Funded Undergraduate Research Opens New Learning Avenues for Students

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Debilitating neurogenerative disease. Mayan cosmovision. Sports-related concussions. Art and architecture in Catholicism. British art and the French Restoration.

University of Virginia students, recipients of the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards, will explore these topics and more this summer. The awards support 54 students, representing 52 research projects – and were started by a generous endowment from the late David A. Harrison and family. In addition, one project is funded by the Stull family of Dallas, and two others are funded by Patricia (Pat) A. Wilson of San Diego, a 1982 alumna of the University.

The awardees receive as much as $4,000 to pursue their research interests with a faculty mentor – a process that has gone on every year since 2001, introducing students to the pursuit of knowledge and launching them toward an array of careers.

Working with their faculty mentors, the students develop and submit detailed research proposals for funding. Faculty mentors who oversee the selected projects receive up to $1,000.

Undergraduate researchers from across the University present their findings each April at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Last year’s Harrison recipients, and many other students who have completed research over the course of the year, presented their work via posters currently online and during live Q&A sessions on April 21 and 22.

“The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in the developmental cycle of experiential learning through research or creative inquiry with a faculty mentor,” Andrus G. Ashoo, director of UVA’s Office of Undergraduate Research, said. “Some of these students may make original contributions to a field of research, but all of them will grow through the rigors of their projects and the relationships they will further develop with their faculty mentors.”

The Office of Undergraduate Research received 62 grant applications this year, which were reviewed by 31 faculty members from more than 20 departments, representing almost all schools at the University.

“As a part of the application process, these students worked together with faculty to formulate an appropriate research question and methods before putting forth a full proposal and budget for the project,” Ashoo said. “We are really impressed with the number and quality of proposals, given such a challenging year, and we look forward to seeing their work presented at next year’s symposium.”

This year’s Harrison Undergraduate Research Award recipients are:

  • Diana Albarracin of Bogota, Colombia, a third-year biomedical engineering major, who will research genes related to coronary artery disease.
  • Isabelle Aldridge of Atlanta, a third-year literary prose major in the English Department, who will research the weak correlations between cellular presentation of celiac disease and children with concurrent autoimmune endocrinopathies.
  • Reem Al-Humadi of Sterling, a third-year neuroscience major, who will research aspects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease.
  • Marina Awad of Fairfax, a second-year biomedical engineering major, who will research the quantification of real-time cine cardiac imaging to enhance the clinical utility of the images while also reducing physicians’ workloads.
  • Julia Barrett Davenport of Mechanicsville, a third-year neuroscience major with a psychology minor, who will research ARC Drd1-expressing neurons involved in feeding behavior.
  • Aldo Barriente of Lithia Springs, Georgia, a third-year linguistics and computer science double major with a French minor, who will research Maya cosmovision through encoding and documenting the Popol Wuj, a text recounting the mythology and history of the Kʼicheʼ Mayan people, created by K’iche’ linguist Sam Colop in 1999.
  • Charles Brennan of Clayton, Missouri, a third-year neuroscience major, who will research the role of dopamine-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus involved in feeding behavior.
  • Madison Brna of Raleigh, North Carolina, a third-year kinesiology major, who will research the risk of sport-related concussion in collegiate athletes following a lower extremity injury.
  • Martina Bucheli Suarez of Great Falls, a third-year architecture major, who will research an intellectual art and architecture tradition originating in the medieval world that is still part of Catholicism today.
  • Jacob Bushey of Virginia Beach, a third-year environmental science and chemistry double major with a minor in religious studies, who will research the effect of ozone on transpiration, carbon assimilation and photosynthesis on changes to the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
  • Hannah Cahill of Fairfax Station, a third-year neuroscience major, who will explore depression etiology through aromatic hydrocarbon receptor activity in the hippocampus to learn more about the immune response of the human brain. Cahill’s award is funded by the Stull family.
  • Sarah Combs of Naperville, Illinois, a third-year history major with minors in astronomy and French, who will research how British art, particularly painting and engraving, affected French nation-building in the French Restoration.
  • Davis Coffey of Richmond, a third-year environmental science and English double major with a global sustainability minor, who will research using underwater soundscapes to quantify methane seepage from seagrass meadows.
  • Ishaan Dey of Clifton, a third-year applied statistics and economics double major, and Erica R. Sprott of Bainbridge Island, Washington, a third-year econometrics and statistics double major, who will research building a predictive model for private equity acquisitions of physician groups to estimate what the health care industry might look like in the future.
  • David DiMeglio of McLean, a second-year chemistry major, who will research how to develop dyes that emit light in the near-infrared range to provide imaging of deep tissues in living things.
  • Alizé Dreyer of Falls Church, a third-year history distinguished majors program and global studies double major with an astronomy minor, who will research the role of Turkish Jews in nationalism and nation-building in Turkey from 1850-1955.
  • Ailene Edwards of Blacksburg, a second-year biomedical engineering major, who will research how to achieve a stable, 3-D, bio-printed model of a tumor microenvironment to be used for future biological research.
  • Meliha Grbic of Boise, Idaho, a third-year mechanical engineering major, who will research combining 3-D printing with shape memory materials to establish a protocol for getting beams to bend and unbend without experiencing permanent stress.
  • Jillian Hughes of Newport Beach, California, a third-year nursing student, who will research how preterm birth increases the risk of an infant developing chronic kidney disease.
  • Nula Jones of Winchester, a third-year chemistry major, who will research synthesizing boron-containing organic molecules with new properties than can be applied in light-emitting organic materials.
  • Austin Kim of Chesapeake, a third-year biology major with a statistics minor, who will research the undiscovered botanical mechanism of actions and unraveling hidden secrets behind plant self-reproduction.
  • Anna Kittel of Centreville, a second-year biomedical engineering major, who will research peptide hydrogels as a promising means of delivering stem cells into the neural cavity to initiate regeneration following stroke.
  • Joria Le of Oakton, a third-year nursing major, who will research the design, implementation and validation of a questionnaire to estimate the chronic cough burden in school-age youths suffering from asthma.
  • Justine Lee of Fairfax, a third-year psychology major with a minor in religious studies, who will research the effect of psychoeducation on college students’ levels of psychological distress.
  • Brian Mbogo of Silver Spring, Maryland, a second-year computer science major in the School of Engineering with a minor in systems engineering, who will research a neural network method for the classification of cell viability in microscope images.
  • Arnav Mehra of Chantilly, a third-year neuroscience major, who will research frontal lobe seizures, the second-most common type of epilepsy, which can lead to sudden death and other health problems.   
  • William Miller of Midlothian, a third-year biology and environmental science double major, who will research conservation dynamics of fly wing allometry, the study of the relationship of body size to shape, anatomy, physiology and finally behavior, in seasonal fruit fly populations.
  • Julia Pan of Chesapeake, a second-year biology major with a psychology minor, who will research whether more guidance and therapy for pregnant couples would have epigenetic effects on the oxytocin receptors of the parents and the infant.
  • Kavya Parekh of Herndon, a second-year neuroscience major, who will research the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the structural development of agouti-related protein “hunger” neurons and their influence on brain development, acting as an important factor in the creation of metabolic circuits. Parekh’s award is funded by Patricia A. Wilson.
  • Rohan Parikh of Ashburn, a second-year biochemistry and mathematics double major, who will research gene regulation and applying this to cancer treatment.
  • Sang-Hoon Park of Centreville, a third-year biomedical engineering student, who will research novel methods of analysis in investigating the role of the gut microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease, an increasingly prevalent condition worldwide.
  • Paulina Payne of Frederick, Maryland, a third-year neuroscience and psychology double major, who will research sensory neuron development including when that developmental process goes wrong and manifests as a disorder.
  • Madeleine Nicole Poché of Charlottesville, a third-year history and French major, who will research the link between theater and the development of class consciousness during the Second Republic in France.
  • Grace Powers of Richmond, a second-year anthropology and American studies major, who seeks to create an organized index of the Morris family and the Samuel Overton historic papers to locate enslaved laborers.
  • Christy Qian of Herndon, a third-year biology major, and Amy Liao of Virginia Beach, a third-year biology major, who will research cheating and cooperative behaviors in fruit flies and the applications to game theory, output production and other economic principles.
  • Kohl Ratkovich of Virginia Beach, a second-year chemistry major with a mathematics minor, who will research the development of new synthetic methods to enable rapid pharmaceutical discovery.
  • Sarah Rigazio of Andover, Massachusetts, a third-year history and economics double major, who will research feminism and technology in the United States during the Cold War.
  • Carlos Rodriguez of Stephens City, a third-year cognitive science major, who will research aniridia, an ocular disease, the symptoms of which raise complications in regard to standard data-gathering methods.
  • Emily Rounsley of Ashburn, a third-year student in the history distinguished majors program and archaeology interdisciplinary major with a politics minor, who will research reconstruction camps in Northern Virginia and how reconstruction camps shaped the political and social history of the South.
  • Tylar Schmitt of Charlottesville, a psychology major with an art history minor, who will research the relationship between cognitive flexibility, COVID-19 anxiety and race and show the importance of mental health interventions for a variety of circumstances.
  • Daniel Shapiro of Cincinnati, a third-year neuroscience and statistics major, who will research the influence of the meningeal lymphatic system on neuronal health after traumatic brain injury.
  • Catherine Shen of Richmond, a second-year prospective student in human biology distinguished major program, who will research the learning process in adult and juvenile mice to explore the effects of genetic variations on their learning behavior.
  • Connor Smith of Sterling, a third-year biology and psychology major, who will research the role of non-canonical Wnt signaling, signal transduction pathway beginning with proteins that pass signals into a cell through cell surface receptors, in cochlear development in effort to characterize a novel gene mutation in a way that advances the field of cell and developmental biology of the inner ear.
  • Fawzia Tahsin of Woodbridge, a global studies major in the College and future student in the McIntire School of Commerce, who will research Muslim identity at UVA.
  • Amanda Talalaj of Chicago, a second-year media studies major with a biology minor, who will research the surgical outcomes of head and neck cancer treatments for non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • Suchet Taori of Chantilly, a third-year neuroscience major with a statistics minor, who will research a novel approach to immunotherapy to determine how to artificially or naturally stimulate an immune response to better ward off brain cancer. Taori’s award is funded by Patricia A. Wilson.
  • Virginia Owen Trinkle of Roanoke, a third-year biostatistics major with a minor in bioethics, who will research mapping pre-autonomic circuits from the brain to the heart, upper airways and esophagus in an effort to map which neurons control these bodily regions and their functions to target therapies and treatments.
  • Tanvi Vippa of Broadlands, a third-year global public health major, who will research cardiovascular disease and obesity.
  • Shivapriya Viswanathan of Centreville, a second-year foreign affairs major with a minor in chemistry, who will research identifying a new receptor responsible for the calcium entry in macrophage cells that helps regulate an immune response.
  • Elise Wilcox of Vienna, a third-year double major in youth social innovation in the School of Education and Human Development and history in the College, who will research Southern political opposition to imperialism during the Spanish- and Philippine-American wars.
  • Zhiwen Xu of Hangzhou, China, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, a second-year biochemistry and studio art double major with a minor in entrepreneurship, who will research how genes interact and how external factors, such as diet, could affect human health, through the study of type-2 diabetes.
  • Heath Yancey of Ashburn, a third-year neuroscience major with a minor in psychology, who will research sleep’s role in infants’ developing mental health.

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