Undergraduate Research Scholars Best Thesis Awards

Last month 170 students completed the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. This Capstone program is open to any TAMU student with a GPR of 3.0 or better who is interested in undertaking a research project under the mentorship of a TAMU faculty member over the course of consecutive Fall and Spring semesters. Undergraduate Research Scholars submit a proposal and timeline for their project in early Fall, attend a series of events and workshops designed to support their progress over the two semesters, present their work publicly at TAMU Student Research Week or a professional conference in their field, and submit a final scholarly piece (most commonly a thesis) by early April. The majority of award winners at Student Research Week are Undergraduate Research Scholars. Since the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program is an official Honors distinction, students who finish the program are designated Undergraduate Research Scholars in their graduation program and on their transcript, and receive a beautiful medallion commemorating their achievement at the Honors and Undergraduate Research Recognition Ceremony in May of each year. Honors and Undergraduate Research staff evaluate student engagement and accomplishment to select two best thesis award winners—one in Humanities/Arts/Social Science and one in Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics disciplines.

Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis  winner Susannah Barr '15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).
Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis winner Susannah Barr ’15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).

Our best thesis winner for the Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences is Susannah Barr, a class of 2015 graduating senior majoring in anthropology and minoring in Spanish and economics. Susannah did her research under the mentorship of Dr. Cynthia Werner, Head of the Department of Anthropology. Susannah chose to focus her studies on the Sunflower Project, a small aid organization dedicated to children’s health and nutrition in the rural Dominican Republic, which Susannah and three friends founded in May 2013. Susannah’s engagement with the Sunflower Project led her to the realization that the group had begun aid programming without understanding the needs and desires of the community they were working in. Her thesis project aimed to address this problem by performing a needs assessment that took into account wealth, income inequality, proximity to markets, current diet, preferred diet, and obstacles to dietary change. Susannah’s studies demonstrated that while some of the Sunflower Project’s assumptions were wrong, many of the initiatives undertaken by the project were appropriate for the community. More importantly, the information uncovered through her research allowed Susannah to make concrete suggestions for different or additional programming that will have a major and welcome impact on the diet and health of the community the Sunflower Project serves.

STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone '15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).
STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone ’15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).

Our best thesis winner for the STEM fields is Connor Aimone, a class of 2015 senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in mathematics. Connor completed his thesis work under the mentorship of Dr. Le Xie, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Connor chose to focus on developing and testing mathematical models for voltage source converter based DC lines for transmission and distribution of power. The motivation behind this work revolved around finding an improved method for integrating renewable resources, such as wind or solar power. Improper connection of these energy sources into the nation’s power system has the potential to cause stability issues that would “crash” the power grid and leave large swaths of the community without electricity. Connor’s sophisticated mathematical representations allowed him to generate a detailed model that operators will be able to use to better understand the capabilities and limits of a particular system. He was also able to generate a simplified model that is easier and faster to use, allowing for modeling of systems over time. Both of his models are capable of standalone simulation or coupling with preexisting power system models.

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