Author: cem13017

• 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.

Meet the PRAs: Priscilla Grillakis

Meet Priscilla Grillakis ’19 (CLAS), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences.

Peer Research Ambassador Priscilla Grillakis

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

I received an IDEA Grant last year to work with three students from the Neag School of Education. Our project aimed to design a peer-tutoring program to help Emergent Bilingual students improve their language abilities, and I specifically focused on the language acquisition portion.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I got involved in research because I intend on becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, and evidence-based practice is essential in this field. Through conducting my own research, I was able to learn about the research process as a whole, and I feel very capable and excited to continue researching in the future. I feel that research can offer us invaluable information, and being able to contribute something to the research in the field I am passionate about is an exciting opportunity.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

I would highly recommend getting involved in research from early on. Research is a very rewarding experience, and acts a way to learn more about a topic than you would in your typical scope of classes.

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

Participating in research offered me a chance for a hands-on learning experience. I was able to explore the material I am passionate about in greater depth, and through working on an interdisciplinary team I was able to learn how to view a particular situation or problem from a variety of perspectives.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

After graduation, I intend on attending graduate school in the hopes of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist. My involvement in research has prepared me for my graduate school education and future career because the field values evidence-based practice, so I will need to stay updated on current research and methods. Conducting my own research has given me a new appreciation for each research paper I read, and has also inspired me to continue research in the future.

Meet the PRAs: Natasha Patel

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

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Natasha Patel

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

My research is on the use of biomaterials to treat growth plate injuries in mice. I am trying to develop a mouse injury model that represents the growth plate injuries children experience. Often during a growth plate injury what can occur is the formation of a premature bony bridge in the growth plate. This can prevent the growth plate from completing its normal function, which can stunt growth of the affected bone and lead to orthopedic problems like limb shortening and irregular growth. Studies show that blood vessels are what stimulate the formation of this unwanted bony bridge post growth plate injury. Therefore, I am using biomaterials to deliver factors that can suppress blood vessel arrangement at the injury site to hopefully prevent bony bridge formation so that the growth plate can continue to aid in its normal function of bone growth.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I got involved with my research because I wanted to make a difference in the field of science. I believe each semester of work gets me one step closer to helping children with growth plate injuries. I see the significance of my project and realize that there needs to be more research done in my area of interest due to the great need of finding a treatment for children with growth plate injuries. Knowing that I will contribute to the field by pursuing this research makes it meaningful to me and is why I continue to participate in it.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Do not get frustrated if you cannot find a research opportunity immediately. It may take time and multiple attempts in order to find something that you are interested in. It is okay to try out a research interest and then change your mind. Do not settle for research you do not truly enjoy, there is something out there for everyone!

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

I enjoy being able to work in a professional environment such as UConn Health. It has allowed me to meet and connect with faculty and explore different types of research and opportunities available. I feel prepared for the professional environment in the future because of my experience at UConn Health with the Health Research Program.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

I plan on attending dental school after graduation. My project has definitely helped me find my research interests such as histology. I would love to continue to do research involving histology while in graduate school. The lab skills I learned have prepared me for the hands-on work I will be doing in dental school and has improved my dexterity significantly. Having my lab in the UConn School of Dental Medicine has been amazing for me as I have been able to connect with the oral surgeon working on my project and was able to develop a strong relationship with her and even shadow her. Learning about dental research with other faculty has also expanded my knowledge on basic science and clinical research opportunities available in the future. My research and relationships made with other experts in the field have confirmed my desire to go to dental school.

Meet the PRAs: Brendan Hogan

Meet Brendan Hogan ’21 (CLAS), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Political Science and Psychology.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Brendan

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

As of right now, I have participated in research that revolves around the influence of intellectual humility upon public discourse. Essentially, when someone engages in a conversation with another person over a political issue in today’s political climate, the conversation tends to go into one of two directions. When a conversation begins, it can either end with both parties either agreeing or both parties disagreeing. When both parties disagree over a topic, a hostile conversation usually is created where both sides become angry and attempt to force their opinion on the other. Thus, the researchers I have worked with have been trying to create a third outcome where parties can instead agree to disagree. With this, both sides are able to acknowledge the facts of the other side and ultimately end the conversation with a humble realization that we are all trying together to find a solution. Thus, it creates this idea that we are all attempting to solve the issues of today and should work together as a society to compromise.

In the future, I hopefully will be able to carry out a research project where I can intertwine my love for photography with political science and human rights. I may look towards the area of political journalism to find a more solidified direction for my project.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

When I was provided this opportunity to carry out research, I saw it as a chance to become exposed to a real life research project. From the opportunity, I hoped that I would be able to take what I learned and then carry out my own project. While the research experiment is an important aspect of the project, it was also pertinent that I became accustomed to the behind-the-scenes management and organization of a project.

In addition, I took the research opportunity as I felt a desire to understand this area of political science and attempt to figure out how researchers are trying to solve the political polarization of today. Without this desire to take part in this specific research project, I would not have gotten involved as the work that I conducted and research that I carried out would not have been enjoyable.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

When you are jumping into college, it is easy to sign up for and commit to many extracurricular activities. If I could give you any advice, it would be to try to find a few things that you love the most and stay committed to those activities throughout your undergraduate years. Work to improve those clubs, positions, and opportunities, but also look to find a balance between your own personal life and college career. The next few years will be some of the most enjoyable years of your life, so don’t forget to take the time to not only build your resume, but to grow as an individual and find yourself. If you can do this, you will be able to graduate with an idea of what is important to you and what you want to do after your time at UConn.

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

After I finished my research, I found that I have begun to approach arguments from the perspectives of both sides. This concept of intellectual humility has really shed light on the issue of political polarization for me and has shown me that it is important to work towards compromises. With this real world application of research, this experience has left a lasting impact on my outlook in my everyday interactions with others.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

After I graduate, I hope to go to law school and eventually practice law in Connecticut or New York. From this research, it has inspired me to take on a neutral stance in debates and conversations so that the facts of the argument can first be examined. From there, it has shown to me that no one side is necessarily right, but rather both sides should meet in the middle and overcome this political divide. Without people attempting to reach a middle ground, our polarized political climate will only worsen in the future. Thus, as this research was applicable to my area of study, I have found that it has allowed me to grow as a political scientist, a potential lawyer, and as an individual.

Meet the PRAs: Shahan Kamal

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

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Shahan

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

My research is focused on using computational methods to learn about the genetic connections to colorectal cancer.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I got involved in research because I saw it as an opportunity to learn firsthand about the applications of techniques and technologies from the classroom and utilize them in the real world.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

I would advise freshman to not be afraid to ask any questions or pursue any opportunity. Every experience has some sort of benefit, but you can’t gain any experience if you don’t go after an opportunity.

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

My favorite thing about participating in research is the rewarding feeling of making progress. It can be a grind sometimes, but progression is incredibly gratifying.

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

My research experience has allowed me to grow as a critical thinker and be more comfortable dealing with unknowns or not knowing what might come next. The confidence to do work that doesn’t have a confirmed outcome is incredibly valuable and has completely changed the way that I approach my work.

Meet the PRAs: Wawa Gatheru

Meet Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru ’20 (CAHNR), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Environmental Studies.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Wawa

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

During the summer after my freshman year, I was lucky enough to join the Community Nutrition lab of Dr. Amy Mobley – an experience that lasted for a year and a half. It was through that experience that my passion for food access issues emerged and my eventual IDEA grant project was born: the UConn Access to Food Effort – an initiative to quantify food insecurity at UConn and to create a locally sourced food pantry on campus.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I initially got involved in research through the Bridging the Gap program the summer of 2017. It was this experience that allowed me to work as a research assistant in Community Nutrition lab of Dr. Amy Mobley.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

UConn is a hub of opportunity – take advantage of it! As a freshman, you have a fresh slate and more time to explore than any other year. Take this time to discover your passions and dislikes. Take risks, be open, and put yourself out there! And most of all – do not get caught up in following a pre-determined plan. Unplanned opportunities will be some of the most important ones you will get involved with. Take a chance with the unexpected – you might be pleasantly surprised.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

My greatest accomplishment has been making a conscious decision to dedicate myself to public service. As a future public servant, my involvement in undergraduate research and creative endeavors has allowed me to focus my time at UConn on advocacy and awareness.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

After graduation, I plan to join the Peace Corps as a Coastal Resource Management Community Outreach Facilitator or pursue another service-oriented international experience. My service-learning IDEA grant has made it more evident to me that public service is the path for me.

Meet the PRAs: Divya Ganugapati

Meet Divya Ganugapati ’19 (CLAS), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Cognitive Science.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Divya

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

My current research project investigates what aspects of language and phonetic properties of speech contribute to voice identification.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

I got involved in research because I had a curiosity to learn more about the brain. My courses offered me a strong foundation in understanding neural mechanisms, but I had many questions that were unanswered, thus pointing to research as the mechanism to discover answers.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

As a freshman, you face a wide array of opportunities – socially and academically – don’t be afraid to take the time to explore and discover your passions. Being adaptable is the best way to find the major, research, internship, etc. that is best for you.

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

My favorite part of research is that I create the questions. Unlike in classes, where the curriculum is predetermined in a syllabus, in research I design an entire experiment to follow my own interests. The feeling of intellectual freedom and creativity is something I had not experienced until conducting research.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

Doing research in the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Department actually altered my career interests by swaying me towards medicine. Analyzing fMRI scans, interacting with aphasia patients, and reading literature connecting speech to neurological disorders sparked an interest in neurology and cognitive/communicative disorders.

Meet the PRAs: Veronica Pleasant

Meet Veronica Pleasant ’19 (CAHNR), an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Animal Science and Pathobiology.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors: Veronica

What is the focus of your research/creative activity?

I’ve been involved with Dr. Kristen Govoni’s laboratory for the last three years, and our focuses have varied from sheep to neonatal calves, all under the umbrella of maternal programming, or the idea that alterations to the intrauterine environment can impact offspring growth and development. Currently, we are working on the impact of maternal nutrition on the offspring in conjunction with North Dakota State University.

Why did you get involved in research/creative activity?

As a member of Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WiMSE) Learning Community, we were introduced to the idea of getting involved in undergraduate research as part of the FYE class. Although incredibly intimidating, I got the idea that I would really like to try it out, to see if I liked it. Luckily, Dr. Govoni is the faculty director of WiMSE, and I asked her if she had space in her lab, and she did! Here we are three years later, still going strong!

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Faculty are people too. I think a lot of first year students become intimidated by their professors because they are so knowledgeable, and more experienced. However, having that in-person connection makes all the difference. Faculty members often love to talk about their research, so please don’t hesitate to ask them about it!

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

Presenting in Vancouver, Canada, was definitely my greatest research accomplishment. It was absolutely terrifying to be representing UConn on an international stage, and in such a scientific capacity with people who have had careers in the animal science field longer than I’ve been alive. However, it went swimmingly, and I am better for the experience!

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research/creative activity influenced your plans and/or prepared you for the future?

My plans after graduation including going to veterinary school for my DVM, and then, or concurrently, my PhD in some facet of infectious disease research. I never, ever, in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be interested in putting myself through school for an additional 7-8 years, but research led me here. Working in the lab has built my confidence, my laboratory skills, and my time management skills in a way no other experience could have. It piqued my interest in doing research for any part of my career, and now I’m actively pursuing my new goals.