CLAS Undergraduates Win Honors at Summer Research Symposium

More than 100 undergraduate students competed in the 2017 Summer Research Symposium, with three College of Liberal Arts & Sciences students named the winners.

The Charlotte Research Scholars initiative presented the July 26 symposium, which included CRS students and undergraduates from other Research for Undergraduate Students programs held this summer at UNC Charlotte. These are:

  • Summer Program to Increase Diversity in Undergraduate Research
  • NanoSURE REU Program
  • Biology and Biotechnology REU Program
  • Crime Analytics REU Program
  • Mechanical Engineering Summer Research Program
  • Charlotte Community Scholars Program

The July 26 symposium is an integral element of the students’ summer research experiences at UNC Charlotte, as they hone their research communication skills. While most of the students in these programs are UNC Charlotte scholars, these competitive programs also include students from other universities in the region and from across the nation.

Each participant worked closely with a mentor or mentors this summer, conducting research either individually or as part of a small student team. During the symposium, the students had three minutes to present the research they had summarized and illustrated on a poster. They responded to judges’ questions and also described their work to curious university faculty and staff and community members who came to the event in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center salons.

“These are extremely bright students, and this has all the atmosphere, excitement and tension of an athletic event,” said Nathaniel Fried, Charlotte Research Scholars Program director and professor in the Department of Physics and Optical Science. “Even the more than 50 judges, who are highly qualified volunteers from among faculty and administrators, sense and share the anxiety.”

Using the past as a predictor of the future, at least some of the students are expected to continue their research, presenting findings at conferences and publishing their work in academic journals or conference proceedings.

“Intensive research such as these students have conducted is not ordinarily associated with undergraduate education,” said keynote speaker Pinku Mukherjee, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences and the Irwin Belk Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research.

“These students are preparing to pursue graduate education, which is defined by its focus on honing research skills and creating knowledge,” Mukherjee said. “These are the agile minds that will advance understanding in many areas that affect our lives.”

Winners Address Complex Issues

Andrea Mullen with her posterIn the category “Engineering, Physical Sciences, Nanotechnology and Computing,” chemistry major Andrea Mullen placed first for “Developing New Fluorescent Silicon Complexes.” She is a participant in the NanoSURE Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. Second place went to Deep Ghaghara for “Better Object Detection at No Extra Cost,” and Cobey McGinnis took third place for “Microspherical Nanoscopy: Perfecting Quantification of Resolution.”

Elvira An in labFor the category “Biomedical, Biological Sciences and Public Health,” biology major Elvira An placed first for “Identifying Cancer Drug Targets Using a Novel Yeast Small Compound Screen.” She is a participant in the Biology and Biotechnology Undergraduate Research Experience Program. Matthew Kustra took second place for “Toxin Expression and Effects on Predator and Prey in Two Model Sea Anemone Species,” and the third-place winner was Austin Paytes for “Optimization of DNA Extraction Protocols for the Analysis of the Environmental Microbiome”

Geraldine presentingIn the “Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, Business and the Arts” category, Charlotte Community Scholars Program participant Geraldine Abinader received first place for “Student Learning + Retention = Teacher Growth: A Product Evaluation Case Study among CTI Fellows.” Abinader is a mathematics major and Spanish and Urban Youth and Communities minor. Second place went to Jessica Prince for “Examining the Influence of Meaning-Making on the Association Between Stress and Positive Mental Health in African American College Students.” Hannah Hardy placed third for “Development Screenings for Publicly-funded Pre-kindergarten: Comparing Children Experiencing Homelessness and their Stably-housed Peers.”

The Charlotte Research Scholars Program is a summer program begun in 2012 for high-achieving undergraduate students to gain experience in research and professional development in their field of interest. Such opportunities are not typically available in the undergraduate classroom. In addition to mentored research activities, scholars participate in weekly professional development training to build skills critical to professional success.

Images: Lynn Roberson, CLAS Communications Director