Summer Research: UVA Students Pursue Knowledge, in Pairs

Up close view of the Thomas Jefferson Statue with the Rotunda behind him

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

This summer, pairs of University of Virginia student researchers will research Track II diplomacy, examine devotional literature from the Middle Ages, investigate the impact of Confederate symbols and explore cholesterol’s link to Alzheimer’s disease.

The University has awarded 15 new “Double Hoo” research awards, which fund research collaborations between undergraduate and graduate students. Each project receives up to $6,000 toward research expenses, funded through the Robert C. Taylor Fund.

This year’s recipients were selected from 51 sets of applicants. The funding will allow some students to continue research they have already started; for others, it will be an opportunity to expand what they have been doing or 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.

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.

“Through 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 they choose to do in their professional and personal lives.  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-renown 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 that 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:

  • Ryan C. Alcorn of Reston, a second-year foreign affairs and politics major, and Dana K. Moyer of Souderton, Pennsylvania, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in political science, who will research Track II diplomacy, in which non-state actors initiate mediation between combatants, to determine whether this style is effective and ethical.
  • Zixiao (Annie) An of Birmingham, Alabama, a second-year student intending to major in biology and biostatistics, and David Grabski of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a third-year student in the biomedical sciences graduate program, who are researching the mechanism by which Alu elements – the most numerous elements in the human genome – affect alternative splicing associated with multiple human cancers, metabolic disorders and neurological disorders.
  • Emil Andersen of Merion Station, Pennsylvania, a second-year economics major, and Samuel Grimes of Norfolk, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in religious studies focusing on South Asian Buddhism, who are researching the medieval formational period of the contemporary Newar Buddhist “Vajrācārya” caste, as well as examining recent activities among members of that caste to open their form of Buddhism to outsiders.
  • Hiam Baidas of Vienna, a second-year biology major, and Jon Suzich of Bethesda, Maryland, a fourth-year graduate student in the School of Medicine in a dual master’s/Ph.D. program, who are researching gene regulation of herpes simplex virus 1 and the impact this gene regulation has on the latency and reactivation of HSV-1 in neurons.
  • Emily Bian of McLean, a second-year student intending to double-major in neuroscience and math, and Joshua Milstein of Olney, Maryland, a second-year student in the neuroscience graduate program, who will seek to elucidate the role cholesterol likely plays in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Charles Brennan of St. Louis, a second-year neuroscience major, and Qijun Tang of China, a fourth-year biology graduate student, who will investigate the nature of dopamine-regulated circadian systems on short- and long-term overeating and examine the day-night differences in overconsumption as well.
  • Garvey Cummings of Maynard, Massachusetts, a second-year biology and bioethics major focusing on cancer biology and immunology, and Janet Arras of Lebanon, Tennessee, a third-year biomedical sciences and cancer biology graduate student, who are seeking to identify molecular drivers of triple-negative breast cancer, specifically the BCAR3 protein and its role in the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, a process that is associated with poor prognosis for cancer patients.
  • Jayla Hart of Las Vegas, a second-year student intending to major in political psychology, and Kyshia Henderson of Hesperia, California, a second-year social psychology graduate student, who will research the impact of Confederate symbols in various settings using experiments and archival work to understand the consequences of displaying Confederate symbols and monuments. 
  • Shannon Hepp of Hampton, a second-year civil and environmental engineering major, and Maria Rossetti of Fayetteville, Arkansas, a third-year graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, who are researching using a biochar (a charcoal-like material) as a soil amendment to mitigate the environmental impact of stormwater runoff.
  • Lauren Kim of Sudbury, Massachusetts, a second-year student double-majoring in medieval studies and security and justice, and Emma Dove of Macon, Georgia, a second-year Ph.D. student in medieval art history, who will evaluate a wide selection of “Books of Hours,” which is a loose category for devotional literature from the Middle Ages, to better understand the genre and create a definition of what constitutes a Book of Hours.
  • Yunu Lim of Fairfax, a second-year neuroscience major, and Merci Ngozi Best of Richmond, a third-year graduate pharmacology, who will research the interplay between tau, a protein with significant implications in Alzheimer’s disease, and the axon initial segment in a cellular model of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Rachel McNamara of Yorktown, a second-year computer science and materials science and engineering major, and Rachel Guarriello of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a fourth-year materials science and engineering Ph.D. candidate focusing on high-temperature ceramics and glasses, who will analyze a thermally grown oxide in a ceramic matrix composite covered with an environmental barrier coating, materials used in civilian aircraft engines, and coated to protect against heat, steam and dirt.
  • Matthew Parsons of Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, a second-year biology and music double major, and Briana Wilson of Statesville, North Carolina, a second-year biochemistry and molecular genetics graduate student, who are pursuing genetic and cancer research.
  • Suraj Patel of Yorktown, a second-year psychology and women, gender and sexuality studies major, and Alexandra Silverman of West Hartford, Connecticut, a second-year graduate student majoring in clinical psychology, who will research demographic factors, such as gender, and their relationship with mental health outcomes.  
  • Isaani Patnaik of South Riding, a second-year pre-med biology major with a psychology minor, and Nicholas Dunham of Smithfield, a biochemistry and molecular genetics graduate student in the School of Medicine, who are researching the role of a histone methyltransferase protein in regulating DNA damage response in acute myeloid leukemia. They are examining how human diseases originate and spread within an individual.

Student who had their research grants renewed are:

  • Olivia Baker of Lynchburg, a third-year evolutionary biology major, and Phoebe Cook of Adamant, Vermont, a third-year Ph.D. evolutionary biology graduate student, who are continuing their research observing the social interactions of the forked fungus beetle, Bolitotherus cornutus, to investigate the evolution of social networks.
  • Kevin Tarczon of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a third-year biomedical engineering major, and Amalia McDonald of Cranbury, New Jersey, a fourth-year psychology graduate student, who are continuing their investigation into how the degree of parental care that prairie vole pups receive affects gene expression of the glucocorticoid receptor, a gene regulator that controls development, metabolism and immune response.
  • Kathryn Gimeno of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, a third-year biomedical engineering major, and Erica Hui of Lenexa, Kansas, a fourth-year chemical engineering graduate student, who are continuing their research into developing a hydrogel disease model for lung fibrosis that is dynamic in both space and time. Creating a more accurate model such as this could aid in testing the viability of therapeutics and lead to the gathering of more accurate information about disease progression.
  • Alison Goldstein of Wall, New Jersey, a third-year neuroscience major with a statistics minor, and Amalia McDonald, of Cranbury, New Jersey, a fourth-year psychology graduate student, who are continuing their research on the biological connection between parental care and the way human brains develop during childhood, particularly the role oxytocin plays in the development of neural connections that underlie social and emotional growth. 
  • Kayla Pelletz of Ashburn, a third-year psychology and youth and social innovation double major in the Curry School of Education and Human Development, minoring in health and well-being, and Stefen Beeler-Duden of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a fourth-year developmental psychology graduate student, who will continue their research into how recipient identifiability can broadly increase children’s generosity.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications