Undergraduate Research Profiles

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Mahima Mehta ’22

PRA Grad Reflections - Mahima Mehta.Mahima Mehta ’22
Major: Molecular & Cell Biology; Minor: Spanish
2021-22 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

As the eldest daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student, I knew my time in college was undoubtedly going to be different from what I’d seen portrayed in popular media. Now, when I reflect on my four years here at UConn, I don’t think I had the slightest idea that I would be graduating with so many wonderful experiences under my belt – let alone the abundance of research.

When I first met my BIOL 1108 TA,  Jessica Gutiérrez, I didn’t know much about research and what it entailed. My perception of it was just that it was something beyond my abilities. However, through a few conversations with her, I realized just how exciting research can be. More importantly, I learned that it was something someone like me could participate in. With her help, I joined Dr. Sarah Knutie’s lab and began studying host-parasite interactions in Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. As someone who was never particularly interested in birds or bugs, this was a new experience for me. I was fascinated by the questions being investigated in Dr. Knutie’s lab, but was afraid that as a pre-med student, I wouldn’t belong in the lab. I didn’t know the first thing about ecology. Thankfully, the biggest lesson I learned through research was the importance of being curious and asking questions. Through the countless opportunities to interact with graduate students and my peers, I was able to learn more about the other questions being investigated in the lab and just how much parasites impact our lives, as well as the value of my own input and ideas. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Chloe Zampetti ’22

PRA Grad Reflections - Chloe Zampetti.Chloe Zampetti ’22
Major: Natural Resources
2021-22 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

In a thank you card I recently wrote to my lab’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Jessica Brandt, I expressed how I didn’t think I was capable of the things I’ve now accomplished in my undergraduate career. As a freshman, I never considered research as an option for myself and now, it has characterized my time here at UConn. As a member of the UConn Ecotoxicology Lab, an IDEA Grant recipient, and a Peer Research Ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Research, I have grown so much as a student, researcher, and person. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and connections I’ve made, and I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned into my master’s degree where I’ll be continuing my research on mercury and selenium interactions at UConn for the next two years. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Lauren Rudin ’22

Lauren - PRA Grad Reflections.Lauren Rudin ’22
Major: Exercise Science; Minor: Biological Sciences
2021-22 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

I can’t say that four years ago I entered college with the intention of pursuing research. However, I can now say that my undergraduate and future careers have been shaped by my research experiences here at UConn.

When I first met my primary research mentor the summer before starting sophomore year, Dr. Molly Waring, PhD, I didn’t know how much her dedication towards her undergraduate students’ success would impact my professional life. Before entering her lab in the Department of Allied Health Sciences I had minimal research experience overall and none related to her field, but I had a strong interest in her passion to leverage social media to better the lives of pregnant and postpartum women and mothers. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Poorna Balakumar

Meet Poorna Balakumar ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology, Pathobiology, and Asian Arts, Culture, and Feminism.

What is the focus of your research?

I currently conduct research under Dr. Geary in the Pathobiology Department. The focus of my research is to understand the mechanisms of how different microbial pathogens cause respiratory disease in humans, and to develop vaccines against these pathogens.

I also started conducting researching under Dr. Cohen in the Drama Department. The focus of my research there is to explore the different representations of gender in Indian theatre throughout history, and to analyze the gendered experience of first-generation women learning Indian classical dance transnationally. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Drew Tienken

Meet Drew Tienken ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring in Environmental Science and Political Science.

Meet the PRAs - DrewWhat is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is how to prevent the degradation of coastal wetlands against accelerated sea level rise associated with climate change! Salt marshes and other tidal wetlands are at risk of drowning, and I study how to mitigate the effects of high water levels while maximizing many of the important ecosystem services salt marshes provide.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I found myself wanting to know more, and constantly asking deeper questions in class about environmental systems I was interested in. For me, research is a way to explore the world around me and learn more about the environmental mechanisms that drive the functions of the planet. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Michelle Antony

Meet Michelle Antony ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring Molecular & Cell Biology and Community Health.

Meet the PRAs - Michelle Antony.What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is to develop cartilage repair approaches for individuals with joint injury who are at risk for developing osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease of the cartilage.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got started in undergraduate research because it was an opportunity to supplement what I was learning in the classroom, and it allowed me to gain more insight into the process of scientific inquiry. Being at UConn Health and getting involved in biomedical research gave me an appreciation for the bench to bedside process where research results from the laboratory can be taken into the clinic. As an aspiring physician, the ability to work on cutting-edge research that can directly affect patient health is so exciting. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Alex Clonan

Meet Alex Clonan ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Molecular & Cell Biology.

Meet the PRAs - Alex.What is the focus of your research?

Currently the main two projects that I have been focusing on are my undergraduate research project in the Escabi Lab in the Biomedical Engineering department, as well as a social impact project I have been working on through the Change Grant. In my engineering lab, I work with auditory signal analysis and physiological model experiments of the auditory system. With my Change Grant, I am trying to incorporate STEM education for engineering into a clinical pediatric setting, to improve engagement in STEM from a young age. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Claire Fresher

Meet Claire Fresher ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics.

Meet the PRAs - Claire.What is the focus of your research?

I conduct research as part of the Tarakanova Research Group, a biomedical/mechanical engineering lab, where I analyze metabolites that undergo aggregation in the body which is linked to the development of various diseases.

Another research team I am a part of is the Neurobiology of Individual Differences in Language Lab where I administer neuropsychological assessments to families to test the effects of environmental and genetic factors on cognitive development skills including language, math, and reading comprehension. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Elisa Shaholli

Meet Elisa Shaholli ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Economics and minoring in English and Global Studies.

Meet the PRAs - Elisa Shaholli.What is the focus of your research?

I do research in the field of Disability Studies! It’s a field that’s interdisciplinary and can span from Economics to English to Psychology and more. I’ve done a research project concerning the analysis of disability in film (a project that was primarily rooted in the English discipline), a project about the social experience of diabetes and disability “passing” (a project rooted in social sciences), and am planning on making Economics and disability a focus for my thesis!

Why did you get involved in research?

In high school, whenever I learned about disability or disease in any context, it was always biomedical or scientific. I never was really exposed to disability in regards to history or sociology or even in literary texts, even though a very large portion of the world population has a disability of some kind. I wanted to work on research concerning disability in social contexts, and Disability Studies was the perfect field for that. Hopefully through my research, people can at least learn a bit more than they originally did! Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Stephanie Schofield

Meet Stephanie Schofield ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and minoring in Psychological Sciences and Chemistry.

Meet the PRAs - Stephanie.What is the focus of your research?

I currently do research in Dr. Wendy Mok’s lab at UConn Health where I am focusing on microbial interactions and their impacts on antibiotic treatment response.

Why did you get involved in research?

To start, I have really enjoyed my major-related courses so far at UConn and from the start of my college career, I always knew I wanted to get involved in research. I am super passionate about my education and I enjoy learning, so I wanted to take it to the next level. I am also a big hands-on learner, so furthering my education through research was a rewarding idea to me. Continue reading