UVA Backs Students’ Research Projects, from Cancer Treatments to James Joyce

Caroline Kerr-Beckman working in a lab

More than half of UVA undergraduate students engage in some form of research during their time at the University.

From examining how James Joyce’s work relates to civil unrest to quantitative eco-labeling schemes, and from researching Roman property law to analyzing the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, 50 University of Virginia undergraduates will pursue 46 grant-funded research projects this summer.

Forty-five proposals involving 49 students received Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards and another student has had his research underwritten by the Stull family of Dallas. This marks the 17th year of the program, which helps further a key component of the UVA student experience: pursuing hands-on research.

The research awards support students who present detailed plans for projects that have been endorsed by a faculty mentor. In February, a Faculty Senate committee selected the winners, who receive up to $3,000. Faculty mentors who oversee the projects receive $1,000.

“The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in a core purpose of the University by creating and advancing new knowledge,” said Brian Cullaty, director of undergraduate research opportunities at UVA’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “The program aspires for these student-faculty collaborations to make an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.”

The center received more than 70 grant applications, which were reviewed by nearly 50 faculty members, including the members of the Faculty Senate’s Research, Teaching and Scholarship Committee.

“The winning applications were those that addressed an important societal problem, addressed a clear question and described a well-designed research approach,” said Silvia Blemker, Commonwealth Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and chair of the Faculty Senate’s Research, Teaching and Scholarship Committee. “It was a very competitive selection process; the committee was extremely impressed with the creativity, passion and depth illustrated by all the applications.”

The research awards open new avenues of learning for the undergraduates.

“The Harrison Award is a unique opportunity for students to work intimately at the edge of knowledge, defining their own research direction while being closely mentored by faculty members,” Blemker said. “Many Harrison awardees go on to present their findings at national conferences and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.”

Cullaty added, “Undergraduate research has been identified as a high-impact educational practice, and a number of studies have cited its role in cognitive development, building skills and knowledge, and leading to a sense of accomplishment. The process moves students away from passive learning and furnishes them with the ability to demonstrate mastery of disciplinary concepts and then apply their knowledge to the process of research and discovery. This type of work prepares students effectively for their future endeavors, including graduate study and careers that require innovative leaders.”

More than half of UVA’s undergraduates engage in some form of research during their time at the University, including classroom and independent work. Students who conduct research make better candidates for fellowships, graduate and professional school admissions and career placement, Cullaty said.

“I’m grateful to the Harrison family for supporting this wonderful program, and providing a valuable opportunity for students to pursue their scholarly inquiries,” Cullaty said. “The Stull family is also an important supporter of making research an integral part of undergraduate education.”

This year’s Harrison Undergraduate Research Award winners and their research topics:

  • Lara Armstrong of Sterling, a third-year linguistics and art history major, is researching Cornwall’s linguistic landscape, looking at the recently revived Cornish language in the daily life of both locals and tourists, focusing on the role that language plays in the construction and mediation of group identity.
  • Casey Baker of Forest Hill, Maryland, a second-year biomedical engineering major, is researching an element of different stages of angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels, in diabetic and healthy mice, to give insight into diabetic versus healthy wound-healing mechanisms.
  • Garrett Beeghly of Charlottesville, a third-year biomedical engineering major with a minor in engineering business, is focusing on understanding how breast and brain microenvironments affect how breast cancer cells respond to radiation therapy, in hopes of modifying existing treatment regimens for the 20 percent of primary breast cancer patients who have the disease metastasize to the brain.
  • Urmila Bharathan of Roanoke, a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, is researching how certain efflux pumps help the bacterium that causes gonorrhea to defend itself from human white blood cells.
  • John Brake of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, a second-year politics honors major and prospective Spanish major, is researching the historical significance of Visigothic Christian churches that are still standing throughout southern Iberia in territory once controlled by Muslims.
  • Ilana Brody of Arlington, a third-year double major in psychology and economics, is researching how views of environmental issues are affected by legacy concerns, such as how a person will be remembered and the impact they make.
  • Jessica Chandrasekhar of Yorktown, a second-year biology and English double major, is researching a severe red meat allergy developed in some individuals bitten by the lone star tick.
  • Sahil Chawla of Annandale, a third-year neuroscience major, is analyzing the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, specifically a protein known as amyloid-beta and the role that it plays in neuronal cell death.
  • Shiyu Chen of Changsha, China, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching injury-induced hypersensitivity of a second injury to the gustatory system.
  • Selena Coles of Charlottesville, a third-year history distinguished major program major, is researching Welsh education reform during the early 20th century, specifically looking at the work of Alfred T. Davies.
  • John Connolly of Wilmington, Delaware, a third-year history and politics honors double major, is researching the fallout of desegregation busing in Wilmington.
  • DeAnza Cook of Forest, a third-year distinguished majors program candidate in history, is researching the intellectual and political origins of Broken Windows Policing theory and highlighting its trajectory into the policy world of the 1980s and ’90s.
  • Emily Jane Cox of Fairfax, a second-year art history major with a minor in French, is researching how Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro exploited spatial and temporal liminality in his nocturnal scenes to explore the political and social shifts that transformed Paris in the 1880s and ’90s, particularly the relationship between the artist’s works and his anarchist philosophy.
  • Katherine Crump of Oakton, a third-year biomedical engineering major, is researching the use of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment modality for chronic diseases with musculoskeletal involvement.
  • Zack Dailey of Great Falls, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching the effects of a protein on the development of hair cells in the inner ears of mice.
  • Margaret Daly of Yorktown, a third-year chemistry major specializing in bio-chemistry, is researching incorporating a dye that exhibits fluorescence and oxygen-sensitive phosphorescence into biocompatible and biodegradable polymers, which can self-assemble into nanoparticles that may be used for imaging oxygen levels in tumors, wounds and the brain.
  • Patrick Depret-Guillaume of Fairfax, a third-year student double-majoring in history and archaeology, is researching the evolution of religious practices of the pueblo of Acoma, from the founding of the first settlements on the mesa to the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century.
  • Isaac Falk of Harrisonburg, a third-year biochemistry major, is researching ways to improve synthetic methods to form various therapeutic compounds that show promising anti-cancer activity.
  • Rory Finnegan of Flemington, New Jersey, a second-year English major; Alexander Rigby of Wilmington, Delaware; and John Hayes Chellman of Arlington, the latter two second-year politics and English dual majors, are researching Irish writer James Joyce’s techniques in his “Dubliners” story collection and how they could be applicable in European cities that suffer from civil unrest.
  • Priyal Gandhi of Ashburn, a third-year neuroscience major, is studying potential mechanisms for inner-ear hair cell regeneration in mammals.
  • Arianna (Ari) Garvin of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a third-year anthropology and biology double major, is researching how Andean potato farmers have adapted and continue to adapt to their environment and how institutions are intervening to preserve potato biodiversity.
  • Lauren Goldbeck of Sterling, a third-year biology major, is studying dynamic alterations to DNA that go beyond encoded regulatory mechanisms and how this relationship may be mediated by the level of activity in the amygdala, a brain region critical for stress and fear response, during a social perception task.
  • Crystal Gong of Sterling, a second-year neuroscience and cognitive science major, is researching the zebra finch’s ability to distinguish between different auditory syllables and where in the brain that learning occurs.
  • Riley Hazard of Portland, Oregon, a third-year human biology and statistics major, is building a model that predicts mortality of patients in resource-limited hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Samantha Heitsch of Harrisonburg, a double major in biology and environmental thought and practice, is researching the bumblebee population decline in Virginia.
  • Sandy Hoang of Falls Church, a third-year biology and art history major, is researching the spatial orientation of stem cell division linked to the timing of neural stem cell elimination, which ultimately controls brain development.
  • Saehee Jung of Woodbridge, a second-year chemical engineering major, is researching the surface modification of graphene for polymer composites, focusing on the effects of grafting polymers on mechanical properties, which may allow for industrial applications.
  • Madison Lahey of Jacksonville, Florida, a third-year history major, is researching the influence of Protestant missionaries on America’s response to the Armenian genocide, particularly how, through organizational effort and private fundraising, citizens outside the government were able to marshal a substantial political response to the tragedy.
  • Aidan Goodwin Lee of Taipei, Taiwan, a third-year history major, is researching cultural and political interactions between select groups of southern Taiwanese aborigines, local Han Chinese and the Japanese colonial government in early 20th-century Taiwan.
  • Jenny Liu of McLean, a third-year human biology major, is researching how molecules and cells operate on a macro scale.
  • Yi-Ting Liu of Winter Springs, Florida, a third-year neuroscience major, is focusing on visualizing dopamine in brains of fruit flies with immunostaining as a way of studying Parkinson’s disease.
  • Yash Maniar of Charlottesville, a third-year neuroscience major, is studying the electrochemistry of the neurotransmitter dopamine using analytical techniques in the rat brain, research that might yield insight into rapid changes in dopamine levels during stroke.
  • Meghan Pinezich of Northport, New York, a third-year chemical engineering and French double major, is researching the design of a targeted biomaterial drug delivery system to repair damaged neural tissue that could lead to improved treatments for patients suffering from brain trauma and diseases of the central nervous system.
  • Brandie Quarles of Crozet, a third-year biology major with an African-American studies minor, is researching the complexities of plant aging, particularly determining if water and season stresses affect young and old plants equally.
  • Kyle Scott of Clifton, a third-year biomedical engineering major, is investigating the effects of a particular protein expression on malignant cancer cell growth and metastasis.
  • Julia Sheehan of Charlottesville, a third-year chemical engineering major, is researching using natural processes to replace petroleum-based fertilizer in agriculture.
  • Sabetta Singh of Centreville, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching a protein connected to multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that results in degeneration of the myelin sheath in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Sauson Soldozy of Ashburn, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching the possible adverse affects of seemingly harmless head impacts.
  • Lucy Trieshmann of Newport News, a third-year anthropology and global development studies double major with a minor in Latin American studies; and Seamus Vahey of Concord, Massachusetts, a third-year global public health and Spanish major, are researching how people can use social media and cross-cultural interaction to make changes to their individual health choices.
  • Sasha Wan of Foshan, China, a third-year history and statistics major, is researching Roman property law and how it related to expropriation in the construction of Roman roads and aqueducts.
  • Matt West of Salem, a third-year distinguished major in history and government, is researching Democratic Party realignment in Virginia during the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Maria Winchell of Arlington, a second-year economics major; and Dillon Wild of Richmond, a second-year intended public policy or government major, are researching civil rights protections and restrictions for people with mental illness.
  • Benjamin Scott Winter of Little Rock, Arkansas, a second-year biochemistry and neuroscience double major, is researching neurons and the transport protein dynein, which carries various other cargos throughout the cell and may play a major role in guiding neurons’ growth, which would help in understanding how organisms develop and how to approach repairing damaged neural networks.
  • Sarah Wyckoff of Bethesda, Maryland, a third-year chemistry major concentrating on biochemistry, is seeking to create an integrated microfluidic device capable of quantifying hematocrit, total protein and albumin in patient blood samples.
  • Sabrina Yen of Fairfax, a second-year pre-commerce student with a minor in statistics, will study Germany’s implementation of quantitative eco-labeling schemes to see what can be used in creating quantitative eco-wine certification criteria and procedures in the U.S.
  • The Stull Family Research Award winner is Lauren Jackson of Little Rock, Arkansas, a third-year political and social thought major researching how big data can be used to design more effective humanitarian responses in crisis regions.

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