Undergraduate Research Profiles

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

Meet the PRAs: Kynza Khimani

Meet Kynza Khimani ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Physiology & Neurobiology and Global Health.

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

My current research for my UConn IDEA Grant project focuses on studying the accessibility and barriers faced by families with children afflicted with Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) in the implementation of healthy diets using a survey and interviewing physicians who treat PANS patients. PANS is an increasingly prevalent chronic condition that can manifest in children as severe OCD and anxiety, disordered eating, and developmental deficits. Because PANS symptoms are often a result of neuroinflammation and gut dysbiosis, studies suggest that replacing industrialized foods with an all-organic, gluten and dairy-free diet is often vital for treatment. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Ally Bettencourt ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Ally Bettencourt.Alexandra (Ally) Bettencourt ’21
Pathobiology & Animal Science
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

When I first came to UConn as a freshman, I must admit that I was one of the many pre-professional freshmen that thought undergraduate research was just a box to check off when applying for professional school. I could not have been more wrong! When an opportunity presented itself through a club’s email listserv at the end of my freshman year, I jumped on it, having no idea the path that it would lead me on. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Mukund Desibhatla ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Mukund Desibhatla.Mukund Desibhatla ’21 (Physiology & Neurobiology, Spanish)
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

I entered UConn with zero prior experience in research. This prompted me to search outside of the classroom for areas of academia that would excite me and catalyze my growth as a scholar.

After joining Dr. John Salamone’s psychology lab, I dove into the field of neuropsychopharmacology and explored molecular binding affinity and its effects on behavior and symptoms of depression. Receiving a SURF Award last summer accelerated the timeline of my project and allowed me to build on the foundational knowledge that has now transformed into my PNB Honors thesis.

My observation of a gap in peer mentorship led to the creation of my original leadership podcast, Agents of Change, which highlighted the success stories of fellow students and accessible campus resources that facilitate leadership development. Through the UConn IDEA Grant program, my co-host Vinayak Mishra and I expanded on this idea by hosting UConn’s first Podcast Symposium in February 2021. This event brought together professional podcasters to discuss bringing change through podcasting mediums.

For my Spanish major, I opted to write a separate Honors thesis to investigate social determinants of health in the community of Granada, Spain. Inspired by my study abroad opportunity at the University of Granada, I reached out to former mentors and interviewed them about the Spanish healthcare system and advocacy to help marginalized communities overcome barriers to healthcare. With support from an OUR Supply Award, I was able to record these international conversations and compile them into an interdisciplinary portfolio.

I grew up with a diverse South Asian musical background that showed me the power of music to evoke emotion. These observations helped me sculpt my personal goal—to direct my passion for the Indian classical arts in a direction that would create a social impact in my own community. There is a dire need for self-directed mental health therapies, so I developed a novel music therapy app to bridge this gap and in doing so, increase students’ happiness and quality of life. For this project, I have been fortunate to receive an invitation to join the Clinton Global Initiative University.

In pursuing a double major, my goal has been to touch a multitude of disciplines and explore their infinite combinations! I planted seeds that evolved into independent projects that have nurtured my curiosity and tenacity to investigate the unknown.

What’s Next:

Next year, I plan on pursuing an MPH at Yale School of Public Health in Social & Behavioral Sciences with a concentration in US Health & Justice. While I am not yet certain what type of research I will get involved in, I believe that UConn’s research network has prepared me for the next chapter.

When I look back at my time at UConn, I think about the handful of original questions I posed to the world and the journey I took to find an answer. Research is beneficial to anyone, regardless of long-term goals!

Click here to learn more about Mukund.

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Oreoluwa Olowe ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Oreoluwa.Oreoluwa Olowe ’21 (Mechanical Engineering)
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

What I’ve Learned:

Research has been a part of my entire college career. I am well aware that UConn is a research school. I did not expect to utilize this opportunity so well working on four different research projects. I learned a lot more about myself from each project, from interacting with team members and faculty.  I was in positions where I had the opportunity to grow.  I have gained interpersonal, communication and public speaking, and time management skills participating in research. It has been a huge learning experience being part of undergraduate research.

What’s Next:

After graduation, I plan to use the skills gained from my research experience to start my own company. The dedication to keep reading literature and running experiments when you don’t know if there is a viable solution at the end is very important. I believe it would play a role in my entrepreneurial endeavors.


Take risks. I try to take calculated risks where I account for every possible situation. However, taking risks means believing in yourself and the fact that you will succeed.

Click here to learn more about Oreoluwa.