Eliza King '23 presents research with Dr. Chakrabarti and University of Minnesota collaborators in 2022

Collected by Dennis Krolevich ’26 and Ashli Landa

One of the benefits of being a Macalester student is the opportunity to work alongside the very faculty you learn from in class. At Mac, professors from a wide variety of disciplines regularly collaborate with current and former students to produce valuable, real-world research. The following is a list of faculty-student research from March 2022—December 2023 that has been published in academic journals, magazines, and news outlets.

SARAH WEST, economics

Dr. Sarah West, G. Theodore Mitau Professor of Economics and former chair of the Economics Department at Macalester, is an environmental and public finance economist. Her research has focused on the behavioral and equity effects of policies for the reduction of vehicle pollution, the demand for fuel economy, the value of open space in urban areas, and the effect of public transit on land use and property values. 

With Clemens Pilgram ʼ15: Transit Station Area Walkability: Identifying Impediments Walking Using Scalable, Recomputable Land-Use Measures,” Journal of Transport and Land Use, July 2023

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • Simple measures of the kinds of land use in transit station areas can help planners identify and address impediments to pedestrian access to public transit. In particular, using the crowd-sourced online tool OpenStreetMap can generate relatively easy-to-obtain measures of the amount of roadway, railway, industrial, and vacant land uses, which are disamenities that pedestrians encounter on their way to and from public transit. 
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Clemens and I began collaborating when he wrote his honors thesis on the effects of the Blue Line on property values in Minneapolis. In the article that stemmed from his thesis, we found that the addition of light rail had very small effects that faded to zero over time. Since then, we’d wondered why light rail didn’t benefit neighborhoods as much as might be expected. In our search for an explanation, we were struck by how unpleasant it is for pedestrians to access Blue Line stations. This paper is our effort to quantify this unpleasantness in a way that is useful for both for future research on the effects of transit and for urban planners. It was so much fun both to walk station areas together and to engage quantitatively with a long-standing inquiry that had nagged at us for years.

With Vergi Agustini ʼ19:Redevelopment Along Arterial Streets: The Effects of Light Rail on Land Use Change,” Real Estate Economics, August 2022

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • Measuring the effects of light rail on land-use change using circles around stations is unlikely to accurately and fully detect these effects, which are concentrated not in circular patterns, but along arterial streets that cross station areas. This makes sense—transit users access station areas along these arterial streets, and developers can be expected to build in areas that are more frequented by commuters. Previous literature had not identified the need to measure spatial effects in this way. While estimates using circular areas confirmed prior estimates that light rail had no effect on land use change, estimation along arterial streets shows that the Blue Line had positive effects on land use change in Minneapolis. 
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Vergi did an independent project with me that ultimately led to this article. She brought deep skills in data management and Geographic Information Systems to the project that, when paired with my background in estimating effects of light rail, meant that we could engage in a highly productive collaboration. At every turn, we pushed each other to refine our research framing and strategy.


Dr. Stotra Chakrabarti is faculty in the Biology Department. He is a behavioral ecologist and conservation biologist who studies the evolution of sociality, mating strategies, predator-prey interactions, and human-wildlife interactions with large wild mammals such as lions, wolves, elephants, and tigers as study models. He leads the Conservation and Behavior (CaB) lab at Macalester.

With Ian Smith ʼ22: “Eating an Elephant, One Bite at a Time: Predator Interactions at Carrion Bonanzas,” Food Webs, December 2023

With Eliza King ʼ23: “The Lion’s Share: Implications of Carnivore Diet on Endangered Herbivores in Tsavo,” 9 July 2023

“The best part of all these collaborations was not only finding new insights into mammal ecology and behavior, but training students in research capacity and seeing the joy in them when interesting patterns started to emerge. Also, these collaborations led to many firsts in the students’ career—first published paper, first international conference, and that was super rewarding for me as their mentor.”

ANDREW LATHAM, political science 

Andrew Latham, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy in Ottawa and non-resident fellow with Defense Priorities in Washington, DC, is a political science professor specializing in international relations, regional conflict and security, foreign policy, and political thought. 

With Shweta Shankar ’26:How China Overreached,” 19FortyFive, July 2023; and “Luke Patey, How China Loses: The Pushback Against Chinese Global Ambitions,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, June 2023

With Austin Wu ’23: Ukraine Could Win but Still Become a Failed State,” The Hill, July 20, 2023; “A Hidden Victory? The Winter War and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine,” E-International Relations, May 2022; and Darkening Waters, Gathering Storm: Sino-Indian Water War on the Brahmaputra River,” E-International Relations, March 2023

With Audun Sundeen ’22: The Geopolitical Implications of the Russo-Ukraine War for Central Asia,” E-International Relations, April 2022; and “The Plain Sight Threat to NATO, Turkey, and Turanism,” E-International Relations, July 2023

With Logan Leybold ’25: Understanding China’s Global Strategy: A Review of Ian Easton’s ‘the Final Struggle.’The National Interest, March 2023

With Erica Paley ’24: Xi’s ‘China Dream’ Is Science Fiction: Part I” and “Part II,” Genealogies of Modernity, September and November 2023


Dr. William Moseley, DeWitt Wallace Professor of Geography, is a human-environment and development geographer with research interests in political ecology, tropical agriculture, environment and development policy, and livelihood security.

With Nethmi Bathige ’22: Snapshot of a Crisis: Food Security and Dietary Diversity Levels among Disrupted Conventional and Long‐term Organic Tea‐smallholders in Sri Lanka,” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, October 2023; and “Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Sri Lanka’s Organic Farming Experience (Commentary),” Mongabay, August 2022 

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • Organic tea and mixed farmers were much more resilient amidst economic collapse in Sri Lanka than conventional tea farmers.
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • In the midst of COVID-19 in the summer of 2021, Nethmi was able to return to her home country of Sri Lanka to conduct research on an unfolding agricultural disaster. Even though I was on sabbatical in the fall of 2021 in France, we kept in touch every week on Zoom as she wrote her senior honors thesis. She showed incredible tenacity throughout.

PAUL DOSH, political science 

Dr. Paul Dosh, associate professor of political science, has served as director of the Latin American Studies program and chair of the Political Science Department at Macalester. He is an educator, scholar, activist, and poet, engaging with social justice struggles in the Americas with specific interests in comparative politics, Latin American politics, and urban social movements.

With Julia Smith Coyoli ’11: Reciprocity, Incentives, and Off-Ramps: Faculty–Undergraduate Collaboration and Comparative Politics Research,” PS: Political Science & Politics, October 2023

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • Creating “off-ramps,” which are clearly articulated points where the student co-author can exit the project early, can enable unusually ambitious collaborations, including multi-semester collaborations or even collaborative field research in other countries that leads to a peer reviewed publication. 
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • The best parts of working with Julia are her initiative, her insights, and her reciprocal approach to the work. This was our fifth co-authored article together, and this project was entirely her idea. 

LESLEY LAVERY, political science

Dr. Lesley Lavery, professor in and chair of the Political Science Department, focuses her research on how policy influences political engagement and participation, with emphasis on education policy. Her scholarship also encompasses American politics, political behavior, civic engagement, and public policy more broadly.

With Jessica Brown ’22 and Elizabeth Burton ’21: Effect of Start Time Changes on Enrollment,” National School Boards Association, March 2022

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • We found that a policy to move the start of the elementary school day earlier to accommodate adolescent sleep schedules (middle and high school students) is associated with declines in enrollment for primary grades on the order of four to six students per grade—with the exception of kindergarten, where declines average seven to eight students. 
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • This team of students worked well together combining their data analysis skills with the soft skills necessary to uphold a community partnership. They wowed the leaders of our local public school district. 

DAN HORNBACH, environmental studies

John S. Holl Professor Dr. Dan Hornbach is an aquatic ecologist and environmental studies professor. Much of his research has been around native and invasive freshwater mussels and ecosystem processes in streams and ponds.

With Shannon Hahn ’21: Classifying Mixing Regimes in Ponds and Shallow Lakes,” Water Resources Research, July 2022 

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • From our abstract: “Lakes are classified by thermal mixing regimes, with shallow water bodies historically categorized as continuously mixing systems….Ultimately, we propose a new framework to characterize the variable mixing regimes of ponds and shallow lakes.”
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Shannon was my last student researcher after starting at Mac in 1984 and working with over 100 students during my time here. These kinds of interactions made my time at Mac a joy.

LEAH WITUS, chemistry

Dr. Leah Witus is an associate professor of chemistry interested in the function of proteins. Her lab engages students to work toward the goal of creating protein-mimetic materials through mimicking the function of proteins by studying short peptides with catalytic abilities, and mimicking the structure of proteins by developing synthetic routes to new peptidomimetic structures.

With Albert Y. Liu ’22, Gene N. Glover ’23, Xue Luo ’23, Gage T. Barroso ’22, and Brooke K. Hoppe ’21: Investigation of the Effect of Turn Residues on Tetrapeptide Aldol Catalysts with β-Turn Propensity,” ACS Omega, December 2022

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • We studied how the shape of small protein catalysts affected their ability to catalyze chemical reactions. This should contribute to helping understand better how enzymes work and hopefully assist in designing better catalysts for the synthesis of new medicines in the future.
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Watching student’s research abilities grow and develop is my favorite part of collaborating with students. All of the student co-authors on this paper are amazingly talented scientists, I feel lucky to have gotten the chance to work with them!

WILL MITCHELL, mathematics

Dr. Will Mitchell, an associate professor in the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department, is a mathematician with expertise in the fluid mechanics of “very small or very slow flows.” His current research goal is to develop more efficient ways to solve the equations that describe how tiny swimmers like bacteria move through viscous fluids.

With Abbie Natkin ’23, Paige Robinson ’22, Chenxin Zhu ’22, Xuechen Yu ’22, and Marika Sullivan ’22: Decomposition and Conformal Mapping Techniques for the Quadrature of Nearly Singular Integrals,” BIT Numerical Mathematics, July 2023 

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • We came up with a new way to calculate the area under a curve that has a tall, narrow bump. 
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Seeing the students’ confidence and comfort with research mathematics grow. 


Elena Tonc ’13 is an immunologist and cancer biologist, earning her PhD at Washington University in St. Louis in 2021. Since then, she has been a visiting faculty member in the Biology Department collaborating with Devavani Chatterjea, her former research mentor who has been on the faculty since 2006. Devavani (Mount Holyoke College ’96; Stanford University PhD ’01; University of Minnesota MPH ’17) is an immunologist and environmental health scientist currently serving in the Biden-Harris administration as the deputy director for chemical safety on the Council on Environmental Quality. 

Elena and Devavani are passionate educators who believe in the transformative potential of undergraduate-powered research. They champion the importance of mentorship and collaborative inquiry, empowering the next generation of scientists and health care professionals to drive positive change in science and society.

With Gloriah Omwanda ’23, Xiu Mei Golden ’23, and Kevin Tovar ’23:Immune Mechanisms in Vulvodynia: Key Roles for Mast Cells and Fibroblasts,” Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, June 2023 

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • This paper summarizes the lessons learned from clinical and laboratory research done to understand how immune cells and structural cells called fibroblasts change in chronic vulvar pain conditions so that new therapies that block these altered behaviors can be devised to increase treatment options.
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • Students got first-hand experience in scouring primary literature and putting information together to create a well-researched review article. They also got to learn about the publishing process and were involved in the review and editing of the manuscript. This also helped them with the work on their honors thesis. It was a rewarding and fun process.

DENNIS CAO, chemistry 

Dr. Dennis Cao is an associate professor of chemistry with an interest in developing new materials that rely on fundamentally interesting molecular designs. He is passionate about research collaborations with Macalester undergrads, and teaches courses in organic chemistry. 

With Brian Zou ’22, Kellie Stellmach ’20, Stella Luo ’20, Feven Gebresilassie ’23, Healeam Jung ’22, Cathy Kexin Zhang ’22, and Adam Bass ’22: Improved Syntheses of Halogenated Benzene-1,2,3,4-Tetracarboxylic Diimides,” The Journal of Organic Chemistry, October 2022

  • What was the main takeaway of the research?
    • My lab previously developed a building block, called mellophanic diimide, that can be used to create both colorful dye molecules and also materials that accept electrons. This publication is a follow-up that reports a much simpler and broadly applicable method for synthesizing mellophanic diimides.
  • What was the best part of the collaboration?
    • As always, watching students grow in confidence in their own abilities, ask their own questions, and plan out their own experiments!


February 27 2024

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