Undergraduate Research Profiles

Meet the PRAs – Alyssa Daniels

Meet Alyssa Daniels ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Physiology & Neurobiology and minoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and Psychological Sciences.

Picture of Alyssa Daniels '23, Text: Meet the PRAs - Alyssa.What is the focus of your research?

I work in the Randall Walikonis Lab in the PNB department. Currently, we are investigating the effects of heat shock on a genetic mutation known to cause severe neurological disorders and seizures due to the overactivation of a binding protein. It is hypothesized that heat may reduce this hyper-activity in this seizure causing mutation. Additionally, I am a part of the fourth cohort of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. This experience has enabled me to develop my own research project and network with some amazing faculty at UConn and other universities! My research focuses on the intersection between autism, alexithymia, and eating disorders. It has been neat to participate in both molecular and psychological research!

Why did you get involved in research?

I was fascinated by the concept of research. I wanted to get involved right away after entering college. I felt as though a lot of my lab-based courses were too structured. I wanted to develop my lab skills outside of the classroom. I was interested in better understanding how genetic mutations are studied at the molecular level and the major impacts they can have on an organism. I have always been interested in neuroscience and psychology, specifically in how autism impacts development. The BOLD program allowed me to delve into these interests by allowing me to design and implement my own project. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Ayushi Patel

Meet Ayushi Patel ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and minoring in English.

Meet the PRAs - Ayushi Patel '23.What is the focus of your research?

My main research focus is based in genetics and science in general. Right now, I’m working with Drosophila melanogaster to understand how female meiosis and these additional B chromosomes are passed down through generations, and the implications this has, in the Hanlon Laboratory. I’ll be working on my senior honors thesis in the laboratory as well.

Previously, I worked with the Korey Stringer Institute to understand how high school heat policies affect the students within those schools, Dr. Kent Holsinger’s lab in EEB as a research assistant, and most recently at Hartford Hospital to analyze patients with overactive bladder and learn which treatments worked most effectively under Dr. Tulikangas.

Why did you get involved in research?

I initially got involved in research to check off a box for myself, and just to say that I was a part of a lab. I knew research would be interesting, but didn’t realize how much I would love it. Through the last three years, I realized there’s much more to research than meets the eye. At first, everything seemed to make no sense and I was overwhelmed. As I began to do research within my major, and tying the things I was doing every day to information I had learned in classes, the pieces came together. I learned that research is a unique way to make a connection to the things we learn in school and help broaden your understanding of complicated subjects. Now, I just can’t imagine not being involved in some type of research and trying to answer a large-picture question. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Paul Isaac

Meet Paul Isaac ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and Diagnostic Genetic Sciences, and minoring in Bioinformatics.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors - Paul Isaac '23.What is the focus of your research?

Horseshoe crab blood contains proteins that have high affinity to bacteria and fungi. For this reason, the pharmaceutical industry has been bleeding these crabs to create a sterility test used on most biomedical devices and drugs. My research is focused on sequencing and analyzing the genome of the North Atlantic Horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) to study the genes behind these clotting proteins to eventually create a synthetic version of this sterility test and eliminate the need for bleeding practices.

Why did you get involved in research?

Ever since I was diagnosed as being color-blind at age 6, I’ve been curious about genetics and how genetic technology and theory is applied. In high school, my biology teacher taught us about genetic engineering through a basic transfection experiment that made a bacteria fluorescent. In the moment I thought, “if we could add a gene to make bacteria glow, what if we could add a gene that could “fix” disorders or help other organisms?”. I googled the concept and was bombarded by a slew of literature by researchers working towards that same goal. Wanting to pursue and contribute to that ideal at UConn is what led me to design my first formal research project and my PI’s amazing personality and mentorship have helped me turn those projects into a passion to not be a bystander to progress, but to actively contribute to it through research. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Anabelle Bergstrom

Meet Anabelle Bergstrom ’25, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Political Science and Philosophy.

Meet the Peer Research Ambassadors - Anabelle Bergstrom.What is the focus of your research?

Currently, the focus of my research is on gender in the military. During high school, I wrote a mock legal brief arguing in support of including women into the draft. For my Holster Scholar project, I examined how the experiences of ROTC cadets affect their career ambition. My interest in this topic stems from my family’s involvement in the military, specifically my grandfather. Growing up around veterans sparked my interest in military history which has positively impacted my research goals. My hope is that my research will help find solutions to gender disparities in ROTC and the military at large. I also hope to expand my research to other topics within political science as I continue my undergraduate career.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I love to learn. I really enjoy digging for more new information and bringing new ideas to the table. I want to be a part of the solutions to the problems in our government, society, and world. I want to be part of positive change which I believe is possible through the research I have accomplished and have yet to begin. There is so much to be discovered and analyzed. Research allows me to make my mark on the search of the impacts we have on each other as citizens of our country and world. I would encourage anyone with an idea to get involved in research, as you really have no idea how much it can impact your life. Continue reading

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