Saints Start Challenge Grants Underway

Deborah Dudley

In April, St. Lawrence announced the inaugural group of Saints Start Challenge Grant recipients. The Saints Start Challenge Grants support students’ independent research, creative, volunteer, and internship projects in the summer between the sophomore and junior years; funding for this program is supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and awards of up to $5,400 may be requested.

This summer, six rising juniors—Roman Bergner ’20, John Hoefler ’20, Fiona Johnson ’20, Raven Larcom ’20, Tanner McCaskie ’20, and Erica Sawyer ’20—have begun interactive projects of personal exploration and discovery that promote the public good, interact with a wide range of people and environments, and address crucial questions in a broad range of disciplines. Each grant recipient has a mentor and receives support from numerous community and University partners as well.

“The purpose of the Saints Start Challenge Grants is to encourage sophomores to be more intentional about their academic choices as they move forward,” says Mary Jane Smith, associate professor of history and director of the Sophomore Journeys program, “as well as to enlarge their vision of possible career paths for the future.” According to Smith, students’ academic and career goals can benefit from activities outside the traditional classroom that enhance professional skills development and intellectual and emotional growth. The grant program is designed to keep sophomores on track with innovative opportunities beyond the First-Year Program that engage them early in their academic career.

Larcom’s project will allow her the opportunity to combine her deep interests in natural science and the arts, as she will spend the summer analyzing the wing interference patterns of almost 400 species of Lasiopogon specimens, a common genus of robber/assassin flies. These wing interference patterns, which Larcom describes as “really neat stable rainbow patterns in clear insect wings” can be used to “distinguish particular and identifiable patterns for each species and sex.” Tristan McKnight, an instructor in the First-Year Program, and Karl McKnight, professor of biology, will mentor Larcom.

McCaskie will serve as a camp counselor for children at Project Harmony in Jerusalem. This camp brings together children from both Arab and Israeli communities and works to promote peace from the grassroots level. He is receiving ongoing guidance for the project and instruction on the region from Dr. Ronnie Olesker, associate professor of government.

Johnson will be volunteering with three programs dedicated to the principles of personal youth development: the Peace Paper Project, which uses the art of paper-making as a form of therapy; a summer library program near Johnson’s hometown; and Camp Sunshine, which serves children with terminal illnesses. Fiona will tie these experiences together through a series of written and reflective activities with Sarah Barber, associate professor of English.

Bergner will spend the summer digitizing and transcribing records from the St. Lawrence County Poorhouse, specifically those logged by a supervisor of this facility between 1895 and 1907. Bergner’s work will connect to Mindy Pitre’s ongoing Death in St. Lawrence County Project; Pitre, associate professor of anthropology, will serve as the faculty for this summer project. Bergner’s work will include regular collaboration with the St. Lawrence County Historical Society. Through the project, he hopes to gain further insights into the workings of this early American social service agency and its people. 

Hoefler’s project also contains a local theme, as he will conduct specimen collection and analysis to study the impact of mercury pollution on aquatic ecosystems, food chains, and public health in the Adirondacks. Hoefler’s research will focus particularly on Church Pond, located in the Township of Colton and a part of the Grasse River watershed, which has received only limited study on this topic in the past. He will be mentored by Matt Skeels, associate professor of chemistry.

Sawyer’s project will take her farther afield for three months at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, where she will join a biomedical research team led by that Sichuan University’s Dr. Jia Jeng. 

The research they have outlined for this summer will focus on the medical benefits that can be harnessed through advantageous cell manipulation Outside the lab, she looks forward to being able to immerse herself in Chinese language, culture, and history; she will receive mentorship from Helen Huang, director of Asia Programs in the Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies.

The students will prepare reports on their experiences and present to the campus community in a variety of forums in the fall.


A Lasiopogon specimen