Freshman Fellows Research Projects

Fellows conduct research all across campus in all departments. Read on for more on individual student projects and their collaboration with faculty at NMU. For more information on faculty research interests at NMU, download our faculty research interests directory

Eli Bieri

Hometown: Grandville, MI
Major: Biology
Mentor: Dr. Brent Graves - Biology

I chose NMU because as a biology major, its unique location between Lake Superior and countless miles of pristine Northern woodlands provide ample opportunities for research in a diverse ecological setting. When I heard about the Freshman Fellows program, I knew it would be a fantastic chance to pursue this kind of research at the undergrad level with expert guidance. Having Dr. Brent Graves as my mentor has proven to be a perfect fit, we're both passionate about herpetology and conservation.


We're currently running laboratory experiments on American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) to determine if they display shelter site fidelity, or in other words, do they return to the same shelter site time after time? We hope that this research adds to a growing body of amphibian spacial ecology that could prove to be invaluable in conservation efforts in regard to land use. Thus far, this work has given me great insight into what the work of a biologist consists of, aside from the actual experimentation, there is significant levels of data entry and analysis as well as paperwork and inter-department communication. This project aligns closely with my career goals and has only solidified what I want to pursue in the future. 

Mariah Goeks

Hometown: Lake Forest, Illinois
Major: Physics and French double major
Mentor: Dr. Rick Mengyan - Physics 

(Above: Mariah presenting her research at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in Toledo - January 2018)

Why NMU? 

When I was looking at schools, I thought I wanted to go into either engineering or physics. When I visited NMU, I saw a strong physics program and a very welcoming community. Added to how much the caring folks at financial aid were willing to help, and the fact that NMU has a strong band program open to non-majors, I felt that NMU was the place for me. I chose to apply to the Freshman Fellows program because by the time I was partway through senior year of high school, I had discovered how amazing physics is. It explains the world around us in very clear terms, but by no means is a complete description. There is so much more out there to learn, both what has already been discovered and new things nobody has found before. I find this amazing, and I am glad that the Fellows program exists to allow me to connect with the subject in such an engaged manner.


I am working with Dr. Mengyan in the physics department, and my project is part of the larger-scale effort of our collaboration that studies the effects and behavior of hydrogen in semiconductors. Specifically, we have been using an experimental technique called MuSR (Muon Spin Rotation/Relaxation/Resonance/Research) to probe the local magnetic features and early- time history of hydrogen impurities in materials with applications such as for use in solar cells, ultra-fast electronics, and smart windows. One such material, vanadium dioxide (VO 2 ), exhibits a partially understood transition in addition to a magnetic phase (that was recently discovered by our collaboration). This fall, I was working on characterizing the magnetism in titanium-doped VO 2 . Next semester, I will continue working on the VO 2 system with an aim to understand both the role impurities play in modifying the transitions and the mechanisms responsible for these transitions. I will be using transverse and high temperature zero-field MuSR measurements on titanium-doped VO 2 . I will also be working in the lab to set up and run electrical characterization measurements on semiconductors. This work will complement the MuSR measurements on VO 2 as well as contribute to other active projects. While it has been difficult to jump directly into a field that I had never heard of before meeting Dr. Mengyan, it has certainly been rewarding. It’s exciting to be part of research that is looking at things nobody has looked at before, or nobody has found answers to yet. I have been pleasantly surprised at how accessible this research has turned out to be, considering the advanced nature of the topic.


The Fellows experience has been wonderful. I have been able to jump right into physics, into a subfield that I wouldn’t have otherwise even explored as a freshman. This has opened doors for me (some of which I did not know existed before I showed up here this fall), and has given me a perspective on what actual research is like. Being able to work on this has given me confidence when I say that I plan on moving forwards in physics, quite probably as researcher.

Felicia "Riley" Johnston


Hometown: Riverside, California
Major: Computer Science
Minors: Mathematics and Religious Studies
Mentor: Dr. Jeffrey Horn - Computer Science and Mathematics


Why NMU?

I chose NMU for many different reasons, but the most important to me was to go to a place where I can not only escape the confines of where I am already familiar with but to also be secure in my future at whichever school I attended. The Freshmen Fellowship program is one of the big parts of Northern that made me feel as though this was the right choice for me in order to succeed.



I focused on a few projects during my time as a Freshman Fellow since my area of study was too vast for me to quickly pinpoint a specific study I was interested with at the start. I delved into robotics with research in AI,environmental adaptability, and speech conversion that could be implemented in the robot known as “Blaze”, I developed a website to record my research and my thought process throughout my endeavors, and finally I began coordinating an event that will work like a programming and robotics workshop that will connect the younger generation of STEM students with our students at Northern to create a learning environment for all participating. 



What am I most interested in and how much can I accomplish?
How can I spread knowledge to younger generations about the CS world?
How to document my projects and spread awareness?
How to increase the functionality of Blaze?



Overall my projects have had difficulties due to small but impactful aspects such as limited knowledge and funding, as well as my own personal trial with the change of such a big personal responsibility over my own project with no structure to guide me.



I believe my experience with the Freshmen Fellowship project will greatly impact my undergrad career as well as my outlook on jobs and research in the future more so by the end of the term than it already has part of the way through. I have a deeper understanding for the processes needed to research, plan events, and the importance of personal responsibility in the workplace. This experience has given me an opportunity of a lifetime that lays a solid foundation for me to build upon with my undergrad and hopefully graduate studies.

Read more about Riley's work at her project webpage:

2016/2017 Research

2015/2016 Research

2014/2015 Research

2013/2014 Research 

2012/2013 Research 

2011/2012 Research