Creighton Students Reaping Benefits of Research Experience

By Creighton University Communications and Marketing

Caity Ewers (Photo by Creighton University)

Caity Ewers (Photo by Creighton University)

Caity Ewers arrived at Creighton University “eager to get involved in every way possible.” Like so many others on the cusp of a college career, however, she struggled with pinpointing a major.

Until, that is, she encountered Erin Averett, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Archaeology in Creighton’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Averett met with the freshman and explained how the archaeology program could be the perfect fit for her.

“Archaeology is great, because you can approach it from so many ways – art history, history, excavation, digital imaging, coding, data analysis,” Averett said. “It allows students to embrace that well-roundedness.”

Ewers was convinced, especially when she heard about the opportunities and paths that could be available to her through the program. One of those was a summer research trip to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where a dig site teeming with thousands of fragments of small figurines and statues awaited. 

With Averett’s help, Ewers applied for and received a grant through Creighton’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURAS). CURAS has been supporting and encouraging undergraduate research and scholarship at Creighton since 2013.

The benefits, administrators and faculty say, are significant – and compelling to young collegians seeking a richer experience in their undergraduate years. 

“It’s an opportunity to explore different passions, discover something new, and contribute to a field of knowledge,” said Juliane Strauss-Soukup, Ph.D., CURAS Director and Professor of Chemistry. “It’s a uniquely collaborative and incredibly enriching experience, and students have one-on-one mentorship with top faculty.”

CURAS offers eight different types of summer awards for full-time undergraduate students – nearly 40 funded research awards in all – including a new Director’s Scholarship that is available exclusively to Heider College of Business and College of Nursing undergraduates.

Creighton’s efforts in promoting student research have yielded impressive results.

  • Creighton has been named a top school for undergraduate research/creative projects by U.S. News & World Report for three consecutive years, and was the only Catholic university so honored in 2016.
  • More than one third of all Creighton undergraduate students participate in research before graduating.
  • Nearly 200 undergraduate students present research at national and regional scholarly conferences annually.
  • Over the past seven years, Creighton has been the No. 1 producer of Goldwater Scholars among Catholic universities.
  • The University has been recognized for being a top Fulbright-producing institution.
Dr. Erin Averett (Photo by Creighton University)

Dr. Erin Averett (Photo by Creighton University)

With the CURAS grant, Ewers traveled to Athienou-Malloura, the site of a 2,500-year-old religious sanctuary and ground zero for the dig. Averett is Assistant Director of the Athienou Archaeological Project and has been excavating in the Mediterranean since 1997.

In the summer of 2014, Ewers catalogued artifacts, organized the lab and archives, compiled stratigraphic unit reports, and researched the nature and significance of some of the objects and imagery found at the site.

“Expeditions like these are such poignant growth experiences for students and very keenly demonstrate the value of undergraduate research as a high-impact educational practice," said Strauss-Soukup.

The following summer, Ewers received a National Science Foundation grant to return to Athienou, this time as a student of the project’s field school. She learned the technical aspects of excavation and took classes from the dig’s staff members, including archaeologists, anthropologists, a conservator, an architectural historian, a chemist and an archaeological illustrator. 

She got firsthand experience in the cutting edge of archaeology, as Creighton’s program embraces digital technology and is helping to pioneer the use of scanning and imaging at dig sites to create three-dimensional models and 3-D prints of artifacts back on campus.

Ewers also pursued her own research – an in-depth study of limestone statuettes depicting the goddess Artemis – and presented a paper on the subject at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Francisco in January 2016. 

Averett said that such research experiences at Creighton enable students to learn much more than their chosen discipline. “They learn to take initiative, make decisions, engage in analysis and critical thinking – and that’s applicable everywhere, from the sciences to the business world,” she said.

Ewers agreed. “I got exposure to professors and graduate students from diverse academic backgrounds, and they offered me the kind of invaluable advice that can’t be [obtained] from textbooks or university websites. That helped me to begin solidifying my postgraduate plans,” she said. “I also gained experience working in a team, [which] was more valuable than any group project I had ever been assigned.”

Other examples of student research projects at Creighton include:

  • Using computer models to depict the dynamic flow of human sex trafficking across the United States, in an effort to stop it;
  • Finding new targets to treat bacterial infections;
  • Determining how biomedicine and traditional healing practices can work together for effective medical care in Haiti;
  • Creating dental fillings that will self-repair if they crack or break.

Having completed her undergraduate degree at Creighton in 2016, Ewers is currently enrolled in a two-year Master’s degree program in historic preservation at the University of Oregon. She said her research-rich undergraduate experience at Creighton and the accompanying development of time-management and writing skills have given her confidence to do well on this next step of her journey.