an outdoor classroom is seen through the mountain laurels in front of the Chapel
Living Laboratories
Trinity's campus is a natural environment for answering questions and questioning answers
Wednesday, June 15, 2022

When you think of a laboratory, what comes to mind? 

Are there beakers and Bunsen burners? Pitchers and pipettes? Funnels and forceps?

Trinity University has those laboratories—in fact, the Center for the Sciences and Innovation is dedicated to them, providing space for perpetual discovery illuminated by abundant natural light and fueled by national grants and awards.

Yet a Trinity education is fundamentally rooted in interdisciplinary, experiential learning, where detailed stitches bind contrasting textures in surprising geometric shapes. In Trinity’s labs, students and faculty are answering questions and questioning answers, exploring solutions for the world’s how’s and why’s. In turn, Tigers are connecting across disciplines and differences through the tried-and-true principles of the liberal arts.

Our campus itself is its own laboratory. The mid-century modern National Historic District is an oasis of urban ecology in the heart of San Antonio. From native grasses on our green roof to dirt-covered artifacts surfacing from prior inhabitants, the campus has ample opportunity to serve as its own experience in learning.


Buzzworthy Endeavor 

When the campus is abuzz, thank the Trinity University Bee Alliance. The student organization maintains on-campus hives and promotes awareness about the importance of honeybees. Bolstered in 2018 with a generous bee donation from Bill Leighton ’75 (yes, apparently you can donate honeybees to Trinity!), the alliance fosters anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees in a given year.

When she was president of the Bee Alliance, Abbi Bowen ’20 shared with Trinity magazine, “Many beekeepers have chewing tobacco nearby. If you put chewed tobacco on the sting right after being stung, it can draw out some of the venom.” As a tobacco-free campus, we’re not condoning tobacco use, but it seems like this would bee a buzzworthy solution if you’re trying out your novice beekeeping skills at home.

 


Making Imagination

You may know Trinity University’s Makerspace as a one-stop machine shop. It houses projects ranging from formula cars to electronic instruments, and it serves as a home for most engineering design projects. But in Spring 2022, the Makerspace paired acrylic paints with laser cutting for “Academic Making for the Built Environment.” In this interdisciplinary course taught by art professor Kate Ritson, MFA, and theater professor Kyle Gillette ’01, Ph.D., art and theater merged for a Mellon-funded collaboration: creating a storytime stage prototype for San Antonio’s children’s museum, the Doseum.

The class was divided into teams, who brainstormed and conceptualized prototypes of the stage and its production. After pitching their concepts, Doseum curators worked with the students to select one project for a full-scale model build. The class spent the last few weeks of the semester bringing the concept to life using all the tools the Makerspace had to offer. Read more at gotu.us/doseum.

 


Urban Impact

One of the benefits of a campus in the heart of San Antonio? The nation’s 7th largest city is a laboratory in itself. Students working in the lab of urban studies director Christine Drennon, Ph.D., would agree: Year after year, they engage in detailed research with big impact, such as the project pictured here.

In 2016, Cole Murray ’18 and Aroosa Ajani ’18 (pictured) along with Alyssa Parra ’18 and Claire Rettenmaier ’18 began a project called “The Demographics of Public Funding in San Antonio,” a study providing an equitable look at the socioeconomics of street maintenance in the city. The project was launched in partnership with the office of then-District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg ’99, now mayor of San Antonio. “This report was the first time I saw, through an analysis of the data, a connection between high poverty areas and poor infrastructure,” says Nirenberg, who partnered with Drennon and the student researchers on the report while he was in the early stages of his mayoral campaign.

Drennon ultimately presented the team’s findings to the San Antonio City Council in August 2017; the day after Drennon’s presentation, then-city manager Sheryl Sculley presented the team’s recommendation as part of a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, describing it as being constructed through an “equity lens.” With some modifications, the city passed this $2.7 billion budget the following month.

“It’s really exciting to see that something that started out as a class project could actually help make people’s lives better,” Ajani says. “That’s what urban studies is all about.”

 


Navigating a Network

Nestled in the labyrinth of the Bell Athletic Center, a nondescript set of double doors hides a video producer’s dream: The Tiger Network control room houses all of the high-tech cameras, monitors, switchboards, and speakers that make an award-winning livestreaming service run.

Crawling like veins out of the labyrinth, through the ceiling, within the walls, and be- tween the limestone rocks underground, an intricate web of fiberoptic cable spans from Mulberry to Hildebrand Avenues. The small glass cable transmits audio, video, data, and other digital information back to the control room, allowing the Tiger Network to provide service all over campus.

In total, about 25 student interns navigate this nervous system for Tiger Network, one of the largest student employers on campus. Led by executive producer Joshua Moczygemba ’05 and creative producer Ryan Sedillo, the team typically uses six cameras per event, with 8-14 students working up to three events in a given day. The Tiger Network broadcasts athletics, lectures, and community events year-round to a worldwide audience at live.trinity.edu.

People sit in a dark room staring at a wall of screens

 


Choral Collection

Deep in the stacks of the Trinity library’s Special Collections and Archives, Kristie Kummerer ’18 discovered a beautiful, long-lost medieval manuscript gathering dust. Carefully flipping open the pages, the history and music double major discovered a collection of musical chants sung by monks during mass—including some that hadn’t been sung for centuries.

The manuscript, originally donated by Jane Stieren in 1996, had yet to be academically explored at Trinity. Kummerer, guided by music professor Kimberlyn Montford, Ph.D., eventually published a senior thesis using the manuscript as the basis for her research. “This was a lost treasure that no one knew much about,” Kummerer says. “And I wanted to do whatever I could to share it with the world.”

 


Bonding Experience

The chemistry in Trinity’s Cooley Lab is tough to replicate. On any given day, the space is filled with seven Trinity undergraduates, led by National Science Foundation Early Career grant awardee and chemistry professor Christina Cooley, Ph.D.; together, they’re using organic chemistry to solve biological problems related to human health and disease. But the chemistry you feel immediately is between the lab’s people.

“One thing I love to do in our lab is really, really celebrate when good things happen,” Cooley says. This type of bonding experience makes the Cooley Lab a perfect example of how Trinity does undergraduate research differently: Students receive meaningful mentorship from faculty experts. In this case, they’re learning and growing alongside Cooley, whose ongoing fluorogenic polymerization project aims to use light as an indicator for disease, potentially having a monumental impact in the fight to diagnose diseases in areas of the world where advanced imaging equipment might not be available.

“We think these types of projects are a great way to train undergraduates to become great scientists,” Cooley says. “They can learn a lot of techniques and grow as scientists, while working on problems that could actually meaningfully impact human health and disease.”

 


Learning on the Lawn

Birds are chirping, mountain laurels are blooming, and afternoon temperatures are kissed by the sun. As spring blooms, so too do Trinity’s classes held outdoors. On this bright, mild spring day, political science professor Katsuo Nishikawa, Ph.D., brings class discussion to the shade of the live oaks next to the Magic Stones. And across the lawn, under the shadow of the chapel, surrounded by the scent of grape soda, English professor Claudia Stokes, Ph.D., teaches a course on—you may have guessed it—sentimentalism.

At Trinity, outdoor classes aren’t just for the admissions brochures. For decades, Trinity professors have insisted that our environment is a teacher itself; it’s why the University has, over the past 15 years, built intentional outdoor classroom space and filled the campus with Adirondack chairs. From discussions in nature to careful analysis of the nature around us, Trinity’s campus is an oasis for study and exploration in the heart of San Antonio. And if you need a whiteboard to complete the classroom, ask mathematics professor Brian Miceli, Ph.D., who is known campuswide for combining combinatorics with pristine views of Miller Fountain.

 


Peak Performance

Getting in tune with our brains often means getting in tune with our bodies, especially for Trinity student-athletes. And the Stumberg Sports Performance Center (SPC), a 5,800-square-foot Olympic strength-training room, is the perfect place to do so.

Part of the 2017 Bell Center renovation project, the SPC was designed for Tiger student-athletes to train and hone their strength and conditioning skills. The SPC houses 14 Sorinex racks, four Frankenhyper machines, a Pit Shark, and a variety of center mass bells and dumbbells. This state-of-the- art equipment means Trinity’s strength and conditioning coaches, Daniel Martinez and Burt Stuart, can create individualized programs for the men and women in all of Trinity’s intercollegiate sports.

Victoria Trabysh ’20, a psychology major and sport management minor, used sport performance as the basis for her undergraduate research project at Trinity. She presented findings on the impact of strength and conditioning on student-athlete identity at the 2019 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport Conference. Now a research psychologist for the Air Force, Trabysh is engaged in a study to help develop pilot training criteria: “To me,” Trabysh says, “it’s like a sports psychologist working with an individual athlete.”

Two students sit on floor of Stumberg Performance center while a third spots LeeRoy on a weight rack

 


Good Company

The curtain never comes down in the Ruth Taylor Theater costume studio. One of Trinity’s most beloved and storied “behind the scenes” shops is a laboratory for infinite creativity and innovation. And while the clock never stops, the camera shutter has captured a moment in time for this lab: Theatre professor Kellie Grengs and students Joelle MacDonald ’23, Emily Brodie ’25, and Vivian Spinks ’25 are styling wigs and altering costumes for Trinity’s Spring 2022 musical, Company. Grengs has a passion for repurposing, and on this day in late March, she’s cutting up torn pantyhose to be wig netting.

And when this spring’s production is over? There’s still plenty more to do, to learn, and to discover. This year’s ongoing project is a digital database that will be used to keep track of all the studio’s supplies—hence the enormous stack of police hats. They’re being photographed for the database. In fact, the team estimates they have more than 1,000 hats of all types, shapes, and sizes stored in the costume studio!

 

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08 is the director for content strategy for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

You might be interested in