir and the Lambda Sigma sophomore honor society. She also volunteers as a youth group leader at her church and is a choreography assistant for New Castle Regional Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker” production.

Why did you apply for the summer research fellowship?
Throughout my freshman year, I realized that I felt the most pride in my work whenever it made a difference in the lives of community members. Research without impact is fun, but research with impact is rewarding. At the time, I was enrolled in one of Dr. Boylan’s new classes called Changing the World, a class built on strengthening communities. After talking with her about the program, we decided to submit a proposal about a project that would not only bring new and exciting ideas to the world of science but would positively impact the lives of the people living in our community.

Can you briefly describe your project?
Our project focuses on the effects nature therapy has on stress. Nature therapy involves an individual connecting with the environment to improve one’s health in various ways. Because stress is not an easy subject to measure, our study will involve objective measures (heart rate and salivary cortisol levels) and subjective measures (surveys). The goals of our study include completing a four-week pilot study, assessing the objective and subjective measurements, comparing the objective measurements to see which has the best representation and using the data to build a bigger study within the near future.

What have you learned from your collaboration with Dr. Boylan?
What kinds of insight and support does she contribute to your project? Throughout our time together, Dr. Boylan has taught me many helpful skills and tips that I may never have learned without her.  She taught me how to check the calibration of micropipettes and the process of measuring salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase levels. With computer programs, Dr. Boylan highlighted important functions in Microsoft applications, which we will use for the analysis of our data. Dr. Boylan has brought expertise to the table, especially with her knowledge of analytical chemistry.

What aspects of research have been your favorite?
The part of our research project that I have enjoyed the most is the topic itself. The beauty about this program is that students are not rushed to complete tasks by specific deadlines and, as a result, do better on their projects. They are not required to work on a project that holds no value for their education. The research fellowship allows students to work with a professor they enjoy, on a topic they love and at a pace they dictate. In my opinion, this combination results in the best possible work an undergraduate can produce.

How do you think your work as a student researcher will shape your future student and career success?
This research has done so much for my academic life and future career success. It revealed my love of learning and my passion for discoveries that change individuals’ lives for the better. In addition to learning dozens of technology tips and laboratory skills, it has taught me the importance of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the benefit of loving your work. I hope that this project will not only shed light on an important method for dealing with stress but will also inspire other individuals to study topics that they enjoy.

What is your favorite thing about being a Westminster student?
One of the benefits of attending a small institution is that Westminster students can connect with their professors on a one-on-one basis. I truly believe that students learn more from this authentic teaching style. Students can learn from the successes and failures of their professors. They can work together on projects, bringing unique ideas to the table. In addition, students can ask more questions and gain a deeper understanding about the topic being studied.

What are your plans for the future?
Ultimately, I leave my plans to my Lord and Savior. If it is His will, I plan to graduate from Westminster College with a major in biology and a minor in Spanish. I plan to take the MCATs during my junior year and get accepted into a medical school during my senior year. After graduating, I aim to attain my medical degree and then return to New Castle, Pa., to work as a pediatrician. The future is full of possibilities, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for me.

To learn more about Westminster’s Department of Biology, visit

Sponsored by the Drinko Center for Undergraduate Research, Summer Research Fellowships at Westminster College allow students to conduct hands-on research and creative projects under the guidance of our experienced faculty mentors.