Undergraduate Research Profiles

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

Meet the PRAs: Mahima Mehta

Meet Mahima Mehta ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and minoring in Spanish.

Meet the PRAs: Mahima.What is the focus of your research?

I have been working in Dr. Sarah Knutie’s lab since January 2020 as a member of the Nest Parasite Community Science Study. In this project, I quantify parasite abundance in the nests of eastern bluebirds and tree swallows to understand the effects of local ecology on the evolution of hosts and their nest parasites.

As someone who has always been interested in climate change and DNA, the focus of my UConn IDEA Grant project is to understand how elevated nest temperatures impact the DNA methylation of eastern bluebirds. We often see the physical effects of climate change: unusual snowstorms, devastating fires, and destruction of habitats- but what genotypic impact does this have? In my project, I will be investigating why it is adaptive for these birds to have changes in methylation in response to temperature and if this is helping them over their lifetime. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Chloe Zampetti

Meet Chloe Zampetti ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Natural Resources.

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

My research is focused on interactions between elements mercury and selenium in fish. There is a theory that when there is more selenium present than mercury within a fish, the selenium can cancel out mercury toxicity by binding up all of the mercury, making it safe for human consumers. This is a really cool concept and would have lots of implications for human health, but there are some aspects to the research that could use updating and further attention.

With my research, I want to see how measures of human health risk based on selenium and mercury concentrations compare to metrics based on mercury concentrations alone. This way, I can emphasize the importance of understanding selenium’s potential ability to mitigate mercury toxicity before it is considered an official metric of human health risk via fish consumption. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Lauren Rudin

Meet Lauren Rudin ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Exercise Science and minoring in Biological Sciences.

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

“Fitbit-Derived and Self-Reported Sleep Quality and Gestational Weight Gain in Women with Overweight or Obesity”, supervised by Dr. Molly Waring and funded by a UConn IDEA Grant, is comparing Fitbit-derived and self-reported sleep quality among pregnant women in their third trimester with pre-pregnancy overweight or obesity who gained gestational weight within or above recommended ranges. The aims are to assess how well the two sleep measures agree and to identify the potential use of a Fitbit device to assess sleep during pregnancy.

“Professional Exercise Recommendations for Healthy Women Who Are Pregnant: A Systematic Review”, supervised by Dr. Linda Pescatello, is assessing existing professional exercise recommendations for healthy pregnant women to formulate a consensus exercise prescription to better inform clinicians on an appropriate exercise program for pregnant patients without contraindications to exercise. Continue reading