State Farm Grant Empowers Student Research, University Programs
August 3, 2018
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Six Illinois Wesleyan University student research projects and
two University programs have been funded using an award from the State Farm Companies Foundation.
In addition to financially supporting The Multicultural Academic Achievement Recognition
Ceremony and McLean County Associates scholarships, the State Farm Foundation is enabling IWU students to conduct research
focused on innovation in science, business and community engagement.
“It is a bit crazy to think I am doing research as an undergrad, because research
always seemed like something a brilliant adult with a Ph.D. did,” said anthropology
and biology major Lilia Garcia ’21 (Addison, Illinois), who is studying the effect of antibiotic compounds on ESKAPE
pathogens, a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria commonly found in hospitals.
From 1,800 combinations of harmless surrogate strains of ESKAPE pathogens and bacteria
colonies from soil samples, Garcia has whittled the field down to six different types
of bacteria that have inhibited or killed the ESKAPE surrogates by secreting a special
compound. Through DNA sequencing, Garcia has already identified these bacteria, and
now her challenge is to devise a way for the bacteria to consistently produce this
compound that could hold answers to combating pathogens that scientists have worked
to eradicate for years.
“Working with Lilia Garcia this summer has a been a wonderful experience,” said Assistant
Professor of Biology Loralyn Cozy, who has mentored Garcia throughout her research.
“This opportunity has been transformative for her.”
Business administration major Shelby Moore ’19 (Englewood, Colorado) is working with the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of McLean County at IWU to create an online business portal for McLean County entrepreneurs, which will serve
as a database of information for starting, managing and expanding a small business.
Doing so has involved substantial research on Moore’s part, both online and in-person
with local business owners to understand their needs.
“The experience mentoring Shelby thus far has been very rewarding,” said SBDC Director
Karen Bussone. “Providing clear expectations, teaching resilience, encouraging collaboration
with stakeholders, incorporating routine checks for understanding, and fostering independence
have truly enabled Shelby to reach her potential with the business portal project.”
Moore will present her research and the website to the SBDC’s advisory board at the
end of August, and uniquely, she will continue her research throughout her senior
year in order to complete the project.
“I am very passionate about small business because most of my family runs their own
businesses, so this research fellowship is everything I could have ever imagined and
more,” Moore said.
Chemistry and mathematics major Zihan “Ice” Nie ’19 (Shenzhen, China) is studying different aspects of how objects are constructed in
combinatorics, a branch of mathematics. Her research builds off a previous project
under the mentorship of Earl and Marian A. Beling Professor of Natural Sciences Tian-Xiao
He, in which Nie showed how to construct the famous Girard-Waring identities by using
recursive number sequences.
For her current project, Nie has been building combinatorial structures called maximum
packings with specific constraints put on them. It was not previously known whether
or not these structures existed, but Nie has proved that all possible configurations
“She exhibits a prime example of creativity in mathematics — uncovering connections
that were not previously known to exist,” said He.
The next phase of Nie’s project will involve searching for connections between matrices
and the construction of these maximum packings.
“I have been working with Zihan throughout the past year on her research,” said Assistant
Professor of Mathematics Daniel Roberts, Nie’s faculty co-advisor. “She put in a lot
of the groundwork during the fall semester — reading articles and getting a grasp
on the techniques used in the field. She is wonderful to work with because she has
such an active mind.”
Political science major Benjamin Nielsen ’19 (Normal, Illinois) has taken on multiple projects for the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP). Chief among them is developing a building and conditions report on Bloomington’s
west side, which Nielsen will submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
in order to secure funding for that area. Nielsen will also oversee the installation
of a community work space at the WBRP Tool Library, using his funding as Illinois
Wesleyan’s 2018 Weir Fellow.
“Conducting research has been a fantastic experience at Illinois Wesleyan this summer,”
said Nielsen. “As a local, I really am connecting with my work, because it is going
to really create a positive impact in the community. Helping bring real money to real
people is so satisfying, and I am enjoying every second of it.”
Isaac Simmons ’20 (Peoria, Illinois) is also collaborating with the WBRP to research, design and implement
a MicroLoan program, which will allow aspiring entrepreneurs of low or moderate incomes
to start or expand their businesses in the west side of Bloomington. Unlike other
loan programs, applicants will not be unduly penalized for low credit scores, and
loan recipients will benefit from business management training and peer-to-peer mentorship.
“I cannot begin to explain how lucky I am to be handed this opportunity,” said Simmons,
a business administration and religion double major. “In fact, if five years ago someone
would have told me that I would be creating a MicroLoan Program, I probably would
have laughed. Now, however, I can certainly imagine spending the rest of my career-life
working in International MicroFinance Operations.”
Simmons has met with experts and local executives in economic and community development
organizations in the area, including the IWU Action Research Center (ARC).
“Our board of directors is thrilled with both the quality of Isaac's work and how
much progress he's made in helping us make this program a reality,” said Bevin Choban
’10, coordinator of the IWU ARC and Simmons’ supervisor. “Overall, Isaac is a rock
Sarah Pombar ’20 (St. Charles, Illinois) and her faculty mentor Associate Professor of Chemistry Manori
Perera are using the summer to construct an octopole, a device which can control the
positioning of ions in a vacuum chamber when conducting research. The octopole and
its circuitry is being built and tested based on Pombar’s designs.
“It has been an incredible experience to conduct research over the summer,” Pombar
said. “I'm learning so much, and I'm enjoying what I'm doing.”
“In astrochemistry, there is a significant lack of female representation,” Perera
explained. “It is wonderful to have fellowships like this because the amount of work
and the set of skills gained by Sarah Pombar will set her apart when she applies for
Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) next summer. It also provides her with
the confidence she needs to be successful in a field where she is a minority.”
Also supported by the State Farm Foundation, the Multicultural Academic Achievement
Recognition Ceremony is an annual event hosted by Illinois Wesleyan in collaboration
with the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Educational Activity Club. The ceremony recognizes multicultural
youth in grades five through 12 who have displayed outstanding academic achievement.
Another recipient of State Farm Foundation funding, the Illinois Wesleyan Associates
was formed in 1953 when State Farm officials Adlai H. Rust and Clarence W. Heyl brought
together a group of local business and professional leaders interested in supporting
private higher education and local McLean County students. In 2018, celebrating more
than 65 years of service, the Illinois Wesleyan Associates launched a bold new financial
aid initiative, The McLean County Scholarship Fund, which guarantees no less than
$27,000 in scholarship support annually for McLean County students attending Illinois
The State Farm Companies Foundation was established in 1963 to provide support for key initiatives and scholarships,
as well as associate-directed programs, including grants supporting volunteerism and
matching gifts to charitable organizations, colleges and universities.