February 2019
Dr. Mary Stenson with student Rachel Nelson

The collaboration between faculty and students is at the core of liberal arts education at Minnesota Private Colleges. With the support of Dr. Mary Stenson, College of Saint Benedict senior Rachel Nelson researched whether there are physiological changes to division three cross-country student athletes over a season. And although the research didn’t show significant changes in the athletes, there were changes in the researchers.

Before this year Nelson had to make a decision: take a capstone class, capstone internship or capstone research project. “Let’s just say the research capstone is the unlikely choice,” joked Stenson, Nelson’s advisor and associate professor of exercise science and sports studies. “The research capstone is difficult and takes a unique type of student.”

Nelson, who is also on the cross-country team, wanted to research the physiological changes to her teammates but knew she’d have to get started early. “I wanted to get pre- and post-season readings for my research and the cross-country season actually starts before the fall semester,” Nelson said. “So I had to start my research before classes started.”

Rachel Nelson

“Nelson had to work over the summer to get institutional review board approval so she could start her research right away,” Stenson said.

To make her undergraduate research more complex, Nelson studied abroad spring semester of her junior year, complicating her preparation for collecting data in the fall.

“The college has been really supportive of my research and research in general,” Nelson said. “They allowed me to get right into my project and treated it like a normal class even though it was independent study.”

“I was given the freedom to research what I wanted to and I picked a subject I was really interested in,” Nelson said. “The experience was very personalized. I enjoyed being able to focus on something I want to focus on.”

Stenson leads a three-course sequence that starts junior year and culminates with a final capstone course. “My philosophy is — if I really want the student to buy into the project and complete it, it has to be something they are really excited about,” Stenson said. “So we let them pick their own topic, within reason.”

Now that her research is finished, Nelson is focused on continuing onto graduate school in pursuit of becoming a physical therapist where she can implement and use the newest research and techniques to help people. 

“I would 100 percent recommend doing the research capstone if there is something a student is really interested in,” Nelson said. “It depends on their goals and future but I’d totally recommend it.”

Nelson presented her research at the recent Scholars at the Capitol event, along with students from other private nonprofit colleges. Learn more about the event and read her findings in the event’s abstract booklet.

By Tom Lancaster