Ronco awarded grant to study river

Ronco awarded grant to study river The National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the Alice and Leslie E. Lancy Foundation Program (NCUR/Lancy) has awarded University of South Dakota Professor Silvia Ronco second year grant funding for continuation of her 1999 Missouri River research program. Titled Retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Contemporary Aspects of Culture and Environment along the Missouri River, Ronco's program involves USD undergraduate students conducting original research in collaboration with faculty mentors.

The 2000 NCUR/Lancy grants are the second of a three-year program that encourages colleges and universities to devote more attention and resources to undergraduates who show promise of exceptional achievement. The program is also designed to help build communities of student and faculty scholars spanning the academic disciplines, unified around a common theme.

Ronco, project director and associate professor of chemistry at USD, was awarded a prestigious first-year $50,000 award from NCUR/Lancy for the 1999 summer research project and noted that this year's approach will be similar.

In 1999, the interdisciplinary program included 10 USD undergraduate students and their faculty mentors. Last year's participants came from the departments of archaeology, biology, business, chemistry, arts, history, psychology, nursing, and mass communications. Ronco noted that USD is a prime place to study Lewis and Clark because the nearby Missouri River was traveled by the explorers in their adventure across America early in the 18th century.

"We are the only school that has an undergraduate approach across several disciplines to study Lewis and Clark and we held several off-campus activities, including a hike up to Spirit Mount, and a canoe trip down the Missouri River. We're using regional resources and we're integrating research throughout campus," said Ronco, who has been at USD for seven years.

USD was one of only six institutions from over 100 applicants across the country to receive the first grant. Institutions were encouraged to apply for grant renewals of $25,000 each for year two of the three-year program.

Of the original six institutions, USD, Bowdoin and Loyola Marymount University were granted full funding to continue research in 2000, while two others were awarded smaller grants, according to Tom Werner, NCUR/Lancy Initiative director and professor of chemistry at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

"USD had a very competitive proposal obviously," Werner said. "It was one of 105 applications in the first round and in the second round it was only in competition with five other colleges for refunding, but that obviously says something about the original strength of its first proposal and we saw fit to refund at the maximum level. That means that we were also impressed by what USD was able to accomplish in the first year of the grant."

"Its a big deal to be refunded. This is a very prestigious grant. We knew in 1999 that our project was good but the competition would be tough, so we are very happy that we can begin our second year program this summer," said Ronco, who has a Ph.D. from the University of La Plata in Argentina.

For the original 10-week project, 10 undergraduate students spent the summer of 1999 researching Lewis and Clark and the Missouri River. The students, who had faculty sponsors, received stipends of $3,000 and additional support. Weekly activities included the "Lewis and Clark" lunch hour and off-campus events such as a daylong canoe trip down the Missouri River, hike up Spirit Mound, and a trip to Lewis and Clark Lake.

The NCUR/Lancy program is timely with the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark exploration to be held in 2004, according to Royce Engstrom, USD dean of research and graduate education, and director of the recently formed Missouri River Institute.

"Her work exemplifies the new goals of The University of South Dakota that relate to interdisciplinary work, student involvement and research, and focus on topics highly relevant to our community," Engstrom said. "This undergraduate research program of Dr. Ronco's fits in beautifully with the objectives of the Missouri River Institute."

The Alice and Leslie E. Lancy Foundation provides funding to support the development of young scholars and artists. Dr. Leslie Lancy, an accomplished electrochemist and businessman, founded Lancy Laboratories, which earned an international reputation for technical innovation. NCUR is a not-for-profit organization committed to the promotion of undergraduate research and creative activity in all academic disciplines and at all institutions of higher learning. Established in 1987, NCUR hosts a national conference each spring on a college or university campus. The 1999 conference, held earlier in April at the University of Rochester, attracted more than 250 institutions and more than 2,000 participants.

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