Several Hillsdale Stu­dents attended the national con­vention of Sigma Zeta, a science and math­e­matics hon­orary. Randi Block | Courtesy

In a chapel at Evangel Uni­versity in Mis­souri, senior Randi Block stood in front of a crowd and spoke. Her voice echoed against the high ceilings and the bright lights illu­mi­nated her face as she pre­sented with the help of a Pow­er­Point pro­jected on a screen nor­mally used for reli­gious song lyrics.

But she wasn’t making a reli­gious tes­tament — she was dis­cussing science at the national con­ference for Sigma Zeta, a science and math­e­matics hon­orary.

More pre­cisely, she was pre­senting the research she had done on the preva­lence of rick­ettsia in the deer tick pop­u­lation of southern Michigan.

After all the pre­sen­ta­tions had fin­ished, Block received the award for best oral pre­sen­tation at the con­ference, which included rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than 40 Sigma Zeta chapters across the nation.

“What was good about her pre­sen­tation was her ability to answer ques­tions,” senior Jacob Ross said. “She knew her material inti­mately. It became abun­dantly clear during some of the other pre­sen­ta­tions that the material was regur­gi­tated. Randi really knew her research.”

Block said that many of the pre­senters dis­cussed micro-projects they had done in con­junction with massive projects at larger research uni­ver­sities. The other stu­dents could attest to what they did in the project, but they struggled to explain how their research related to the project in its entirety.

Block con­ducted her research over the last year under the super­vision of Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Biology Jeffrey Van Zant. She saw the project through from beginning to end: col­lecting ticks, extracting DNA, col­lecting data, and ana­lyzing it.

“It was easy to field ques­tions,” Block said. “It was material I was very com­fortable with. My oral pre­sen­tation skills were not top-notch, but my famil­iarity with my project really set me apart.”

But it was not just Block’s victory that made sac­ri­ficing part of spring break worth it to the stu­dents. They also were able to par­tic­ipate in the national orga­ni­zation.

Block served as a member of the national service project com­mittee, which included 15 stu­dents from dif­ferent Sigma Zeta chapters. She said they decided that this year’s mission for the hon­orary was to work to make science more alive for under­priv­i­leged kids.

Senior Lauren Barlass said she was impressed by the variety of sub­jects dis­cussed at the con­ference including gun­powder research, squirrel habitats, and one chapter that had worked to establish sus­tainable fish farms in Haiti.

Barlass pre­sented a poster which detailed research she con­ducted con­cerning phos­phate levels in water.

“It was a neat oppor­tunity that probably won’t come around again,” Barlass said. “We got to learn and see what resources and ideas other under­grad­uates had.”

Like Barlass, Ross was sim­i­larly impressed with the work done by other Sigma Zeta chapters.

“It was like a shot of peni­cillin into our arm,” he said. “Now we are excited to try dif­ferent things in our chapter.”

Although the con­ference focused pri­marily on under­graduate research, it was not a solely aca­demic weekend. The con­ference orga­nizers offered excur­sions to tour an under­ground cave system and a local aquarium.

“The con­ference was very infor­mative,” Block said. “It made me proud to be a member of Sigma Zeta. It made the orga­ni­zation feel tan­gible and alive.”