University News

RISE@WIU is Impacting Western Students

September 28, 2015

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MACOMB, IL - Western Illinois University students have a unique opportunity to study and do research to benefit both their education and potential careers through the Research Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE) program.

WIU graduate and undergraduate students can participate in lab and field studies with fellow students under the mentorship of WIU faculty members.

In order to qualify for the RISE@WIU program, students must have a minimum 2.8 grade point average, work with a faculty member on a research project and attend department seminars and RISE meetings once a month.

They must also present their research at the Science Department Symposium, the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day or regional, national and international meetings.

RISE helps students network for jobs, build their resumes and get hands-on research experience.

Over the summer, WIU students from the departments of biology, physics and chemistry, participated in the RISE Summer Program to continue their research. Every Wednesday at 3 p.m., the students met to present research updates as part of the summer socials hosted by RISE. This program was organized by RISE coordinators Associate Professor of Physics Esteban Araya, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Andrea Porras-Alfaro.

"RISE is completely different from any class or lab component," said senior physics major Daniel Halbe. "What I do in RISE is science. I actually take a strong role in conducting research. I have controlled the world's largest single dish telescope, presented research at conferences, and I am completing a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal."

Students enjoy the ability to control what they can research. Bethany Esterlen, a junior forensic chemistry major, said "RISE provides an opportunity to work one-on-one with mentors and other students. You can create your own projects and analyze your own data, and present your own research to your peers and professionals at conferences."

Students can also do field work, including sampling and observing in the woods or fields in and around Macomb. One current research group is studying ticks, which they record data on every two weeks. This type of work allows students to experience real world problems and to get out of the lab and become more active.

Paris Hamm, a graduate student with a degree in biology and French, started doing research as a junior for her undergraduate thesis.

"RISE will bring students to the next level and make them competitive in their field and entering graduate school," she said.

WIU students believe RISE should be expanded to other colleges around the globe.

"This program should definitely be offered at other schools. It is a wonderful opportunity to engage students in research and provide an outlet to discuss individual projects across similar and varying majors," said Esterlen.

RISE also offers students a way to interact with others who have the same interests.

"RISE is an opportunity - An opportunity to socialize with your peers within the same area of study, an outlet to discuss and practice research. RISE has impacted my college career by introducing me to undergraduate research and providing me the opportunity to do research with my mentor one on one during the summer," said Esterlen.

The RISE program also is a way for students to earn credit and to learn different techniques, such as a "Western Blot," an analytical technique used to detect specific proteins in a cell.

"RISE is a program affiliated with BIOL 477, which is the research course credit," said graduate assistant and academic advisor Sarah A. Warren. "Rather than taking a lecture/lab based class for three of your six major elective hours, you can complete research getting hands on experience one on one with a professor and get course and graduation requirement credits. It is a graded class, as well."

"We focus on enhancing their academic experiences and professional development," said Porras-Alfaro "We are very proud of the fast progress and growth of the program in the last two years. Our students in the physics, chemistry and biology departments have won multiple awards at the local, state, and national level and are currently participating in prestigious internships demonstrating the high quality of students we have at WIU."

For more information on the program, visit or contact Porras-Alfaro at

Posted By: Erika D Davis (
Office of University Communications & Marketing