Author: McGuire, Caroline

Research Assistant in Global Environmental Remote Sensing in the GERS Lab

Opportunity Description

This research project investigates using satellite images for mapping global environmental change, climate change, and sustainability. We will use dense time series of satellite data acquired during day and night time to monitoring, assessment, and projecting landscape change at large scales. More information regarding the GERS Laboratory can be found at this link: https://gerslab.uconn.edu/

We work together with concepts from environmental science, machining learning, climate change, remote sensing, and image processing within a rich interdisciplinary field. We have several projects all focused on mapping and characterizing land change at a continental or global scale. Our lab works closely with scientists from USGS and NASA. As an undergraduate research assistant, you would aid primarily in image interpretation, as well as potentially develop algorithms for Earth observation.

You are expected to receive training to use a high-performance computing facility to process satellite data, aided by a graduate student/postdoc researcher mentor. Once you have gained the knowledge in using remote sensing data, you will be able to collect satellite data in your own interest area and apply remote sensing techniques to extract useful information. The time commitment is flexible and is minimal for a semester (renewal for the future semesters is possible and encouraged). The assistantship will start in the summer of 2021 and going forward. RAs will receive research course credits and authorship (if published) as compensation for the work.

Student Qualifications
Preferred Qualifications (but not limited to):
– Basic knowledge of remote sensing and use of satellite data (e.g., have taken the NRE Remote Sensing of Environment course)
– Experience with programming languages (Matlab, R, Python, or others).
– Strong interest in find answers to big science questions.

How to Apply
Please email zhe@uconn.edu and include a brief description of why you are applying for this position and a resume. Strong applicants will go through a virtual or face-to-face interview with the faculty.

Mentor: Zhe Zhu, Assistant Professor
Department: Natural Resources and the Environment
Email: zhe@uconn.edu
Timing: Summer 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Ongoing
Campus: Storrs

• 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Bradley Wright, Beth Lawrence, and Jessica Gutiérrez on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. As we are only able to celebrate the 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards virtually this spring, we look forward to presenting the awards in person later this year during the Fall Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition in October 2021.


Bradley Wright, Professor, Sociology
Professor Wright was nominated by Nidhi Nair ’23 (CLAS) and Irene Soteriou ’23 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Irene’s nomination.

Bradley Wright
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Bradley Wright, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology.

I first began working with Dr. Wright during my freshman year. This was my first experience with undergraduate research, and I am grateful to Dr. Wright because his purpose-driven and student-focused approach enabled me to grow extensively from this experience, both in learning to redefine my understanding of research, and also in considering my own identity within this context. As a freshman with little confidence in my own capacity as a researcher and no clear understanding of the greater purpose of engaging in research, I was consistently challenged intellectually in the very best way from my every interaction with Dr. Wright. He inspired me to question my preconceptions, motivated me to dig deeper in pursuit of knowledge, and believed in me before I believed in myself. Dr. Wright was always excited to engage in deep, thought-provoking conversations, and from them I was able to reflect more often and more carefully on my identity, reassess my impact, and reevaluate my priorities. Over time, I found that the girl who applied to UConn with a very vague and superficial notion of her future had become a woman with a much more grounded and meaningful awareness of her present purpose.

Dr. Wright stands out as the best candidate for this award because of the unique sense of purpose that he instills in his mentees. Under Dr. Wright’s mentorship, my view of undergraduate research transformed from something one typically does in college because it is the expectation, to something one does for a purpose — it became exciting and exploratory and meaningful rather than just another box to tick off from my college experience. His mentorship and contagious enthusiasm for learning guided me towards greater clarity of how I could reframe my life in this context — how I could pursue research, scholarship, and creative activity with a greater intention in mind. And beyond making himself consistently available to discuss ideas, provide constructive feedback, and offer advice, Dr. Wright supported me further in the pursuit of my purpose by nominating me for growth-intensive programs, connecting me with contacts, and writing letters of recommendation so that I could pursue future scholastic development.

I immediately thought of Dr. Wright when I saw this award opportunity because he continues to make an effort to understand my short- and long-term goals within the context of my purpose, and is always challenging me to take the next steps in my work, whether through programs, conversations, initiatives, or research projects. Dr. Wright has also demonstrated excellent mentorship by serving as a role model. By maintaining transparency and inclusivity in his leadership of our research team, Dr. Wright has given me a style of leadership to look up to as I inherit larger leadership roles myself. His eagerness to support the success of those around him motivates me to do the same, and his love for his work inspires me to seek out what brings me fulfillment as well. Moreover, his emphasis on recognizing the impact and purpose behind all that we do in our research team has translated significantly into the way that I now lead my own life, and given me a profoundly transformative outlook moving forward.


Beth Lawrence, Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and the Environment
Professor Lawrence was nominated by Drew Tienken ’22 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Drew’s nomination.

Beth Lawrence
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Beth Lawrence, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Dr. Lawrence has exposed me to a breadth of opportunities that have fostered my personal and professional growth, helped satisfy my academic curiosities, and prepared me for a successful future as I aim to attend law school. To put into context how influential and extraordinary of a mentor she is, the graduate students and I in our lab describe ourselves as being in a ‘Beth Bubble,’ as we have the pleasure of being around a mentor who is able to consistently inspire us to be better scientists and people. After working with her over the past two years, Beth has continuously been able to push me towards success. Watching her passion for wetlands as she explains important concepts to me has been infectious and greatly increased my interest in wetlands research. When we talk about science, she makes sure that I understand not just the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ but also the ethical and societal dilemmas of scientific investigation, such as describing why it’s important to have a colorblind palette on your figures, or how to be actively anti-racist while conducting environmental research. Her relationship with her students as a mentor goes beyond the superficial, as she continuously stresses the importance of taking breaks and caring for one’s mental health in times where external stress is high. When I was considering doing research my freshman year, I was admittedly a little scared. After I met Dr. Lawrence, I realized that my fears were irrational; Dr. Lawrence has enabled me to grow throughout my undergraduate career as a student, scientist, and person.

I admire Dr. Lawrence most for her tenacity as a mentor, her willingness to push me forward, and her dedication to see her students grow. One moment I will never forget was being awarded a coastal science research fellowship from the Connecticut Sea Grant. I remember it not for the award itself, but more so the context surrounding it. Early in Spring 2020, Dr. Lawrence pointed me to this external fellowship and expressed how she thought it would be a good opportunity for my academic development. Although I was unsure and nervous to apply at the time, Dr. Lawrence couldn’t have been more correct. She pushed me to apply, and together we wrote a proposal and I received the fellowship. However, shortly after I was awarded it COVID struck and I was absolutely heartbroken. I had been so close to pursuing my own research project, collecting my own data, and answering my own question. I remember how Beth acted when I went to discuss how COVID would affect my project with her. It wasn’t the defeated sentiment that ‘the project is ruined’ like I was thinking. It wasn’t a question of ‘what’s the next opportunity;’ with Dr. Lawrence it was a question of ‘how do we change this proposal to allow you to continue to grow? How do we make this proposal COVID safe so you can receive the experience you deserve?’ A few weeks prior to this meeting, I had lost an immediate family member as well. I told Dr. Lawrence about the news and how it affected my financial situation, and like any mentor who truly cares about their students she encouraged me to take time for myself to process and reassured me that research will wait. Under the surface, however, she continued to think of a way for me to be able to complete the fellowship I applied for, not just for the experience itself but also because she was aware that my family member’s loss caused me newfound financial insecurity. In the end, she helped me formulate a new question where I could use remote sensing and satellite imagery to map the extent of salt marsh grass zones, safely from my laptop in my own home. Because of her tenacity and dedication to her students, I was able to have an enriching fellowship experience. In the wake of a family emergency and COVID-19, I was lucky enough to have a mentor who understood my circumstances and pushed me for greatness. I am incredibly grateful to have met Dr. Lawrence and have her as a mentor; her kindness has truly changed my life.


Jessica Gutiérrez, M.S. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Jessica was nominated by Mahima Mehta ’22 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Mahima’s nomination.

Jessica Gutierrez
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Jessica Gutiérrez, M.S. Student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

To put it simply, if it were not for Jessica, I would not have found the right research lab for me – nor would I have the opportunities that come with being in a research lab. As a sophomore, I was interested in research but had no idea how I could go about getting involved because I was unaware of the process. Jessica took the time to have multiple meetings with me where she helped me find professors that were conducting research and better understand the work they did. She even went as far as teaching me how to write an email to reach out to professors and how to conduct a strong interview with them. With her help, I was able to join Dr. Sarah Knutie’s research lab, a lab where she is also a member.

One of the most exciting aspects of research is the ability to ask new questions. Oftentimes, students have questions but are unsure of how to go about asking them. I was one of those students and, fortunately, Jessica took me under her wing so I could find ways to answering my research questions. After joining the same research lab that she is involved in, she has continued to aid me in my short and long-term goals. Jessica has continuously provided constructive feedback on my scientific writing, helped critique my interview-taking strategies, and assisted me in networking with other individuals with similar interests as me. This can particularly be seen in her involvement in the UConn SEEDS Chapter. As the Graduate Student Representative, she has been inclusive in easing our tensions about life after our undergraduate career and how to navigate the process that follows, regardless of our backgrounds or prior knowledge. This is especially reflective of Jessica’s character because we both are people of color and first-generation college students. For this reason, she is truly able to develop a holistic view of the kind of person I am because she understands what I have gone through as a fellow person of color.

She is transparent with her experiences and is willing to answer all questions I may have that relate to relevant skills I’ll need for my future. Jessica has helped me raise my confidence in myself as both a student and researcher. If it were not for her guidance, I would not have become the researcher that I am today. She is the embodiment of an intelligent and hard-working woman. Having met Jessica has been one of the biggest highlights of my college career because she has opened an abundance of doors that I didn’t even know were available to me. Jessica has taught me the importance of believing in myself and my capabilities, and I cannot thank her enough!


Congratulations to the 2021 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

• Undergraduate Research in Cell Biology

Opportunity Description

Preclinical research in cancer therapeutics. Our lab in collaboration with with a small biotech company pioneered the use of high-Z nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy of cancers–with a special emphasis on brain cancers–both primary gliomas and metastatic brain tumors. Our original work was done with gold nanoparticles. We are currently working with iodine nanoparticles. Full-time summer research and 9 hrs/week course research in fall and spring are available.

Please go to our Cell Biology web site to see a short description of our lab’s interests and most of our publications since 2000. The attached link is a virtual talk I gave at the most recent Society for NeuroOncology meeting. https://www.dropbox.com/s/hrxqzdsf3hqngno/Henery%2011.01.2020.mp4?dl=0

If you think you might have interest in our lab, e-mail smilowitz@uchc.edu and I can discuss specific projects. Many of the students who intern in our lab publish with us as co-authors.

Student Qualifications
Looking for responsible, very talented students with strong performance in STEM and strong work ethic.
Prefer students interested in a career in medicine (getting MD) or research (getting PhD)
Prefer rising seniors who wish to pursue a senior thesis, but open to rising juniors and sophomores.
Prefer previous lab experience, but open to students that have had course lab experience
Prefer students who are facile with instrumentation and have good computer skills.
Prefer students who are open to working with lab animals.

How to Apply
Please forward the following items to Dr. Smilowitz via email to smilowitz@uchc.edu.

1. Resume
2. Transcript
3. Personal letter with interests, motivations, long-term goals and availability for this research experience
4. At least one letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well

Mentor: Henry Smilowitz, Associate Professor
Department: Cell Biology
Email: smilowitz@uchc.edu
Timing: Ongoing – provisionally available for Spring 2021 (will depend on Covid situation)
Campus: UConn Health (Farmington)

• Research Assistant in Lay Theories of Prejudice Lab – Psychology

Opportunity Description

Join the Lay Theories of Prejudice Lab led by Dr. Kim Chaney in the Psychology Department for the Fall 2020 semester! The lab is currently conducting research examining how people come to believe anti-White bias is present in our society, how effective confronting anti-Black prejudice is at reducing bias, and how cues in one’s environment shape expectations of experiencing prejudice (or not). Undergraduate research assistants will work directly with Dr. Chaney to develop new study questions, prepare and conduct research, and submit research for presentations and publications. Students will earn up to 3 course credits (PSYC 3889).

Student Qualifications
Students should be interested in the psychology of prejudice and majoring (or considering majoring) in psychology or a related field. Past research experience is not needed.

How to Apply
To apply, please complete an application (https://www.kimchaney.com/join-the-lab) and email to kim.chaney@uconn.edu. Review will begin immediately but opportunity is ongoing. Please also feel free to email with questions!

Mentor: Kim Chaney, Assistant Professor
Department: Psychological Sciences
Email: kim.chaney@uconn.edu
Timing: Ongoing
Campus: Storrs

• Congratulations, 2020 SURF Award Recipients!

SURF logo 2The Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the selection of 50 undergraduate students to receive SURF Awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects. All SURF projects will be pursued remotely this summer in accordance with restrictions on undergraduate research due to COVID-19.

Click here to view the full list of Summer 2020 SURF awardees. Please note that the project titles listed reflect the original projects proposed.

Congratulations, SURF awardees! Your curiosity, initiative, and motivation were evident in your applications. Your flexibility, creativity, and collaboration with your mentors have shone through in the contingency plans you developed to adapt your projects to our current constraints. In spite of significant challenges, you have an exciting summer of deep engagement with the process of academic inquiry ahead of you. We look forward to hearing about all you learn and discover!

We thank the faculty members who supported SURF applicants in a range of roles: mentors, letter writers, and faculty review committee members. SURF represents a collaborative effort between students and faculty. This program would not be possible without the support and participation of the UConn faculty!

OUR also extends thanks to SURF supporters in the UConn community. We are grateful to the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and to the Deans of the Schools and Colleges of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; Education; Engineering; Fine Arts; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Nursing; and Pharmacy, who all pledged funding to the SURF competition this year. Alumni, parents, and friends of UConn also helped fund SURF awards. This collaborative funding effort ensures that SURF supports a diverse array of undergraduate research endeavors. We are grateful to all of our program partners for making intensive summer research opportunities available to students seeking to enrich their undergraduate experience in this way.

Once again, congratulations to the recipients of 2020 SURF awards, and good luck with your summer projects!

• 2020 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipents of the 2020 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Laura Bunyan, J. Peter Gogarten, and Samantha Lawrence on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. As we are only able to celebrate the 2020 Mentorship Excellence Awards virtually this spring, we look forward to presenting the awards in person later this year during the Fall Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition on Thursday, October 29, 2020.


Laura Bunyan, Assistant Professor in Residence, Sociology
Professor Bunyan was nominated by Jenifer Gaitan ’21 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Jenifer’s nomination.

Laura Bunyan, Assistant Professor in Residence in Sociology.
2020 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Laura Bunyan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Residence in Sociology.

Dr. Bunyan has always been a strong advocate for my academic success. She has made me aware of and supported me in the process of applying to a variety of scholarships, programs, and research opportunities. As I became interested in Sociology research focused on first-generation Latinx students, I was worried because there was no major or minor on the Stamford campus. Dr. Bunyan generously offered to supervise a work-study research assistantship with me to teach me basic principles of research. She also gave me several books and articles relating to education, paid labor, and child rearing practices in order to lay a foundation for my research. She has taught me every step of how to establish a research project and conduct research.

Dr. Bunyan leads by example. Together, we formed the club Husky Outreach for Minority Education (HOME) to provide low-income students with access to professional clothing and other resources for academic and professional success. Dress for Success, HOME’s main event on campus, was the first of its kind in that it offered clothing and other professional accessories to students on campus for internships, job opportunities, etc. In the three years that this program has been running, she has single-handedly collected thousands of items. Through her efforts, she has helped teach me strong leadership skills and activism to benefit our student body. She is a true ally to the first-generation students of color on the Stamford campus. She worked extensively with me during the summer and fall 2019 to submit my research proposal for the University Scholar program, which focuses on studying the systems of support first-generation Latinx students utilize. Despite this area of research not being related to her current research and book she is writing, Dr. Bunyan is committed to helping me pursue this research because she actively acknowledges the importance of uplifting the voices of women of color in social science research. She helped me form the research questions for the interview portion of my research in a way that was ethical and mindful of students’ experiences. She also helped me apply and become accepted to present my work during a major Sociology conference, from the Eastern Sociological Society, in Philadelphia in order to broaden my network, receive feedback from other students and professors, and learn from other presenters.

Dr. Bunyan has written countless letters of recommendation on my behalf and edited dozens of pages of my research proposals, literature reviews, applications, and presentations while providing constructive feedback. She has opened up her office hours and additional time where she juggles her writing, research, grading, and family time to answer my questions and check in on my progress. As I am a low-income student, Dr. Bunyan has helped me secure scholarships and institutional funding that have allowed me to pursue research without additional financial strain. Because of her support, I have been able to succeed as an Honors student, University Scholar, and student leader on campus. She has also advised me extensively regarding future opportunities after graduation, such as applying to graduate school. As a first-generation college student, her mentorship has led me to believe in my abilities and grow as a researcher and student.


J. Peter Gogarten, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Molecular and Cell Biology
Professor Gogarten was nominated by Marlene Abouaassi ’20 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Marlene’s nomination.

J. Peter Gogarten
2020 Mentorship Excellence Award winner J. Peter Gogarten, Ph.D., Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in Molecular and Cell Biology.

A mediocre professor teaches their students only the contents of their course. A great professor inspires their students to apply the contents learned outside the walls of the lecture halls, as well as encourages them to expand on their critical thinking capacity. Dr. Gogarten inspires me to continue to investigate the extremes of life, advance scientific understanding, and serve as a role model for first generation matriculants and women in STEM.

During my freshman year, I did not know who to ask for college tips or seek guidance. I applied for a job to alleviate my financial burden as well as expose myself to research in Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB). After my interview, Dr. Gogarten hired me as a research assistant. I completed simple tasks. However, after my first semester of freshman year, I debated if I should continue majoring in MCB or drop out of college for good. The reason is I struggled to adhere to the rigorous coursework of college, held multiple jobs to help pay for my schooling, and at the time felt like I was not contributing anything to society, biology, nor Dr. Gogarten’s lab. But that changed when Dr. Gogarten asked me if I would continue working as a research assistant during my sophomore year. I was taken aback because in a large school filled with thousands of students, there was a professor who cared about my success as a student and was passionate enough to encourage me to continue in the field of MCB. Thus, I took initiative to alter my schedule and take Dr. Gogarten’s course sophomore year. Afterwards, Dr. Gogarten encouraged me to apply to the Honors program, as well as for SURF, in order to enhance my intellectual abilities and apply my knowledge to real world scientific research. During spring break of my sophomore year, I woke up to three emails: my acceptance to the Honors program (where Dr. Gogarten is my advisor), acceptance for the SURF award, and Dr. Gogarten’s email congratulating me on my accomplishments and writing the word “Excellent”.

During the summer for SURF, I expanded on my technical skills in bioinformatics and knowledge in molecular evolution. While working on my project, Dr. Gogarten encouraged me to help my lab coworkers with mentoring other undergraduates and high school students on the use of existing bioinformatics programs, as well as educating them on certain biological processes. My acquired knowledge and Dr. Gogarten’s connections with Paul Lewis opened up doors for me to a course assistant position for the annual Workshop on Molecular Evolution at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. In doing so, I was able to help teaching assistants with basic level introduction to coding, gain an insight on how molecular evolution has changed practically, and foster relationships with well-known faculty who invited me to apply for graduate assistantships with them. In the fall, Dr. Gogarten encouraged me to present at the Mobile Genetic Elements conference at MIT to showcase the progress of my research. In doing so, he provided me with constructive criticism in presenting my research to a crowd full of graduates and faculty members. Along with presenting, I was able to build a network of connections and gain strategies in further pursuing my research effectively.

Dr. Gogarten pushes his students to seek opportunities that will advance their intellectual abilities and creativity. Since freshman year, Dr. Gogarten has gone out of his way to forward me emails about opportunities and encourage me to pursue them. If it was not for Dr. Gogarten’s email, I would not have become president of the new undergraduate MCB club. If it was not for his encouragement, I would not have applied for, or been accepted to, the University Scholar program. The passion, dedication, and commitment Dr. Gogarten has for all his students to ensure they are advancing their educational experience is invaluable. I was able to grow as a student, researcher, educator, and an overall individual through the mentorship of Dr. Gogarten.


Samantha E. Lawrence, Ph.D. Student, Human Development and Family Sciences
Samantha was nominated by Jessica Gagnon ’20 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Jessica’s nomination.

Samantha Lawrence, Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Sciences.
2020 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Samantha E. Lawrence, Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Sciences.

I honestly don’t know how I could’ve handled the last year without Sam. As a student who was entering a lab and starting research for her thesis relatively late, I knew that I would need a supportive advisor who could help me reach my goals. When I first joined the lab, Sam sat down with me to get to know not only what I wanted to do for my project, but also who I was as a person and what I wanted to learn through my experience in the lab. She walked me through what my project would actually look like, while also identifying all the areas she could help me with throughout the process. She made it clear from the beginning that she was on my team and would do everything in her power to help me have a successful year.

Over the winter break, I was seriously stressed that I was not going to be able to complete my thesis in time for graduation. Sam immediately responded with compassion, support, and guidance. She gave me a list of ideas and ways I could alter my project in order to make it possible to complete, while also preserving what I wanted to get out of the project and honoring my passion for the topic. She then worked with me to create a concrete plan, including a timeline for who to talk to and what to say. She gave me the confidence to not only trust myself, but also to stand up for my needs.

Even when she moved to a different lab, Sam made it clear to me that she was still going to be my mentor and get me to graduation. She scheduled a meeting to share this with myself and one of the other undergraduate students in the lab who she had been working closely with. She made a plan for how she would continue to support us this semester, including reading and editing my thesis drafts and helping teach me how to use the software I have to learn. She made sure that we knew she was still there as a resource for us and that we would continue our bi-weekly “wellness checks” to ensure we were both still doing okay and felt like we were making enough progress. For me, this speaks the most to how incredible of a mentor Sam is and how dedicated she is to helping her mentees. Her mentorship is not dependent on her job or which lab she is in. It does not come strictly out of responsibility, but out of a deep and genuine desire to help others. There have been many times throughout the last year or so where I felt completely powerless and unsure of what to do. Each time, Sam has been there to pull me out of my rut and ensure that I have the plan, knowledge, and support to move forward and speak up for my needs. She has dedicated her time to ensuring that I finish my thesis and graduate with Honors, and she represents everything that a mentor should aspire to be. She is completely deserving of the Mentorship Excellence Award.


Congratulations to the 2020 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

HRPSU20

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Corey Acker
Department of Cell Biology
The student will support testing of new voltage-sensitive dyes using cell culture assays. Custom fluorescence microscopy equipment is used along with patch clamp electrophysiology to control and monitor the voltage inside cells, including human stem cell derived heart cells, by recording voltage changes optically as well as electrically. MATLAB is used for all aspects, from hardware control to data analysis. SU20-1
Dr. Byoung-Il Bae 

Department of Neuroscience

The student will study the neurodevelopmental basis of autism spectrum disorder. She/he will characterize rare variants of the neurodevelopmental gene ASPM, which have been implicated in autism. She/he will generate the mutant constructs by site directed mutagenesis, and evaluate their effects on the protein levels of ASPM, the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway, and neural progenitor cell proliferation. Successful completion of this project will elucidate how young patients with autism have larger than normal head circumferences (“macrocephaly”), and how abnormal neurodevelopment alters neural circuits for social behaviors. SU20-2
Dr. Jean-Denis Beaudoin
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
The trainee will have the opportunity to use CRISPR technologies to generate zebrafish loss of function mutant of RNA helicases. This project includes bioinformatics search of RNA helicase candidates, design of CRISPR strategies, injection of CRISPRs in zebrafish embryos, genotyping fish to find mutant alleles and look for developmental and molecular defects in loss of function mutants. Depending on the trainee’s interest, there is also a possibility of using cell lines to study translation regulation using transfection and massive parallel reporter assays (measuring the regulatory activity of thousands of sequences in a single experiment using high throughput sequencing). SU20-3
Dr. Michael Blinov
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Mathematical modeling of biological processes is important to gain understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and predict dynamics and outcomes of experiments and medical interventions. Mathematical models describe interactions among components of biological systems. Models are implemented and simulated in the Virtual Cell (http://vcell.org) software using GUI. We will develop a set of small models (ModelBricks, http://modelbricks.org) that serve as building blocks for larger models. SU20-4
Dr. Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan
Department of Psychiatry
The Adaptation and Resilience in Childhood Study is an NIMH-funded study investigating the effects of domestic violence on young children, ages 4-6 years. The summer intern will have the opportunity to assist with study activities which include developmental testing, computerized activities that assess children’s processing of facial stimuli, puppet interviews, and in-depth interviews with mothers about family life and the child’s development, postraumatic stress, and well-being. Psychophysiological data are acquired during visits, including heart rate, skin conductance and event-related potentials. The summer intern will be an integral part of the study team and will have ample opportunity to get hands on research experience. SU20-5
Dr. Caroline Dealy
Departments of Reconstructive Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology
The overall goal of this project is to develop a clinically-relevant approach to improve articular cartilage repair. In animal studies, we have identified a growth factor that stimulates cartilage repair potential by tissue-resident progenitor cells present in articular cartilage. This summer project will take the first translational step towards our goal by evaluating the effects of the pro-regenerative growth factor on progenitor cells in human articular cartilage. The project will identify the optimal dose and duration of growth factor treatment that maximally stimulates progenitor cell repair potential. Techniques will include tissue culture, histology, PCR, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy and digital imaging. SU20-6
Dr. Jennifer Garza
Department of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
We are seeking students interested in a summer research opportunity to join the UConn Study on Aging, Musculoskeletal Health, and Retirement (UConn-SAM) team. For their summer projects, students will measure work and out-of-work activity patterns of UConn-SAM participants with and without eldercare responsibilities. The opportunity includes field work, recruitment and interaction with study participants, and analysis of work and out-of-work activity data. Students will test the hypothesis that individuals with eldercare responsibilities will have different work and out-of-work activity patterns compared to those without eldercare responsibilities. SU20-7
Dr. Damion Grasso 
Department of Psychiatry
Student effort would involve interacting with human research participants and participating in data collection/management on two primary projects conducted at our Family Adversity and Resilience Research Program in West Hartford. The first is a follow-up component of an NICHD funded study examining the intergenerational transmission of trauma and stress in mothers and their infants. Research activities involve a 3-hour visit in which mother and infant participate in a laboratory stress paradigm and physiological data are collected to measures infant stress reactivity. The second is an NIMH funded study examining biological and behavioral indicators of stress reactivity to explain the relationship between early violence exposure and mental health problems in 4- to 6-year-old children. Research activities involve a 4-hour visit with parent and child specific assessments and mother-child tasks. SU20-8
Dr. Carolyn Greene
Department of Psychiatry
I am seeking an undergraduate student intern to assist with the Parent and Child Emotions Study (PACES) a research study investigating emotion regulation among parents and children who have experienced trauma. The intern will assist with parent and child visits to our laboratory, where families will be completing questionnaires and engaging in dyadic tasks during which we will collect physiological and observational data. The intern will also assist with recruitment activities in the community, screening and scheduling subjects, administrative tasks, and data entry and analysis, and have the opportunity to utilize data from a prior study to develop a poster or paper on emotion regulation and children’s functioning. The intern will receive training in relevant tasks and be expected to attend research team meetings. SU20-9
Dr. Kshitiz
Department of Biomedical Engineering
We have established a fascinating connection between pregnancy and cancer metastasis, fundamentally changing our view of how and why cancer becomes malignant (see our paper in Nature Evolution: https://rdcu.be/bZk0D).
This discovery has opened up a new and important field to investigate cancer metastasis, how it starts, why it starts, and suggest methods to control cancer invasion. We are listing a series of very interesting projects for HRP students, and I am sure you will like at least one of them, and will get to work on a variety of techniques. These include:
1. Understanding the mechanics of how cancer invades into the surrounding tissue: involves microscopy, image analysis, traction force measurements etc.
2. Understanding the metabolism of cancer invasion: microscopy, metabolomics, lots of cool assays, bioinformatics, data analysis.
3. The evolutionary basis different levels of malignancy in mammals: dealing with farm animal tissues, histology, bioinformatics.
4. Looking at how fibrosis occurs in different tissues: nanoengineering, microscopy, image analysis, force generation analysis, and basic biochemistry.Students in our group have a high probability to be part of  publications if they contribute.
SU20-10
Dr. Liisa Kuhn 
Department of Biomedical Engineering
This project will involve using 3D scans of mastectomy patients and 3D printing to create a personalized breast prosthesis that can be worn externally to restore symmetry and aesthetics to breast cancer patients. The project requires learning how to use the scanning software skanect and the program meshmixer and solidworks or autocad and a 3D printer. The challenge will be to optimize the print parameters and design of the part to make the part print in a half a day or less while offering structural support and comfort to the patient. SU20-11
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar

Orthopedic Surgery

The student will be involved in the design, development, and fabrication of polymeric micro-nano structures for tissue regeneration and drug delivery. These structures will be characterized for their physicochemical and biological properties using in vitro and in vivo test models. Specifically, the student will work on conducting drug release and accessing the in vitro cell response to the released drug. The student will be introduced to protocols to conduct experiments, data acquisition, analysis, oral presentations and report writing. SU20-12
Dr. Changchun Liu
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Nucleic acid-based molecular detection plays a critical role in rapid diagnostics and prompt treatment of infectious diseases. In this summer project, we will design, fabricate and test microfluidic diagnostic device and portable detection system for point of care diagnostics. The device and system will be fabricated by 3D printing technology. Please find more detail on our current research through the website: https://smds.engr.uconn.edu/. SU20-13
Dr. Leslie Loew
Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The lab is using computational methods to understand cell function. The project will involve learning how to use a cell modeling software tool that was developed in my lab called SpringSaLaD (https://vcell.org/ssalad). You will use it to understand the molecular and cellular principles controlling the assembly of molecular machines composed of many individual molecules containing multiple binding sites. If you are interested in computer programming, there will also be the opportunity to work on improving SpringSaLaD. SU20-14
Dr. Kazuya Machida

Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences

The goal for the summer is to develop a new single cell protein binding assay using advanced flow cytometry technologies. The student will a) construct a panel of labeled protein domain probes, b) validate the probes in biochemical and imaging analyses, c) and optimize the assay conditions using human lymphocytes. Together, these experiences enhance the student’s abilities for future careers. SU20-15
Dr. Kevin Manning
Department of Psychiatry
This is a clinical research opportunity for students interested in geriatric psychiatry or clinical neuroscience. We (a collaborative group of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists) have an ongoing clinical trial aimed at understanding whether cognitive fitness (computerized brain games) improves both depression symptoms and cognitive functioning in a sample of older adults with treatment resistant major depression. The student will learn about the day to day operations of clinical neuroscience research by learning to administer behavioral tests and measures / entering in data to a database / and observing MRI assessments and psychiatric interviews. SU20-16
Dr. David Martinelli
Department of Neuroscience
Two different projects are underway in the lab, and the student could potentially choose either. The first regards the biochemistry of synaptic adhesion proteins, and is described well on the lab website https://health.uconn.edu/synapse/ . The second project is not described on the lab website, but involves the same set of proteins/genes, which happen to also be expressed in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make brain myelin. The project centers on understanding how myelin gets made, with the long term goal of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. SU20-17
Dr. Bruce Mayer 
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
We have developed computational models that describe B cell receptor signaling, which is dysregulated in human leukemias such as Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). We have also found patterns of protein phosphorylation (which we term “SH2 profiles”) in CLL patient samples that correlate with clinical outcomes such as disease progression. The goal of the proposed project is testing and validation of the computational model. This will involve both computational work, and biochemical studies using cell lines and patient tumor samples. SU20-18
Dr. Pedro Mendes 
Center for Quantitative Medicine, Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
A critical aspect in developing computational systems biology models is to estimate values for the parameters of a model based on experimental data. Our systems biology software COPASI (http://copasi.org) is one of the leading packages for parameter estimation, which is widely used in the literature (around 100 papers per year use it). However COPASI executes parameter estimation using optimization algorithms that run in serial mode and tcan be very slow. We aim to address this problem by implementing optimization algorithms, known as “island evolutionary algorithms”, that can run in parallel making use of high-performance computing resources. This project will implement such an algorithm, to be written as a script in the R programming language and which will control COPASI through an existing API (https://github.com/jpahle/CoRC). This research project includes coding, debugging and benchmarking the algorithm using established test case problems. Finally we will apply it in an ongoing research project on genetic regulation by micro-RNAs. SU20-19
Dr. Masoud Nickaeen
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
We will develop algorithms to numerically solve partial differential equations in domains with moving boundaries. We will implement these algorithms in computer programs and run simulations to evaluate their accuracy and validity. We will benchmark the utility of the new algorithms in the study of cellular processes that lead to or rely on the motion and deformation of the cells, their organelles or subcellular structures. SU20-20
Dr. Stefan Pinter 
Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences
Our lab studies genetic syndromes that change the expression levels of many genes residing on a single chromosome, for example Down syndrome (DS, trisomy 21) and Turner syndrome (TS, monosomy X). We have established human stem cell (iPSC) lines of these aneuploidies, along with isogenic euploid control lines, to model cellular phenotypes associated with these conditions. To correct the dosage of genes on chromosome X or 21, we use epigenetic (XIST RNA) and RNA-targeting CRISPR tools to study their developmental impact, and map cellular phenotypes back to specific mis-expressed genes. For example, we would like to learn how trisomic genes on chromosome 21 contribute to oxidative stress in DS neurons and astrocytes, and have built a reporter iPSC line to identify which genes would have to be targeted to restore a typical redox balance SU20-21
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Lubricin is multi functional protein, with both lubricating and anti inflammatory properties, that is present throughout the human body. In particular, lubricin is present in synovial fluid as well as tears, and is critical for both knee joint and ocular surface health. Recombinant human lubricin has been shown to be effective in treating osteoarthritis in preclinical models, and also improving signs and symptoms of dry eye disease in humans. This project will examine the regulation of lubricin biosynthesis by various relevant cell types, as well as further explore lubricin’s recently discovered anti-inflammatory properties. SU20-22
Dr. Henry Smilowitz

Department of Cell Biology

Our laboratory in collaboration with a small biotech company, Nanoprobes, Inc. pioneered the use of heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy (RT) of tumors, with a focus on primary and metastatic brain tumors (Hainfeld et al., 2004). Our initial work used gold nanoparticles (Hainfeld et al. 2010, 2013). Our more recent work has been with well tolerated novel iodine nanoparticles (INPs) (Hainfeld et al., 2018, 2019). Current work in the lab is focused on 1. Improving INP-enhanced RT efficacy by tumor targeting of the INPs, 2. Studying the mechanism of INP-enhanced RT by A. Microlocalization of INPs in brain tumors, B. Quantification of double strand DNA breaks (DSBs) in tumor and non-tumor cells in the brain after RT. C. Combination of INP enhanced RT with chemotherapy, immunotherapy. Our lab also has a continuing interest in tumor dormancy and projects along those lines. For specific projects please come to talk with Dr. Smilowitz. For specific references to our published papers, please refer to our Cell Biology web site. SU20-23
Dr. Ali Tamayol

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Chronic wounds are major healthcare challenges that affect a noticeable number of people by exerting a severe financial burden and being the leading cause of limb amputation. Although challenging, healing rate can be enhanced by administration of therapies at the right time. The project in Laboratory for Innovative Microtechnologies & Biomechanics (LIMB) is focused on development of smart bandages for active monitoring of the wound environment using integrated biosensors followed by on‐demand drug delivery employing active and passive methods. The project is interdisciplinary combining biology, biomaterials, biochemistry, bioelectronics and biomechanics. SU20-24
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Department of Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU20-25
Dr. Paola Vera-licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics tools to quantitatively study Acute Myeloid Leukemia maturation state interconversion in a clinically relevant in vivo model of differentiation therapy.

Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain (http://genexplain.com/) and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (http://www.cytoscape.org/).

SU20-26
Dr. Yi Wu
Center for Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
The student has an opportunity to participating in several projects related to mechanobiology. These projects overall hinge upon a newly developed, genetically-encoded biosensor from the lab for detecting mechanical forces in living cells. The exact project for the student can focus on calibrating force sensing modules in vitro, engineering force sensors for a specific protein, or measuring forces in live cell microscopy. SU20-27
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
There is a summer research opportunity for a chemistry student to synthesize new voltage sensitive dyes (VSDs). While mainly working on organic syntheses, the student will also measure the absorption and fluorescence spectra, test the sensitivities in artificial membranes, and possibly image action potential in real cells using newly synthesized VSDs (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU20-28
Dr. Riqiang Yan
Department of Neuroscience
Chemokines and cytokines play a role in a variety of degenerative diseases. This project will explore the role of a particular chemokine CXCL14 on Alzheimer’s disease. Participants will be using imaging and biochemical techniques to localize and quantify CXCL14 in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease patient tissue. The effect of CXCL14 on cell migration into the brain will also be explored using culturing and live imaging techniques. SU20-29
Dr. Ji Yu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
Misregulation of protein phosphorylation is linked to important human diseases, particularly cancer. The goal of the project is to develop a microscopy method to analyze the phosphoproteome in a spatially resolved manner. We achieve this by combining the naturally existing phosphor-sensitive library of SH2 domains with a protease based multiplexing imaging scheme. Furthermore, the project also aims to establish and validate an imaging analysis pipeline that allows rigorous yet intuitive interpretation and visualization of the high-dimensional imaging data. SU20-30

• 2019 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipents of the 2019 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

The 2019 Mentorship Excellence Awards were presented to Seok-Woo Lee, Charles W. Mahoney, and Elizabeth Knapp during the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition on Friday, April 12, 2019.


Seok-Woo Lee, Assistant Professor, Materials Science and Engineering
Professor Lee’s award was presented by Hetal Patel ’19 (ENG). The following text is excerpted from Hetal’s presentation remarks.

Hetal Patel presents plaque to awardee Seok-Woo Lee.
Hetal Patel ’19 (ENG) presents the award to her mentor, Professor Seok-Woo Lee.

When I started at UConn in the School of Engineering, I had set a benchmark by which I would define my success in the next four years, and that was to have a full-time engineering job ready before I graduated. In my first semester, I noticed many of the undergraduates do research, particularly in the honors community, and so I decided it would be a good idea to join a lab and to learn more about my field. I reached out to many professors and it was Dr. Lee who showed an interest in me joining his group. This is where my story took off. During our very first meeting, his passion for science, his care towards his students, and his immense positive energy became clear. In the last four years, this hasn’t changed a single bit. We have been meeting 1×1 every single week and his care and kindness towards me have been a steady source of motivation.

On the technical side, he has trained me to have a strong foundation and has taught me to be patient and think divergently because things don’t go as planned in research. He gave me projects that led to publication in high impact journals and also gave me the opportunity to present my UScholar work at one of the biggest Materials Science conferences. He always encouraged me to try other labs or internships and when it came to applying for graduate schools, he always said to aim higher. He has been a constant support when it comes to writing papers, thesis, posters, or applications, whether it was for UScholar, fellowships, summer programs or graduate school.

Overall, he has changed the trajectory of my career through his energy, passion, and care. I have exceeded all my academic expectations for myself in the last four years due to Dr. Lee’s immense commitment to mentor me. He has dedicated hundreds of hours towards me in a selfless manner and has worked far beyond his required duties for me to be here. He works so incredibly hard that it inspires me to work even harder.

To end, I am happy to say I will be heading to UC Berkeley this fall for my Ph.D. in MSE on a prestigious Department of Defense fellowship. Clearly, my goals and benchmark have changed, and I owe that to Dr. Lee. If I hadn’t met him I would have never thought of applying for University Scholar or have decided to pursue a Ph.D. Having him as my research advisor is the best thing that happened to me at UConn. Dr. Lee is the highlight of my day and his mentorship is the hallmark of my UConn career.


Charles W. Mahoney, Professor, English
Professor Mahoney’s award was presented by Lauren Cenci ’19 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Lauren’s presentation remarks.

Lauren Cenci presents plaque to awardee Charles W. Mahoney.
Lauren Cenci ’19 (CLAS) presents the award to her mentor, Professor Charles W. Mahoney.

Describing Professor Charles Mahoney’s extraordinary mentorship to me over the past several semesters in just a few short remarks is a difficult task. His passion for what he does is unmatched and very evident to anyone who has taken a class with him. I first met Professor Mahoney during my second official semester as an English major, during which I enrolled in his advanced poetry course on Lord Byron. I entered that course with little direction and confidence in myself as an English student but exited with a strong sense of purpose and a heightened awareness of English poetry. Professor Mahoney sees the best in each of his students and pushes them to strive to achieve this. He has high expectations of his students because he is aware of their potential and as such will not accept anything short of their finest work.

Charles is the chair of my University Scholar Project on the elegy, a genre of poetry that deals with mortal loss and mourning; I have completed two independent studies with him and am currently finishing up my thesis project this semester with his diligent guidance and feedback. The type of work I have pursued with Charles made me realize that I want to pursue a graduate degree in English and this fall I submitted applications to various universities. Throughout the summer, Charles read several drafts of both my critical writing sample and personal statement, provided in-depth feedback on both documents, and met with me on multiple occasions to discuss my progress. I most certainly would not have had the confidence to apply to graduate school had he not made me aware of my potential and research prowess.

Although Charles is very tough on his students and holds them to high standards, he is one of the kindest and most caring professors I have ever had the privilege of working with. It is rare to encounter a professor of his caliber, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with him and grow as a student and a scholar with his guidance. Despite being an extremely busy individual, he has never made me feel as though my work is unimportant; each meeting and correspondence I have with him feels like a priority. This upcoming fall I will be attending graduate school, and I firmly believe that Charles’s exceptional mentorship has both gotten me to this point as well as thoroughly prepared me for what lies ahead.


Elizabeth Knapp, Ph.D. Candidate, Physiology and Neurobiology, Sun Laboratory
Elizabeth was presented with her award by Ekatarina (Katya) Skaritanov ’20 (CLAS) and Celina Caetano ’19 (CLAS), two of the undergraduate researchers who work under her supervision in the Sun lab. The following text is excerpted from Katya’s presentation remarks.

Ekatarina Skaritanov (left) and Celina Caetano (right) present plaque to awardee Elizabeth Knapp (center).
Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Knapp (center) is presented her award by mentees Ekatarina Skaritanov ’20 (CLAS), at left, and Celina Caetano ’19 (CLAS), at right.

Over the past year I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Liz Knapp in the Sun Lab. Her intelligence, passion for teaching, and kind heart inspire me to put my best foot forward and not give up even when experiments don’t go according to plan.

I can confidently say that without Liz I would not be the scientist I am today. One of the most important lessons she taught me is that making mistakes only makes you a better researcher. After all, it is only through failure in the lab that one can develop patience and perseverance, which are key to successful research. I have witnessed Liz’s passion for teaching through how much she cares about everyone she works with. Whether she is at her computer making figures, or at the microscope doing experiments, I know that I can approach her with a question and get a thoughtful answer. No matter how busy she is, she will always make time to explain things in multiple ways to ensure you understand the logic. Liz does not only make sure that you understand WHAT you’re doing, but also that you understand WHY you’re doing it, which is imperative to leading a successful independent research project.

For a long time when I first started in lab I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Even though I had my own project, I felt lost because I didn’t fully understand all the background and jargon behind my work. However, during one of our first sessions at the confocal microscope and probably without even realizing it, Liz raised my confidence and self-esteem by telling me that she was once in the exact same position I was in and that soon everything I feel like I don’t understand will naturally fall into place.

Liz, thank you for being the epitome of what a strong and confident woman in science looks like. Thank you for pushing me to be the best that I can be, and putting up with all my questions even when I ask you the same one five times in a row. Thank you for being a good friend, and most of all thank you for infecting us all with your love and excitement for science.


Congratulations to the 2019 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

Meet the PRAs: Jamie Georgelos

Meet Jamie Georgelos ’19 (CLAS), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Jamie

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

The healthy human gut is host to a community teeming with beneficial bacteria. These help us break down food, protect us from disease, and produce some of the compounds our bodies need to function correctly. When people take too many antibiotics, they wipe out these beneficial bacteria and are more susceptible to infection. My current research is focused on identifying probiotics effective in combating bacterial infections of the gut. Once identified, I am working to determine the mechanisms the probiotics use to defend the human body, which may include secreting antimicrobial compounds, affecting the acidity of the intestines, and changing gene regulation in infective strains of bacteria.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I originally got involved in research because, as a pre-med student, I thought I had to. Because I thought I was being forced into research, I took the first available position I could find. I was dispassionate about my research, and I found I was very unhappy. I left the lab, thinking the world of research wasn’t for me. When I started to learn more about microbiology in my classes, I couldn’t seem to get enough. I would stay after class to ask the professor questions, and I started to think about how certain strains of bacteria could even be used to combat issues like obesity and malnutrition. I knew the only way to keep asking questions like this was to get involved in research again. I found a lab on campus that matched my interests, and I’ve been happily asking questions ever since!

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Don’t forget to give yourself time to discover, and rediscover, your interests and passions. Before I settled into my microbiology work, I had a new life passion every semester! It was by figuring out what I didn’t like, both in research, classes, and even work environments, that I could find something that would keep my passions alive in the long run.

What do you enjoy the most about participating in research/creative activity?

Research lets me explore more than anything else has in my undergrad career. When I run into obstacles, I get to problem solve, think creatively, and come up with new solutions as part of a team. This team is full of people much more qualified and educated than I am, which gives me the opportunity to grow in a supportive environment with people who are eager to guide my research.

Describe the impact your research experience/creative activity has had on you.

By getting involved in research, I’ve been encouraged to leave my comfort zone. Starting with talking to professors, to developing a relationship with them, I’ve had to improve my interpersonal skills. In working with mentors, I have learned how to ask for the resources I need while still maintaining my independence.

Meet the PRAs: Emy Regan

Meet Emy Regan ’19 (SFA), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Art – Illustration.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Emy

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

I wrote and illustrated a comic book about a haunted Newport mansion. My goal was the create a spooky, but not scary, piece of entertainment that could be enjoyed by children and adults. I was also interested in exploring New England’s Gilded Age history through the architecture of the Newport Mansions.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I got involved in creative activity because I wanted an opportunity to work independently on my projects, outside my classwork. I wanted a chance to dig deeply into an idea and my project was able to give that to me.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to pursue your research or creative goals. Opportunities are rarely delivered to your doorstep. You will have to engage in your subject area, talk to professors, and be dedicated to your goals.

What do you enjoy the most about participating in research/creative activity?

I enjoy the independence of working on a long-term project. It was very fulfilling to make creative decisions for myself and I gained a great deal of confidence knowing that I am capable of making these decisions.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

My greatest accomplishment so far is completing my IDEA Grant project. Completing my comic book was the first time I completed any independent, long-term project. I feel much more confident in my abilities after successfully writing and illustrating my project, as well as hanging and hosting an exhibit to showcase my work.