Jack Molho speaks with Bates College student Hawley Moore about her project at Mount David Summit, where students presented their research to fellow students and family members Friday on the Lewiston campus. Hawley’s presentation was titled “Like Night and Day? Determinants of Fine Art Auction Prices in Afternoon and Evening Sales.” Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

LEWISTON — Scores of Bates College students gathered Friday to show off their academic work in everything from Chinese video games to the strange sugars that contribute to congenital muscular dystrophy.

The annual Mount David Summit is a celebration of student research, art and community-based scholarship that displays an astonishing variety of interests.

Senior Amy Turtz, for example, talked about the search for lead-free dielectrics, a subject almost impenetrable for non-scientists, while Andrew Mikula, another senior, looked into the impact of state environmental regulations on housing development. He determined there isn’t much.

Sebastian Gallegos, a senior, said the odd sugars found on human muscles that he’s investigating remain a mystery that, once unlocked, could help heal people suffering from awful diseases.

Sebastian Gallegos, a Bates College senior, researched sugars found on human muscles that may hold the key to preventing early death from diseases such as congenital muscular dystrophy. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

What stood out most, though, for those outside the academic arena were a few projects that dealt directly with issues facing the community beyond the boundaries of Bates — from the value of Kennedy Park to food insecurity in Auburn.

One forum might, however, wind up changing the self-image of Bates itself, which is no small thing for one of the nation’s most elite liberal arts colleges.

Students in history professor Joseph Hall’s class delved into records lodged in the Muskie Archives and the Lewiston Public Library to figure out whether the story of the origins of New England’s first co-educational college might need revision.

Nell Pearson, one of the students, said that after looking into the archives, the class realized that the story that abolitionists founded the school in 1855 — touted by Bates for years — is likely leaving out a big piece of the tale: that money derived in part from the trade in slave-grown cotton may have been instrumental in getting the college off the ground.

That’s a fact, she said, which “isn’t addressed often and we would like to change that.”

Another student, Judy Wang, said Bates needs to reflect on the complexities of its past.

That’s the sort of tough questioning that professors relished.

Malcolm Hill, dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, said the 18-year-old spring summit “is a big investment in time and energy and talent” that’s well-worth the effort.

He called it “a moment of hope.”

Ralph Perry, a 1951 graduate who helped create the yearly gathering and support it financially, said it is modeled on something he and his wife saw decades ago at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He said he successfully urged Bates to follow suit.

The purpose, Perry said, “is to encourage Bates students to broaden their horizons in regard to areas of interest.” He said he’s especially glad to see many students reaching out to work on issues relevant to the broader community.

Students showed off their academic projects during the annual Mount David Summit at Bates College Friday. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

One group of students, for example, carried out a food policy audit to figure out where Auburn is falling short in ensuring residents have access to nutritious, affordable food.

Signe Lynch, a sophomore, said food security is an increasingly important issue in Lewiston and Auburn because there are so many low-income people. Eating well, she said, is one way to improve health and boost civic engagement.

Oaklea Elfstrom, another sophomore, said the study they did pinpointed some possible paths for improvement and ruled out others that wouldn’t get off the ground.

“One of the roadblocks to trying to create any program is financial,” she said.

Elfstrom said, though, there are ideas that appear possible, including “a big opportunity” to do more to divert and recycle food waste in the community.

Another student, Dylan Metch-Ampel, discussed his research into Kennedy Park’s role in the life of the neighborhood around it.

He said it is “a really central place” that is the anchor of a thriving neighborhood, a rare oasis of trees and greenery in the middle of many streets named for trees that don’t actually have many anymore.

Metch-Ampel said that after talking to residents and others about it, he’s sure it makes sense to plant more trees in the park, improve its playground and the maintenance of facilities such as the pool and the basketball court, scale back the police presence that makes the park seem unsafe and add public restrooms and water fountains.

Two Bates College seniors, Dylan Metch-Ampel and Abby Westbury, discussed their research in Lewiston as part of the school’s annual Mount David Summit (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

Abby Westbury, a senior, talked to people living in area motels, finding that they are isolated, exposed to crime and struggling to get better housing because authorities don’t think of them as lacking reliable homes.

She said homeless rules ought to extend to “housing unstable” people such as those camped out for the long haul in motels so they can qualify for public housing when it’s available.

“We shouldn’t abandon people” to living in motels, Westbury said.

Westbury urged students at Bates to continue “to go volunteer outside of class” and make a difference in the community where they live during college.

She confessed, though, that her research left her feeling that her own efforts were “a little bit like a shout into the void” with few likely to pay attention.

Perry said, however, that students presenting their research to one another and to the Bates community does make a difference.

One thing’s for sure: Students at Bates are engaged with the world, from down the street to the ends of the Earth.

Zack Anderson looked into ways to increase parental involvement at a Lewiston elementary school.

Shelbie McCormack investigated the walls of ancient Troy.

Yesul Lee probed the effectiveness of the International Monetary Fund during the 2008 financial crisis.

Emily Gibson evaluated public health campaigns to educate people about lead, information that may be used by Healthy Androscoggin for its work.

Danielle Cohen sought to figure out why Hezbollah is putting more women on the air of its al-Manar television network.

Katie Stone pored over Harry Potter fan fiction that can serve as a place for the LGBTQ community to find happiness and creative growth.

And the list goes on.

There’s a reason Hill said the yearly summit — and others like it — are “where I get most of my optimism and my hope.”

[email protected]