Pairs of Students Pursue Scientific, Social Research with ’Double Hoo’ Awards

The Rotunda from the Lawn with students walking on the sidewalks on the Lawn

Pairs of Students Pursue Scientific, Social Research with ’Double Hoo’ Awards (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

This summer, pairs of University of Virginia student researchers will study the social networks of the forked fungus beetle, the influence of propaganda on non-governmental organizations, and how people interpret the impact of their own conversations.

They will be backed by 15 “Double Hoo” research awards, which fund pairings of undergraduate and graduate students who collaborate on research projects. Each project is awarded up to $6,000 toward research expenses, plus $500 to compensate a faculty mentor.

This year’s winners were selected from a pool of 56 pairs of applicants. The research grants, awarded for the 15th year, have been funded since 2015 through the University’s Cornerstone Plan, which captures many student, faculty and staff aspirations, organized around the theme of leadership.

The funding will allow some students to continue research they have already started, or present their findings at a conference; for others, it will be an opportunity to start something new. Five of last year’s teams had their grants renewed, up to $3,000, to help fund the presentation and continuation of their research.

“The Double Hoo award helps introduce undergraduates into research by pairing them with graduate students who can guide them through a research experience, from proposing a topic of inquiry to presenting their findings,” said Brian Cullaty, director of UVA’s Office of Undergraduate Research. “The pairing allows the undergraduate student to work on a higher level of research than they might otherwise do on their own. The relationship also provides an opportunity for the undergraduate to learn about life in graduate school and seek advice about their own future plans.”

The relationship is not just one-sided.

“The benefit for the graduate student is to gain mentoring experience and valuable skills for the academic job market,” Cullaty said. “Many graduate students also tell me that their undergraduate partners push them to think in new and creative ways about their research.” 

Archie Holmes, UVA’s vice provost for academic affairs, said academic scholarship is one of the more exciting endeavors in which undergraduates can get involved at the University.

“Though participating in research, students learn to collect and assimilate information and knowledge needed to answer questions in their area of interest, think clearly though complex issues and present their findings in a clear manner,” Holmes said. “These are invaluable skills that prepare students for whatever the student chooses to do in their professional and personal life. Recent research has highlighted the importance of engaging in experiential learning for long-term well-being of college graduates, both personally and professionally.”

While undergraduate research is typically done in close collaboration with faculty members who are world-renowned scholars and researchers, the Double Hoo grants add another element: the involvement of a graduate student mentor, who plays a key role in defining the project and selecting the student.

“In addition to the benefits that pursuing research provides, the Double ’Hoo program also helps graduate students develop skills in mentoring, supervision and management which will be important as they take on leadership roles in industry or academia upon graduation,” Holmes said.

This year’s new Double ’Hoo recipients are:

  • Olivia Baker of Lynchburg, a second-year evolutionary biology major, and Phoebe Cook of Adamant, Vermont, a second-year Ph.D. evolutionary biology student, who will examine the social networks of the forked fungus beetle between two generations, which could reveal if social network position is an adaptive trait and if the overall structure of social networks can evolve.
  • Mary Brewer of Richmond, a third-year astronomy major, and Hannah Lewis of Fallston, Maryland, a third-year Ph.D. student in astronomy, who are researching the influence of the galactic environment on the properties of planets that revolve around stars outside our solar system, and their diverse hosts, throughout the Milky Way galaxy.
  • Hanna Davis of Charlottesville, a second-year student in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and Maura Austin of Tokyo, a second-year Ph.D. student in social psychology, who are researching how people conceptualize goals related to climate change mitigation. Specifically, the two are testing various reasons why people reject climate change mitigation, and whether learning about geoengineering efforts either contributes to a general apathy or incites urgency for the goal.
  • Julia Dressel of Centreville, a second-year student double-majoring in chemistry and environmental science, and Shelby Hooe of Mechanicsville, a third-year inorganic chemistry graduate student, who aim to synthesize a series of catalysts from Earth-abundant transition metals for the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide. They want to explore these catalysts’ ability to lower the amount of energy required to transform carbon dioxide into the precursors needed to produce valuable commodity chemicals and hydrocarbon fuels.
  • Mike Ferguson of Virginia Beach, a second-year computer science engineering and cognitive science major with a concentration in philosophy, and Nazia Tabassum of Irmo, South Carolina, a fifth-year electrical engineering graduate student, who are using neural network architecture to automatically separate images of brain vessels from their background and to calculate their parameters, such as thickness. These computer vision-based methods for quantifying and characterizing vessel amount and shape help neuroscientists understand the function of these vessels in major autoimmune diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Timothy Freeman of Warner Robins, Georgia, a second-year biochemistry major, and Megan Catterton of Severn, Maryland, a fourth-year graduate student in the chemistry Ph.D. program, who are researching a specific application for a microfluidic device Catterton designed to study fluid dynamics in live tissue slices.
  • Kathryn Gimeno of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, a second-year biomedical engineering major, and Erica Hui, of Ottawa, Canada, a third-year chemical engineering graduate student, who are trying to develop biomaterials that are more reminiscent of healthy and diseased tissue, specifically for lung fibrosis. Creating a more accurate model such as this could aid in the testing the viability of therapeutics and gather more accurate information about disease progression.
  • Alison Goldstein of Wall, New Jersey, a second-year neuroscience major, and Amalia McDonald, of Cranbury, New Jersey, a third-year systems and sensory neuroscience graduate student in the psychology department, who are researching how genes may affect the development of the brain and the role this has on the brain’s response to normal social situations.
  • Kendall Krantz of Atlanta, a first-year student intending to double-major in Jewish studies and English, and Amy Fedeski of Solihull, England, a first-year history Ph.D. student, who are studying the effects of propaganda and the way the American Jewish Committee, the National Jewish Communities Relations Council and the Jewish Labor Committee reacted to news of the Doctors’ Plot [to assassinate Soviet leaders] between the first arrests in December 1952 and the defendants’ exoneration after the death of Stalin in March 1953.
  • Katherine Lake of Dallas, a second-year student double-majoring in biology and physics, and Nicole Swope of North Branch, Michigan, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in biophysical chemistry, who are researching how proteins localized to cellular membranes interact with their surrounding environment. Membrane proteins represent a large majority of drug targets and are notoriously difficult to study because the membrane proteins mimic the native membrane.
  • Brigitte Lieu of Leesburg, a second-year student double-majoring in biology and psychology, and Quinn Hirschi of Houston, a second-year social psychology graduate student, who are exploring people’s interpretations of conversations in an effort to help people adopt more accurate and positive views of their own conversational performances.
  • Emily Lin of Charlottesville, a second-year biostatistics major, and Xinrui Shi, a second-year graduate student from Shenyang, Liaoning, China, who are investigating the function and mechanism of a fusion RNA that is expressed uniquely in female blood-rich tissues, in an effort to find the potential target for disease through understanding the crosstalk between molecular mechanisms and cellular functions.
  • Abrar Majidi Idrissi of Herndon, a third-year mathematics major, and Eric R. Wengert  of Mont Alto, Pennsylvania, a third-year neuroscience graduate student, who are researching the role of inhibitory interneurons in epilepsy by looking at epileptic mouse models and comparing them to “wild-type” mice, or how the mice would appear in nature.
  • Kayla Pelletz of Ashburn, a second-year student in the Curry School of Education and Human Development, and Stefen Beeler of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a third-year developmental psychology graduate student, who are researching how identifying an individual can increase children’s prosocial behavior and prevent unkindness towards members of another group.
  • Kevin Tarczon of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a second-year engineering major, and Amalia McDonald of Cranbury New Jersey, a third-year biomedical engineering major, who are investigating how the degree of parental care received by prairie vole pups affects gene expression of the glucocorticoid receptors, which regulate genes controlling the development, metabolism and immune response.

Double Hoo recipients from 2018 who have received additional funding are:

  • Patrick Beck of Ashburn, a third-year biomedical engineering student, and Jeremy Shaw of Cortland, Ohio, a fifth-year biomedical sciences graduate student in the School of Medicine, who are experimenting with a new drug as a treatment for head and neck cancer, in an effort to find how the drug works, who might be resistant, and possibly finding new drug combinations to treat cancer.
  • Jeewoo Kim of McLean, a third-year neuroscience major, and Sihan Li of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, a third-year biochemistry and molecular genetics major in the School of Medicine, who are studying a hearing protein to uncover more information about hearing loss mechanisms.
  • Nayoung Lee of Springfield, a third-year biochemistry major and a religious studies minor, and Kathryn LeCroy of Pleasant Grove, Alabama, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in environmental sciences, who are studying the diversity, health and behavior of native and exotic mason bee species in Virginia, in an effort to find why common mason bees are facing population decline.
  • Neil Singh of Brockport, New York, a second-year systems engineering major, and Zhaonan Sun of Jinan, China, a fourth-year mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student, who are researching the application of a human body model to determine the effects of traffic accidents on obese passengers, in an effort to the design of safer cars for fewer traffic injuries.
  • Max Zheng of Herndon, a third-year computer science and economics major, and Zhiqiu Jiang of Ya’an, China, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in transportation planning in the School of Architecture, who will combine data gathered from social media as well as an on-site questionnaire in order to assess the public’s opinion towards driverless technology, to be used in transportation planning and policy decision-making.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications