In 2004, the Betty M. Unterberger Award for Outstanding Service to Honors Education was created and presented to Dr. Unterberger in recognition of her many years of service and significant contribution to the growth and development of high-impact education at Texas A&M.
The 2015 recipient of the Unterberger Award is Dr. Chris Houser.
Honors and Undergraduate Research would like to thank Dr. Chris Houser for his dedication to undergraduate research and Honors programming within the College of Geosciences. Dr. Houser has been instrumental in pushing forward a number of important initiatives in the College of Geosciences including the zero-credit-hour 491 option to enable tracking of undergraduate research experiences. Dr. Houser has also been the force behind the newly approved College of Geoscience Honors Program and the Honors Programs in Geography and GIST. These opportunities will enrich the educational accomplishments of many students and help us meet the Aggies Commit challenge.
Bio Chris Houser is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Faculty Affairs in the College of Geosciences and is responsible for increasing the number and diversity of High Impact experiences in the college with a focus on undergraduate research.
Dr. Houser is also Texas A&M University’s Global Faculty Ambassador through the Global Programs Office and responsible for the development of sustainable undergraduate education and research programs at the Soltis Center for Research and Education in Costa Rica. He has also been the Director of an interdisciplinary Research Experiences for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation to close the water budget of a small watershed at the Soltis Center for Research and Education involving 10 undergraduate students per year mentored by 12 faculty from 5 departments and 3 colleges.
Through his interests in coastal geomorphology, tropical ecohydrology, and undergraduate education Dr. Houser has provided outstanding domestic and international undergraduate research opportunities for a large number of students, many of whom have continued on to graduate school.
Thank you, Dr. Houser, for your dedication to enhancing the undergraduate experience at Texas A&M! We will be presenting the Unterberger Award to Dr. Houser at the HUR Recognition Ceremony on Thursday, May 14, 2015. To see a list of previous recipients, visit the TAMU HUR Faculty Awards page.
Nominating outstanding students for nationally-competitive scholarships and fellowships is one way to showcase the world-class undergraduate experience at Texas A&M. Not only do the winners in these competitions receive valuable support for their educational expenses, but they also join professional networks that will continue to open doors throughout their careers. But a student does not have to win a competition to realize the value of the national fellowships application process. The applications for these awards ask students to reflect on their ambitions and how they are building knowledge, skills, and experience related to following their dreams. Students report that the application is a truly clarifying experience.
One of the awards that Honors and Undergraduate Research serves as a nominating official for is the Udall Scholarship. This award, from the the Morris K. & Stuart L. Udall Foundation, recognizes top students planning careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. Students who are selected will receive scholarships of up to $5000 and join a community of scholars whose dedication to sustainable public policy honors the legacy of the Arizona congressmen.
We are proud to announce the nomination of six TAMU students for the 2015 Udall Scholarship competition: Sean Castillo, Jaclyn Guz, Jessica Gwinn, Alyson Miranda, Alexandria Payne, and Jennifer Rangel.
Sean Castillo ’16 is a junior bioenvironmental sciences major, minoring in geography. He served as a sophomore mentor for Aggies Selflessly Serving in Shaping Tomorrow (ASSIST). Castillo participates in undergraduate research in the Scholthof labs in the Texas A&M Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology where he studies the Panicum Mosaic Virus, Citrus Tatter Leaf Virus, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, and Tomato Bushy Stunt Virus. He plans a career studying the effects of environmental toxins with the hope that his work will inform lawmakers and educate citizens about the need to reduce pollution.
Jessica Gwinn ’16 is a junior bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences double degree student. She served as secretary and webmaster for the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) and is a staff member for Aggie RePlant. Gwinn is an undergraduate researcher in the Roelke Lab studying the toxic effects of Prymnesium parvum, an algae with potentially useful biofuel applications that is known to cause massive fish kills. Gwinn is also employed as a student worker in Dr. Ong’s plant pathology lab studying Rose Rosette Virus and writing Extension publications about rose diseases. She plans a career researching the ecological relationships between micro- and macro-organisms and the importance of these relationships to humans.
Alyson Miranda ’17 is a sophomore University Scholar, majoring in bioenvironmental sciences with a minor in business administration. She has served as a site leader and local service executive for Alternative Spring Break, volunteers with the Texas A&M Howdy Farm and Brazos County Senior Citizens’ Association, and is a sophomore advisor (SA) in the Honors Housing Community. She was also recently selected as a 2015 Public Policy Intern with PPIP. Miranda is conducting undergraduate research in the Lacher lab, performing regional extinction risk assessments for the Gulf of Mexico. She plans a career bridging the gap between science and policy in making food production chains more sustainable.
Alexandria Payne ’16 is a junior University Scholar, double-majoring in bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences. She is the president of the Human Environmental Animal Team (HEAT) and is the Department of Bioenvironmental Sciences representative to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (COALS) Student Council. Payne has conducted undergraduate research related to plant virology in the Scholthof labs, on the invasive Tawny crazy ant as part of an NSF-REU at the University of Texas with Dr. Edward LeBrun, and most recently in the Honey Bee Lab at TAMU with Dr. Juliana Rangel. She plans a career researching the mystery of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in order to create a healthy bee population and stable food supply.
Jennifer Rangel ’16 is a junior recreation, park & tourism sciences major with minors in sociology and urban & regional planning. She is the coordinator of registration for the Student Conference on Latino Affairs, an officer for Going Out and Leading from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of Future Former Students from the Association of Former Students, and the I Lead Maroon program. Rangel serves as an intern with the Family and Consumer Sciences Program as part of the TAMU AgriLife Extension. She is particularly interested in the intersection of a community’s space and infrastructure design, and the implications of this intersection for human behavior. Rangel plans a career educating people about the positive impacts of green space in a community, especially for low-income and high-risk families.
Since 1996, Texas A&M has had seven Udall Scholars and two Honorable Mentions. The most recent Udall Scholar was Victoria Easton ‘15, who was the first TAMU Udall Scholar selected in the Tribal Public Policy category.
To read more about how Honors and Undergraduate Research helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Udall Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://hur.tamu.edu/National-Fellowships.
Honors and Undergraduate Research presents Tammis Sherman. Sherman serves as Program Coordinator for the Undergraduate Research Scholars program, and coordinates support and enrichment for undergraduates engaged in summer research projects at Texas A&M, such as the Aggie Research Scholars and the many campus REUs.
Sherman grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and has had a horse or pony for as long as she can remember. She had a small buckboard wagon she would hitch up and give friends rides around her rural home. Sherman was in 4-H and developed a great love for exploring. It was that sense of adventure that took Sherman from New England to Texas, with a couple of years spent living in Oahu, Hawaii, swimming with her daughter at Waikiki.
With a background in finance, Sherman spent 30 years working with people doing estate and retirement planning. With so much energy and enthusiasm, Sherman could not stay retired. She began working with the Texas A&M Research Foundation, and then under the Vice-President for Research, Dr. Robert Webb, and Dr. Suma Datta, who was serving as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research. When Dr. Datta was selected as Executive Director and tasked with combining the University Honors Program and Undergraduate Research Scholars program, Sherman made the move with her.
Sherman lives on a small farm and enjoys time with her many animals, which included horses, cows, cats, dogs, and the occasional bull. An accomplished baker, Shermans’ cupcakes and muffins are the highlight of office gatherings, especially when she is trying out a new recipe. Sherman is also a gifted artist and often shares inspiring photographs taken on her farm. She also paints, and her fantastic animals not only adorn her office wall, but also the custom cards she gives each year at the holidays.
Honors and Undergraduate Research presents Dr. Suma Datta, our Executive Director. Dr. Datta coordinates with colleges, programs and centers across campus to improve existing HUR programming and develop new initiatives, she also serves as the HUR advisor for the Explorations journal and the coordinator for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship nomination process.
Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research
Dr. Datta grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Honors degrees in Chemistry and in Cell and Molecular Biology. She participated in undergraduate research all four of her undergraduate years, culminating in a senior honors thesis. While at Michigan Dr. Datta also took on leadership positions with a student organization and organized fund-raising activities for charity.
Dr. Datta was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship to support her graduate work at the University of California-San Diego in the Department of Biology. Her doctoral thesis focused on understanding how the genes that control the identities of cells are regulated at the molecular level and led to the publication of 5 articles and 3 reviews. Upon receipt of her doctorate, Dr. Datta was awarded a Life Sciences Research Fellowship and moved to Yale University to do postdoctoral research on brain development. During her time at UCSD and Yale, she became a science tutor for high school students and later a mentor and then coordinator of the Academic Mentorship Program in the Sciences.
In 1993 Dr. Datta accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M with a joint appointment in Biology and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1999. She has been awarded an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Fellowship, a Senior Ruth Kirschstein Fellowship and multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Heart Association for her work in brain development, stem cell division and prostate cancer progression. She has traveled nationally and internationally to speak about her research, organized workshops and chaired sessions at national and international conferences and reviewed grant proposals for foundations and government agencies and manuscripts for prestigious journals. Dr. Datta has continued her interest in student development and mentoring through organizing alternative careers workshops, participating in TAMU Honors programming, teaching Honors classes, presenting at the Women in Science and Engineering conferences and mentoring over 50 undergraduate researchers in her laboratory.
In 2008 Dr. Datta became the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Research, working closely with students and faculty from all across campus. In this capacity she organized the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, coordinated events for REU directors during the summer, ran workshops and training sessions and published the first issue of Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. She joined the Council on Undergraduate Research and was elected to a counselor position in the spring of 2010.
In the fall of 2010 Dr. Datta became the first Executive Director of the new Honors and Undergraduate Research unit, combining the former Honors Programs Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research. She and her staff have expanded the Undergraduate Research Scholars program to include Honors students and students from all colleges, established the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors and developed and launched three new Capstone programs (Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, Undergraduate Service Scholar and Undergraduate Leadership Scholar). A new distinction (Honors Fellows) and associated Honors program (University Honors) have been developed and implemented including an application process and a more robust Living Learning Community experience. She has continued to coordinate publication of Explorations, which just released its sixth issue.
In her spare time, Dr. Datta hangs out with her husband Scott and her two “house lions.” She loves to cook and eat food from different cultures, especially if it is spicy. Luckily she and her husband also love to dance. She is the faculty advisor for TAMBDA, the Texas A&M Ballroom Dance Association, and for AggieWesties, the Texas A&M West Coast Swing Dance Club. Most weekends and some week nights she and Scott can be found on a dance floor somewhere.
On Wednesday, August 6, over 100 undergraduate students presented the results of their summer research at the annual Summer Undergraduate Research Poster Sessions, held in the lobby of the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences building. The poster sessions, organized by Honors and Undergraduate Research (HUR), provide an opportunity for students who have spent their summer working under the research mentorship of TAMU faculty and graduate students to communicate their results to the campus community. Additional poster sessions were held by the College of Engineering for participants in their Undergraduate Summer Research Grants program.
For many undergraduate students, summer is an ideal time to become engaged in research. A variety of summer research programs, open both to Aggies and to students from other universities, provide immersive summer research experiences with the intent of encouraging students to continue their research activities during the regular semester and continue on to graduate school. These include 14 programs supported by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) which attract students from across the country, the HUR and College of Liberal Arts-supported Glasscock Summer Scholars Program for students interested in humanities research, and the Aggie Research Scholars, an innovative and diverse program using peer research mentors sponsored by the Michael E. DeBakey Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Due to the popularity of summer research, this year for the first time the poster program was split into two sessions: a morning session comprised of posters in the physical sciences and engineering and an afternoon session comprised of posters in the life sciences, geosciences, and humanities. This change in the program schedule eased the crowding of the 2013 session which had a total of over 170 posters. The Summer 2014 Undergraduate Research Poster Sessions were a huge success and boasted a total of 117 posters presented by over 200 students. Please visit our online photo album to see pictures from both sessions!
Honors and Undergraduate Research provides support for summer undergraduate research programs run on the Texas A&M campus. The support provided by HUR includes coordination of social events, brown bag lectures, access to campus services, tours of research facilities, and the end-of-summer poster . Enrichment opportunities like this poster session are made possible through the generous support of the Association of Former Students. If you appreciate their support of programs like these, as we do, please let them know!
Stephen McConnell ’14 graduated in May 2014 with a degree in electrical engineering. He worked with Dr. Robert Balog to complete his thesis for the Undergraduate Research Scholars program. A portion of his thesis work, “Photovoltaic Arc-Fault Detection,” was published in the 2014 IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Denver, CO. He was listed as first author on the paper “Evaluation Method for Arc Fault Detection Algorithms” and prepared an accompanying poster for presentation from June 9-12th, 2014. Stephen received the “Best Poster” award at the conference.
by Stephen McConnell –
At the recent 40th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC) in Denver, I was surrounded by hundreds of professionals in my field and had the opportunity to hear them give presentations related to their research. These presentations included question-and-answer sessions that followed where peer scientists and engineers offered their feedback and suggestions. This opportunity gave me a more comprehensive view of how my research and potential future publications might be viewed and received by my peers in photovoltaics. It also gave me better insight into the vocabulary and current topics of interest among this vast network of professionals.
My experience in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program not only allowed me to perform quality research under expert mentorship, but also prepared me to communicate my ideas through the written thesis and poster presentation during Student Research Week. The research I presented at PVSC was directly tied to the thesis I completed for the program.
The UGR Scholars Program was the logical next step after completing photovoltaic research during a summer NSF REU program at Texas A&M. The REU was my first official academic research undertaking and also gave me the opportunity to present my findings via poster display to peers and faculty after a successful summer research project.
I found interest in undergraduate research when I realized that I wanted a more thorough and detailed understanding of the engineering curriculum and after a potential employer suggested it. I would encourage all students who have even the smallest desire to engage in research to act on it by talking to their professors and to discover where that discussion will lead them. I would like to thank HUR for helping to make my most recent research opportunity possible through the organization of the UGR Scholars Program.
Enriching experiences like the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program are offered through Honors and Undergraduate Research thanks to the generous support of the Association of Former Students.
As summer comes to a close over 112 students from across campus and the nation met to present their work from the past 10 weeks at the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) poster session on Tuesday. Posters topics ranged from Biology to English and everything in-between. Students who had participated in the REU programs supported by the National Science Foundation or in Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) supported by the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies at Texas A&M were given the opportunity to share the results of their summer research projects with peers, faculty and even Texas A&M University President, R. Bowen Loftin.
Students found this opportunity to be a vital part in their undergraduate education. “To get to work on a research project of your own, is something cool. It takes what you learn in class and brings it to the forefront. You get to see how material you learn in class can relate to the real world and solve real problems,” said Ayobami Olubeko, senior computer engineering major.
Olubeko spent his summer expanding on an earlier REU project done by Texas A&M students. He sought to update the “HaptiGo” system, a navigation system for the visually impaired that can maneuver around obstacles without the use of a white cane or service dog. Olubeko’s results showed that better sensors are needed for the system, and he is excited for the continuation of the project.
While some students took the summer to expand on what they learn in the classroom others found where their true passions lie. “Undergraduate research has totally changed my outlook on what I want to do. It has shown me there are more options than I considered before,” said Emilee Larkin, recent Texas A&M graduate who will start veterinary school in the fall.
Larkin was a part of a SPUR project in which she studied the relationship between tiger coat color and physical abnormalities. White tigers are among the most popular attractions in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, but often exhibit skeletal or health problems. Research to understand white tiger abnormalities are vital to their survival in captivity. In characterizing the gene for coat color and examining the effects of inbreeding, Larkin made some promising strides in improving management of captive white tigers. After several tissue tests and mitochondrial DNA sequencing she identified four subspecies capable of producing white cubs. This means outbreeding from the Bengal subspecies may help diminish the health problems seen in white tigers. She hopes to work further as a veterinary student with her research advisor, Dr. Jan Janecka in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, to better characterize the genetic basis of coat color in large cats.
Although most students presented research based on the more traditional sciences, there were a few who took the summer to conduct investigations in arts and humanities. Sophomore English Honors major Madeline Keyser spent her summer sifting through primary texts once owned by J. R. R. Tolkien. She read through several books written in German from Tolkien’s personal library to try to create links between his academic studies and fictional work. Keyser discovered an interesting connection between his thoughts on dialects and how he portrays the trolls in The Hobbit, each community having a different version of the same language.
“This summer gave me the opportunity to think differently than how I do in class. I got to view the actual book as research, not just a text,” Keyser said.
The poster session demonstrated that undergraduates at Texas A&M are actively exploring the world around them. Whether they are collecting insects, cloning genes, synthesizing complex molecules, building computer models, developing astronomical instruments, climbing through Costa Rican cloud forests, or turning pages of century old books these students spent their summer discovering new ways to apply classroom knowledge to the real world.