The 20th annual Student Research Week (SRW) was held March 27-31, 2017. The four-day celebration of student research is coordinated by the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) and provides opportunities for students to present–either orally or in poster form–the research they have conducted as students here at Texas A&M University. The theme for 2017 was inclusivity, and the SRW committee set a goal of representing all of the academic colleges. SRW helps foster a campus-wide culture of research and sets a high standard for student research by advertising the opportunities for inquiry at Texas A&M and inviting the university community to participate in this exciting endeavor.
LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research is excited to announce another successful year for our students at SRW. In addition to comprising a substantial proportion of the presenters, our undergraduates took home the following awards:
SUBJECT AREA AWARDS
Engineering Jordan Lewallen, 1st Place Poster
Kendal Paige Ezell, 1st Place Oral
Kanika Gakhar, 2nd Place Oral
Science Lorna Min, 1st Place Poste
Sara Maynard 2nd Place Poster
Brooke Versace, 1st Place Oral
Miranda Apfel, 2nd Place Oral
Claire Nowka, 1st Place Poster
Daniel Joseph Welch, 2nd Place Poster
Amanda Gomez, 1st Place Oral
James McLean Bell, 2nd Place Oral
Agriculture and Life Sciences
Mackenzie Hartman, 1st Place Oral
Janna Brooks, 1st Place Poster
Education and Human Development
Katelyn Elaine Goodroe, 1st Place Poster
Devyn Chan Rice, 2nd Place Oral
Madison Moore, 1st Place Oral
Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Rebecca Harlow, 1st Place Poster
Rebecca Thornton & Michelle Hoathian, 1st Place Oral
Serene Yu, 2nd Place Oral
Morgan Riba, 1st Place Poster
Gabriella Abouelkheir, 2nd Place Poster
Virginia Beth Neese, 1st Place Poster
Sigma Xi Symposium Theme Award
Brooke Versace, Undergraduate Winner
Sigma Xi Interdisciplinary Award
Thomas Edward Settlemyre, Undergraduate Winner
Melbern G. Glasscock Humanities Special Award
James McLean Bell, Undergraduate Winner
University Center Award for Outstanding Abstract
Nicole Green, Undergraduate Winner
University Writing Center Award for Outstanding Presentation Amanda Gomez, Undergraduate Winner
For more information about getting involved in undergraduate research, visit http://ugr.tamu.edu.
The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://goo.gl/TjIxOL). In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.
In addition expanding opportunities on campus, this year LAUNCH: Honors also established an Honors Travel Fund, providing up to 10 awards of $200 each to support activities aligned with the University Honors Program mission of challenging high-achieving undergraduate students to develop the personal, professional, and intellectual skills they will need to address tomorrow’s multifaceted problems. In this post, Seth Smitherman describes the conference he attended with the support of his Honors Travel Fund award.
My name is Seth Smitherman ’17. I am a senior Biomedical Sciences major graduating in August, and I am an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Jennifer Horney in the School of Public Health. We conducted a unique public health assessment of Bryan College Station and the surrounding area last December to assess risk for certain neglected tropical diseases in Brazos County. Dr. Horney encouraged me to submit my abstract for a poster presentation spot at the Annual Education Conference of the Texas Public Health Association. Under her careful tutelage, I was able to get the abstract accepted, and before I knew it, I was off to Fort Worth.
As I sheepishly approached the registration desk at the Hilton in the heart of downtown Fort Worth to check in at my first professional research conference, I was both excited and slightly nervous about what was in store for me over the next few days. Here I stood, a know-nothing undergraduate biomedical sciences student, surrounded by M.D., Ph.D. and MPH-bestowed professionals, many with extensive and highly decorated careers in the field of public health. Over the course of the next two days, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth with which I received into this conference of professionals. Any concerns I may have initially had about not fitting in or being out of my league were quickly put to rest by the friendliness my fellow attendees showed me. It was obvious that they saw young students such as me as the future continuation of all the work they did on a day to day basis and encouraged me to continue to pursue the field of public health.
While presenting at the grand opening poster presentation, I was able to discuss the results of my research with the lead epidemiologists in various public health jurisdictions across the state, including people from Travis, Brazos, Williamson, and Tarrant counties. I received some tips and pointers on how to effectively write the rest of my thesis based on the data I presented and was even able to teach the experts a thing or two about how to modernize their public health data collection techniques.
As always, I was able to lean on the support of Kahler Stone, a DrPH student working with me on the project with Dr. Horney for guidance and advice on how to navigate a research conference. During those times when we weren’t by our posters, I took Kahler’s advice attending some of the various breakout presentations. Among other talks, I got to hear David Gruber, a commissioner at the Texas Department of State Health Services, discuss the state of the state’s health and compare the state of Texas to the rest of the United States. He also talked about short- and long-term strategies for improving the state’s health any places where we fall behind – mainly in maternal health and infant mortality rates. I also got to hear presentations that were directly relevant to my research topic, covering such topics as Chagas disease, the emergence of Zika virus, and infectious diseases like rabies and tuberculosis.
Overall, I sincerely enjoyed my experiences at the TPHA conference. It was a chance to teach and learn from some of the most accomplished public health professionals in the state of Texas, and I hope that my research leads me back to their annual conference at some point in the future.
The post below comes from Joshua Fuller, an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, former President of Honors Student Council, former Junior Advisor and Sophomore Advisor for the Honors Housing Community. Fuller is a senior psychology and Spanish double-major, with a minor in neuroscience. You can find his ePortfolio at http://joshuafuller.weebly.com.
– By Joshua Fuller ’17
Exhilarating. Intimidating. Inspiring.
These three words explain my four-day long journey at my first national research conference, the 36th National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) annual meeting.
Applying to NAN 2016 was admittingly somewhat of a last-minute endeavor. I remembered my research mentor, Dr. Steve Balsis, talking about his experience at NAN 2015 in Austin, Texas, and thought NAN 2016 would be a great forum to present my most recent work, a first-author publication on the nature of neuropsychiatric symptom presentation in Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, we caught the abstract deadline two weeks before it passed (which still blows my mind since the abstract deadline was in February and the conference was in October). As an undergraduate interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology, or the assessment of neurological conditions, this conference was an obvious place to submit my work.
As a seasoned undergraduate Alzheimer’s researcher and an aspiring neuropsychologist, I was simultaneously excited and timid as I exited my cab and walked into the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, the site of NAN 2016. Sure, I had presented my lab’s work before at the Texas A&M Student Research Week (and even took home an award), but this was clearly a whole different ball game. Instead of answering A&M student or faculty members’ questions about my work, I was going to be fielding questions from actual real-life neuropsychologists (some of whom are faculty at the Ph.D. programs I am currently applying to, so that was also terrifying).
I attended two long lectures the morning of my poster presentation, the first on neuroimaging and the second on diversity in clinical practice. Following the lectures, I immediately went to the exhibit hall where I hung my poster and talked to passerby for two hours. In the mix of visitors, two judges came by my poster and seemed to be very impressed by the quality of my work (especially because I was an undergrad among a sea of graduate students and post-docs). I had also networked some via email with Dr. Laura Lacritz, the President of our conference, because she studies Alzheimer’s disease is a professor at the UT Southwestern Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program (one of the Ph.D. programs I applied to this application cycle). Well… if there’s one thing I have learned by now it is that networking sometimes can really pay off! Dr. Lacritz stopped by my poster, talked to me for about fifteen minutes, and as we parted ways she complimented my research me that if I ever have any questions or would like to collaborate she’s just an email away.
After my poster presentation, I had the chance to listen to other world-renown Alzheimer’s experts, like Dr. Yaakov Stern of Columbia and Dr. Dorene Retnz of Harvard, give lectures on their inspirational research. I also had a chance to go to a few events for students where I met many graduate students (including a large plethora from UT Southwestern) who talked to me about their experiences and their research, giving me more encouragement during my Ph.D. application season.
I was sad that I had to leave the conference early to get back to College Station for a fundraiser, as I was truly in nerd-heaven. Before I left, a new graduate student friend told me to be on the lookout for the student poster award recipients (as I was going to miss the award ceremony). I knew I had a nice poster and that I gave an excellent presentation, but my poster was one of several hundred at the conference eligible for five awards. Surely I was not going to win a student poster award…
Well, I did… and I am still surprised and humbled to this day. Honestly, though, receiving such an honor is not a testament to my ability, but rather the time and energy that Dr. Balsis and so many other mentors have poured into me throughout my undergraduate research career. Being among the top poster presentations at the conference was an amazing way to close my first ever national research conference.
When I left College Station for Seattle, I felt anxious. When I returned, I was inspired. Undergraduate research has been a winding (and sometimes cyclical) journey for me, but I am so proud of the relationships I’ve built and the projects that I’ve been a part of over the years. As someone who was cynical about research before coming to A&M, I encourage you to keep an open mind! There are so many different questions that need to be answered, and you have an incredibly unique opportunity to explore alongside some of the world’s most talented research faculty. If I got involved in research (and have now won multiple awards and first-authored a publication currently in review) simply because I asked my professor about research opportunities in the Alzheimer’s arena, so can you! Get started today by visiting the LAUNCH website and talking with your professors about topics you would like to research.
One of the most powerful forces on any campus is a group of focused, motivated students. This is, in part, because the university as a marketplace of ideas is intended to be a place where students have the opportunity to put learning into practice. Student passion for progress has contributed to all sorts of change throughout the history of higher education.
One person who was effected significant change for Honors at Texas A&M is Dr. Keri Stephens ’90 (née Keilberg), who graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry and received the Rudder Award. Dr. Stephens now serves as an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, where she earned her M.A. And Ph.D. in organizational communication. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Stephens did technical sales, marketing, and corporate training for Hewlett Packard, Zymark Corporation, and EGI.
Dr. Stephens visited with University Honors Program staff on a recent campus visit and shared some of her experiences and contributions that have shaped the Honors experience at Texas A&M for over 25 years.
In 1989-90, as president of Honors Student Council, Stephens was part of the committee that established special housing for Honors students. Stephens recalled that she was concerned that an Honors residential community not become “isolated nerds.” This might have been a particular concern to Stephens, who was a role-model for involvement on campus, winning a Buck Weirus Spirit award her sophomore year.
Visiting with Honors staff, Stephens was glad to hear that the Honors Housing Community has built a strong reputation for being highly involved in campus traditions such as Silver Taps, Muster, and Midnight Yell, and regularly attends football games together.
Another way in which Stephens has bequeathed a legacy to Honors students is in providing graduation recognition. She recalls that up until her senior year there was strong opposition to any kind of special recognition at graduation. Stephens attended a national conference as president of the Mortar Board Society in December of 1989 at which she observed that Texas A&M was the only school represented that did not have some kind of regalia for exceptional graduates. Returning to campus, Stephens led the leadership of Mortar Board Society in drafting a proposal and creating a prototype stole to present to Dr. William Mobley, then president of the university. Stephens felt she could get an audience with President Mobley since she had made a positive impression on him while traveling together to recruit students to the university.
Stephens recalls that President Mobley didn’t let her get far into her proposal before interrupting to confirm that Texas A&M was the only school represented at the national meeting that did not present special regalia to Honors graduates. When Stephens confirmed this, he asked if she could make the stoles available for May graduations. A process that the Mortar Board officers imagined might take years was accomplished in just a few months. Now, close to 10,000 students each year receive that gold satin stole at graduation, recognizing their accomplishment as cum laude, manga cum laude, summa cum laude graduates.
In gratitude for her significant contributions to the culture of Honors at Texas A&M, Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, Associate Director for the University Honors Program presented Dr. Stephens with a gold stole and patches signifying Foundation Honors, University Honors, and University Undergraduate Research Scholars as well as a certificate of appreciation.
Dr. Stephens closed her visit by sharing that her undergraduate research experience was so formative (especially in helping her decide against a career in biochemistry research), that she now makes a point to guide students in research and has mentored 22 undergraduate projects.
We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is one of the most prestigious awards to support graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Nearly 17,000 applications were submitted for the 2016 NSF Fellowship competition, resulting in 2,000 award offers. This spring, 14 current and former Texas A&M University students were selected as 2016 NSF Graduate Fellows, while 21 were named Honorable Mention. Several of these students participated in LAUNCH programs at Texas A&M, including 5 who completed an undergraduate research thesis as an Undergraduate Research Scholar, 4 who participated in the University Honors program, one Undergraduate Research Ambassador, and two authors for Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal.
2016 NSF Graduate Fellow Alexandria Payne recently graduated from Texas A&M, where she double-majored in bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences. Alex began her research experience in the labs of Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof and Dr. Herman Scholthof in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Alex will continue at A&M for a PhD in entomology, studying with Dr. Juliana Rangel in the Honey Bee Lab, where Alex will investigate the interactions of honey bees and the invasive Tawny crazy ant. Alex, a University Scholar and Undergraduate Research Scholar, was previously nominated for the Udall Scholarship recognizing commitment to environmental issues. She graduated cum laude with the Honors Fellows and Honors in Bioenvironmental Sciences distinctions. Alex has an upcoming publication, “Do More Promiscuous Honey Bee Queens Produce Healthier Hives?” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.
In addition to the GRFP, Alex’s graduate study will be supported by Texas A&M’s Diversity Fellowship. She also received the Senior Merit award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Reflecting on the benefits of the GRFP, Alex says, “This fellowship has given me the gift of being able to choose research topics I find interesting and wish to delve into. I wish to advise everyone to apply for or reach for the seemingly impossible as you may surprise yourself with the results.”
Ana Chang-Gonzalez, another 2016 NSF Graduate Fellow, recently graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and the Engineering Honors distinction. As an undergraduate, she volunteered in the Molecular Biomechanics Lab and conducted protein simulation in an AggiE-Challenge. She also began working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories to develop software for biological purposes. With NSF support, Ana will continue that project in her graduate studies, expanding a software that builds computational models of biological images and analyzes them for quantitative information. Ana is a former resident of the Honors Housing Community and a member of Alpha Eta Mu Beta, the Biomedical Engineering Honor Society, and Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society. She has an upcoming publication, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Numbers,” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.
A three-time recipient of the Dean’s Honor Roll, Ana says that, through her NSF application, she “learned how to neatly craft all [her] experiences into a concise form, how to formulate a research proposal, and the value of having faculty mentors that truly care about [her] success.” This fellowship will allow her “to focus more on conducting high-impact research and making a true difference in the field.”
LAUNCH would like to congratulate the Aggie 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows and Honorable Mentions and acknowledge their valuable contributions to our programs!
National Science Foundation 2016 Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees:
The Undergraduate Research Scholars program is LAUNCH’s longest-standing and largest capstone program, with 227 Scholars completing the distinction this year. Research Scholars undertake the yearlong process of conducting research with a faculty mentor and writing an undergraduate thesis. Each spring, two Scholars are honored with the Outstanding Thesis Award, which is offered in two categories: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and Social Studies & Humanities.
The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics is senior David LaCroix ’16, and Engineering Honors student and computer science major. Describing his work, David writes, “The goal of this research project is to characterize the most effective data architecture in terms of locally or remote hosted for a given Internet-of-things workload.” He explains that neither the research nor industry communities have guidelines for handling data in applications on Internet-of-things devices. The goal of David’s thesis, titled “Data Services for Internet of Things,” is to provide information to developers about issues – including security, efficiency, and accessibility – involved in choosing the best host for data repositories. David undertook this study with the support of his research advisor, Dr. Dilma Da Silva in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Social Studies & Humanities is senior John T. Davis ’16, an Honors Fellows student and double major in international studies and French. Working with his research advisor, Dr. Dinah Hannaford in the Department of International Studies, John explored the question Does helping hurt?, an examination of the connections between Christian mission work and international development. Studying the shift from faith-based aid to a more global and modern approach to social change, John sought to address questions regarding the role of faith in motivating positive change. “By understanding this issue,” John writes, “the institutions that make decisions regarding international development, religious or not, will have a clearer understanding of how their motivations and objectives affect the progress and quality of international development.” John’s thesis is titled “The Historical Impact of Christian Missions on International Development and its Effects on Contemporary Practices.”
David’s and John’s achievements were recognized at the LAUNCH Recognition Ceremony on May 12, 2016, in the Bethancourt Ballroom in the MSC. All Undergraduate Research Scholars receive a medallion to wear at graduation, and the Research Scholars distinction is indicated in their graduation programs and on their transcripts. The 2015-2016 cohort of Research Scholars was the largest ever.
Students interested in participating in the Undergraduate Research Scholars program should contact email@example.com. Eligibility requirements include a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above and 60 hours of undergraduate coursework, 24 of which must be completed at TAMU.
In this post, aerospace engineering major and University Scholar Kanika Gakhar ‘18 describes her experience on the Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering AERO Design Team and how she plans to use her experience to become an aerospace engineer.
By Kanika Gahkar
The Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) AERO Design Team is a student-run organization of 20 members that participates in the annual international SAE Aero Design Competition. This competition challenges teams to design, build, and fly a remote controlled aircraft capable of lifting an internally stored payload within the competition constraints. This year, my team will be returning as the reigning international champions as we took first in the Oral Presentation, second in the Written Report, and first in the Flight Portion, barely edging out a very competitive Canadian team in the 2014 competition. Our margin for victory came down to less than one point, highlighting the combined efforts of the whole team as we took first overall in an international competition.
When I had learned to tame my ideas and use sophisticated research methods to design engineering products, I looked for a hands-on experience. Before I could move on to innovate bio-influenced aviation technology, I had to understand the current engineering process involved in the building of unmanned aerial vehicles. So, I joined the Society of Automotive Engineering International Aero-Design Team.
As a member of the structures sub-team for the Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering AERO Design Team, I am currently working on building a radio-controlled aircraft. Being the only sophomore on the team, I had a hard time initially coping with the workload of my project and keeping up with my upper-classmen teammates. However, I stayed up late at night and tried to do additional research; I searched and searched till I found links between my introductory Aerospace courses and my project assignments. Now, as I work on the wing structures for our airplane, I simplify complex relationships using programming languages and fundamentals taught in freshman classes. I analyze the load distributions and force interactions to model the tandem wing. Laser cutting wood and bending sheet metal gives me hands-on experience. Outdoor flight runs and wind-tunnel testing helps me reflect on the effect of mathematical assumptions on real world situations. Additionally, I use my experience in material analysis from my research in ‘Applications of Shape Memory Alloys’ to work with my team on material testing. Hence, the knowledge gained from my various courses, in addition to my self-motivated research and learning, is helping me elevate myself to the level of my senior teammates and work with them diligently to design our structurally sound aircraft.
As a part of this student-run organization, my team of 20 members participates in the annual international SAE Aero Design Competition. This competition challenges teams to design, build, and fly a remote controlled aircraft capable of lifting an internally stored payload within the competition constraints. This year we will be returning as the reigning international champions as we took first in the Oral Presentation, second in the Written Report, and first in the Flight Portion, barely edging out a very competitive Canadian team in the 2014 competition. Our margin for victory came down to less than one point, highlighting the combined efforts of the whole team as we took first overall in an international competition.
As an aspiring aerospace engineer, I am very fortunate to be granted the opportunity to be on such a prestigious team; this team emulates industry by following a design process with technical analysis, experimentation, and trade-off studies, giving students the opportunity to gain experience unavailable in a classroom environment.
I hope to be able to share my story with the rest of the honors community and encourage them to expand their limits. Using myself as an example, I would like to show the students not to be afraid to chase their dreams even when they think they aren’t ready. In order to do this, I hope to conduct an outdoor session; in this session, I will share my first-hand engineering experiences with the rest of the honors society by conducting a flight demo where my team and I demonstrate our automated aircraft in action. This demo will help the students see tangible proof of my research and encourage them to step outside their comfort zones to expand their horizons. I will also work on recording footage of my team’s progress and my personal and professional development. I will finally compile all the footage in a short, fun video that students can watch at their own leisure.
Kanika’s project was supported, in part, with a University Scholar development grant. Enriching opportunities such as this one are made possible due to the generous support of the University Scholars program by the Association of Former Students.
Due to inclement weather, Kanika’s demo will be rescheduled. Stay tuned for the official date of Kanika’s flight demo.