This year (2020) a team from Saint Paul College in Minnesota was named the Grand Prize winners of the 2020 competition.
Their faculty mentor was Enyinda Onunwor. Here are statements from the team members:
Name: Mathieu Landretti
Major: Data Science
Current Institution: Saint Paul College but planning to transfer to the University of Minnesota
Career Goal: Data Scientist (Not sure what field)
Please summarize your SRL experience: We began our project just as the world began to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear about the future, and at that time, things were quite surreal (they still are in many ways). With all of this in the air, the SRL gave me something positive to focus on. It felt good to be working on a solution to something while the pandemic raged on. I was also part of a great team, and every morning we would jump on a video call to talk about the project and how we were dealing with the pandemic. It was incredibly positive. We spent almost every hour doing research, writing, programming, or meeting. Since everything was shut down, I was given the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the subject of the student loan crisis. At times, it was quite overwhelming and humbling to be exposed to the vast amount of information on the subject.
Looking forward, I know that I definitely want to pursue a career in research.
I was also left with the following perspective; I hope we can see a solution to the Student Loan Debt Crisis. It is apparent that it has caused much unnecessary suffering. Simply put, we should not punish people for trying to educate themselves. We live in a world where there are so many problems out of our control, but we can control this one. It is possible to improve people's lives, and we should strive for that goal.
How did the SRL enhance your college experience? The SRL really pushes the bounds of your skills. Whether it's research, writing, statistics, math, or programming, the SRL forces you to apply these to a real-world problem. While the classroom teaches you the technical details of these subjects, using these tools in a creative/open ended project allowed me to better understand them. Now, when I'm sitting in lecture, I see how the information we are learning can be directly applied to real world problems. It was incredibly useful to put my classroom skills into context.
What skills did you develop/enhance/gain due to this experience? While I did improve my writing, research, and math skills, the most important skill I gained was working with a team remotely. We learned that in order to have a successful team, we had to be coordinated, organized, and respectful of each other's ideas. This of course, was amplified due to the time limit. We quickly realized that even if you have a team made up of the most skillful individuals, you won't make much progress unless you can properly communicate. Since we decided to be so organized and proactive about our research, when we did run into road bumps, we were able to handle them with relative ease. This, I think, was the most important skill gained from this project.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering participating in the SRL? Have fun with it. Above all else, this is a creative project. Be creative about your solution. At least for me, I put any idea of competition/winning out of my mind and solely focused on learning and coming up with a solution. You will feel overwhelmed and frustrated at times, and if you enter this sort of competition with a negative attitude, it will permeate the entire project and make any minor hiccup into a catastrophe. If you enter with a positive attitude and a drive to learn, the experience will be invaluable.
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Current institution (where your transferred to): Santa Clara University
Career goal: Mechanical Design Engineer
Please summarize your SRL experience:I loved being able to work as a team with the two other researchers. We really dove deep into the world of student loan debt and put our best effort into finding a solution to the crisis. Our team met daily for 2-3 hours to discuss our progress and to compile information. I also learned quite a bit about economics and government policies.
How did the SRL enhance your college experience?Participating in SRL was a great way to end my time at Saint Paul College. I got to see a difficult project through to the end. I worked with some of my favorite faculty members and was able to reinforce life-long friendships with the other participants.
What skills did you develop/enhance/gain due to this experience?I gained considerable research experience during this time which I will carry forward into my next school. I also learned a lot about working remotely as a team due to the COVID-19 shut-down.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering participating in the SRL?I would recommend finding a strong team with a strong work ethic!
Name: Ryan Van Domelen
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Current institution (where your transferred to): University of St. Thomas
Career goal: Currently I'm interested in the biomed field
Please summarize your SRL experience: It was a great opportunity for personal growth. It was a lot of work in a short period of time, but being able to look back at what the team and I created gives me great joy.
How did the SRL enhance your college experience? SRL enhanced my college experience because it gave me the opportunity to do something that generally isn't done at two year schools. There are research papers in some class and lab reports in others, but none of them compared to this paper. This paper gave me experience in writing the types of papers that I could very well write in my career.
What skills did you develop/enhance/gain due to this experience? The skill I believe enhanced the most is working with teammates and listening to criticism. I did several group projects during my time at Saint Paul College, but none of them were as stressful or rigorous as this paper.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering participating in the SRL? One thing that really helped my team was the structure that we had. We had a daily morning video call to check in and talk about the work we were going to do each day. From there we all went our own way and trusted everyone would do what they needed to. It gave us a routine that helped us to make steady progress the entire time.