Author: McGuire, Caroline

• 2020 Mentorship Excellence Awards


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.


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 ( software using GUI. We will develop a set of small models (ModelBricks, 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:
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.
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: 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 ( 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 . 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (

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


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: 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: 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: 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.