April 28, 2011 — The University of Virginia has awarded eight "Double 'Hoo" research awards, which fund pairs of undergraduate and graduate students who collaborate on research projects.
Each project is awarded up to $5,000 toward research expenses, plus $500 for a faculty mentor who oversees each project.
"We were delighted by the high level of interest in the Double 'Hoo program and by the quality of the applications," said Lucy S. Russell, director of U.Va.'s Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which administers the program.
There were 45 applications for funding this year, up from 38 last year. This year's projects represent a range of fields, including biomedical engineering, radiology, art and architecture, biology and psychology.
"Faculty reviewers were particularly impressed with the caliber of this year's submissions," Russell said. "The award is intended to encourage collaborative interactions between the undergraduate and graduate communities at the University. We're looking for solid research proposals in which the undergraduate and graduate researchers are both active members of the team, and the graduate student is prepared to take on an important mentoring role."
Pamela M. Norris, Frederick Tracy Morse Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said the Double 'Hoo program is a win-win.
"As a faculty member, I have truly come to believe that you never really learn something until you teach it," she said. "I think this is just as true of learning to become a good researcher as it is to learning thermodynamics. The Double 'Hoo program offers graduate students the rare opportunity to mentor undergraduates, and the result of this process is not only a cadre of undergraduates with awesome research experiences, but also more experienced and knowledgeable graduate student researchers.""
She said the questions that undergraduates ask about the motivation for the study, the choice of methodology, or the data analysis may challenge their graduate student mentors to explain aspects of the project they may have come to take for granted, which then helps to solidify their own understanding of the project.
"Undergraduates benefit from an inside look at the life of a graduate student and have a firsthand source of information if they decide to pursue graduate studies themselves," Norris said. "For many undergraduates, working side-by-side with a graduate student allows them to imagine themselves in that role as an independent researcher one day."
Funding is provided by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the associate vice president for graduate studies, the Jefferson Trust and a private donation.
This year's winners are:
• Olivia Sullivan, 21, of McLean, a third-year physics and chemistry major in the College, and Zongyi Gong, 25, of Changsha, Hunan, China, a fourth-year graduate student working in medical physics in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, who are researching methods of breast cancer imaging. They will work with Mark Williams, an associate professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Radiology.
• Arts & Sciences students Taylor Murtishaw, 20, of Westfield, N.J., a second-year art history and anthropology major, and Alicia Dissinger, 25, of Marysville, Pa., a first-year Ph.D. student of classical archaeology, who are researching terra cotta figurines, pottery and funerary practices in prehistoric Thebes in Greece. They are working with art history professor Anastasia Dakouri-Hild.
• Arts & Sciences students Lauren Wilson, 19, of Virginia Beach, a second-year biology major, and Karen Barnard-Kubow, 27, of Atlanta, a Ph.D. candidate in biology focusing on ecology and evolution, who are researching the process by which a species splits and become two new species, leading to greater biodiversity. Their adviser is biology professor Laura Galloway.
• Arts & Sciences students Elisabeth Sparkman, 20, of Dallas, a third-year cognitive science and East Asian languages, literatures and cultures major, with a Chinese concentration, and Elizabeth Gilbert, 28, of Makanda, Ill., a first-year social psychology graduate student, who will research the differences in how Chinese and Americans reason through problems and perceived outcomes. They will work with psychology professor Barbara A. Spellman.
• Arts & Sciences students Fei Song, 20, of Changchun, China, a second-year mathematics and economics major, and Andrew Barr, 26, of Richmond, a second-year graduate student in economics, who are researching individual decision-making in group environments where the individual's welfare is tied to both the group outcome as well as his/her own decision. They are working with Charles A. Holt, Willis Robertson Professor of Political Economy and chair of the Department of Economics.
• Arts & Sciences students Edward Smith, 20, of Hampton, a second-year politics honors major, and Emily Sydnor, 26, of Richmond, a second-year graduate student in politics , who are researching polarization in contemporary political journalism and how it affects public opinion and political behavior. They are working with Nicholas Winter, an assistant professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics.
• Engineering School students Katherine Estep, 20, of Charlottesville, a second-year biomedical engineering major, and Paul Jensen, 26, of Stephen, Minn., a third-year graduate student in biomedical engineering, who will research new mathematical methods for analyzing genome-scale models of metabolism and regulation, using models to predict drug targets in infectious disease. They will work with Jason A. Papin, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
• Engineering School students Brennan Torstrick, 21, of Jackson, Tenn., a third-year biomedical engineering major, and Kyle Martin, 25, of Shelton, Conn., a second-year biomedical engineering graduate student, who will research vascular remodeling. They will be working with Shayn Peirce-Cottler, an associate professor ofbiomedical engineering.