Tag Archives: Summer Program in Undergraduate Research

Summer 2014 Undergraduate Research Poster Session

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.

Summer 2014 Undergraduate Research Poster Session
Summer 2014 Undergraduate Research Poster Session

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!

The programs represented included:

Students explain the results of their research projects.
Summer 2014 Undergraduate Research Poster Session

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!

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Former Student Spotlight: Randal Halfmann

Dr. Randal Halfmann, ’04, took a bachelor’s in genetics from TAMU before completing his doctorate in biology at MIT. Dr. Halfmann is the recipient of the UT Southwestern Sara and Frank McKnight Fellowship and the NIH Early Independence Award. These awards are designed to help talented young scientists engage in research as principal investigators, bypassing traditional postdoctoral training under the supervision of more senior faculty. Dr. Halfmann’s work with prions was highlighted in the January 2014 issue of The Scientist (see “The Bright Side of Prions”).

Dr. Randal Halfmann
Dr. Randal Halfmann

 Dr. David Stelly, who served as faculty mentor for Dr. Halfmann’s undergraduate thesis, commented, “Randal was an outstanding undergraduate genetics student, student worker and Honors [University Undergraduate Research] Fellow…it was a real pleasure having him in our group.” Dr. Stelly noted that, even as an undergraduate, Dr. Halfmann did not shy away from challenge. “For his Honors Research project, he took on a project that was not being investigated in the lab but of great relevance. [It was an] extremely challenging topic, trying to devise systems for cell cycle synchronization and chromosome doubling in plant in vivo systems.”

 Dr. Halfmann took some time to respond to our questions about his experience as an undergraduate in Honors at Texas A&M, and how his experience has helped to shape his current success.

How did you end up at Texas A&M?

I never seriously considered any other college. Having grown up on a ranch in rural west Texas, and with several Aggies in my family, A&M always felt like the natural choice. But what sealed the deal was my involvement in FFA in high school. In addition to nurturing an interest in applied biology, FFA also yielded the tangible reward of a sizable scholarship to be applied towards an ag major. Luckily, the Genetics program is in the college of Ag and Life Sciences at A&M. So it was a perfect match.

What are your favorite memories of your time at Texas A&M?

I have so many great memories of A&M, from football games to Northgate to to over-caffeinated all-night study sessions. Many of my fondest memories are from my freshman year in Lechner Hall. It was very formative for me, so much so that I would consider honors housing to be one of the major perks of the Honors program. I was surrounded by diverse, driven, incredible people, all of whom were inspiring and some of whom have become lifelong friends. Finally, I cannot forget the emotionally charged A&M vs. OU game of Sept. 22, 2001. The “Red, White, and Blue-Out” of Kyle Field that followed the 9/11 terrorist attack stamped an indelible sense of unity and belonging, and affirmed my faith in the power of individuals to make a difference. I have never been so proud to be an Aggie.

In what aspects of the Honors Program did you participate?

I came into A&M with a Lechner Scholarship, which provided an allowance for studying abroad. So the summer of my sophomore year, I attended the University of Copenhagen as part of Denmark’s International Studies program. While there I lived with a Danish family and was immersed in a completely different environment – physically, culturally, and politically – than anything I could have experienced back in the US. Needless to say I returned home with a deep appreciation for diversity. I honestly would not have considered that opportunity if it weren’t for the honors scholarship.

I actively participated in Honors Student Council, where I became the VP of Public Relations and worked with other members to improve visibility of honors programs on campus.

I was a University Scholar, which grouped me thenceforth among the academic crème de la crème of my classmates. I was exposed to the movers and shakers on campus, and benefited from regular, small scale seminars with faculty and other University Scholars.

I was also an Undergraduate Research Fellow with Dr. David Stelly.  My thesis: “Towards Improved Methods for Cell Cycle Manipulation and Chromosome Doubling in Cotton”.

How did your research experience shape your career path?

Working with Dr. Stelly was by far the most formative experience for my subsequent research career. He is a top notch mentor, and he cares intensely for his students. He provided just the right amount of direction for my project and gave me free reign of the lab, which I took full advantage of. He encouraged me to attend conferences, helped me choose a grad school, and to apply for a graduate fellowship that would subsequently pave my way at MIT. I spent a LOT of time in the lab, and found myself thinking about strategies for chromosome doubling even when I wasn’t there. Having something like that to devote one’s creative time and energy to, and to see it reach fruition, was immensely fulfilling. The objects of my scientific curiosity have changed, but the passion that was born in that first research experience continues to get stronger.

What advice can you offer Honors students as they look forward to an uncertain future after college?

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting deep, firsthand experience in your chosen career. Take every available opportunity.

Honors and Undergraduate Research is grateful to the students, faculty, and staff that make programs like the Honors Housing Community, University Scholars, and Undergraduate Research such a transformative experience. We could not put these programs on without the generous support of the Association of Former Students.

 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 honors@tamu.edu.

The Pathways to Undergraduate Research

In November the Texas A&M University System held its 11th annual Pathways Student Research Symposium for undergraduate and graduate students in Kingsville.  Over 400 students from all Texas A&M campuses presented oral and poster presentations throughout the Symposium, with an awards ceremony was held at the conclusion of the event. Dr. Margie Moczygemba, an Assistant Professor of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis at Texas A&M University Kingsville was the keynote speaker for Pathways this year.

Connor McBroom
Connor McBroom

Texas A&M University College Station students Aaron Griffin and Connor McBroom attended the 2013 Pathways Student Research Symposium. Griffin, a sophomore biochemistry, genetics, and pure mathematics major from Missouri City is a Class of 2016 University Scholar, 2014 Undergraduate Research Scholar and a senior editor for the Explorations Undergraduate Journal. McBroom, biochemistry major from Maryland is also an Undergraduate Research Scholar and an editor for the Explorations Undergraduate Journal.

Aaron Griffin
Aaron Griffin

To apply, their online abstract had to be accepted by the Pathways Symposium organizers. Their research project was titled “Identifying Novel Regulators of Mitochondrial Copper Homeostasis.” Griffin said, “The research for this project was completed in Dr. Vishal Gohil’s laboratory in Biochemistry and Biophysics during the summer of 2013, and dealt with using the yeast model system Saccharomyces cerevisiae to investigate mitochondrial proteins for their possible participation in coordinating the delivery of copper ions to cytochrome c oxidase, an enzyme essential component of the mitochondrial respiratory chain responsible for generating cellular energy via respiration.”

002At the Pathways Symposium Griffin and McBroom presented their poster and spent time observing presentations by other students and touring the Texas A&M University Kingsville campus, including the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. Griffin said his favorite part of the symposium was “getting the opportunity to present the research [they] had spent hours performing to other members of the scientific and academic community and watch[ing] them become excited about the results….” He said, “The communication of science is truly a joy.”

Returning from Pathways, Griffin realized the importance of personal interest and immersion in one’s research. He said this immersion allowed research partners to become knowledgeable of the subject and to more effectively present their results. Because of this were Griffin and McBroom able to field difficult and unexpected questions from the judges and observers.

Griffin said that if he could give some advice to students participating in research he would share with them the words of his mentor, Dr. Gohil: “Do good science, and the rest will follow.” Griffin said, “Often I am very excited to apply for an exciting opportunity to showcase my research, and Dr. Gohil will remind me I still have several aspects of a project to complete before I can put together a full story.” He hopes that students involved in research will take full advantage of the opportunity and the satisfaction it brings.

Griffin thanked the Gohil Lab for facilitating this research project, Honors and Undergraduate for informing him of this opportunity, as well as the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies for financing the trip. HUR commends both Aaron Griffin and Connor McBroom for their successes in research and at the Pathways Symposium in Kingsville!

Julia Garcia takes on Canada!

By Hayley Cox

Julia Garcia, Class of 2014
Julia Garcia, Class of 2014
Senior English student Julia Garcia traveled to the Canadian Sociological Association Conference in Victoria, Canada in June 2013. She was a member of a team, along with students Devita Gunawan and Vennessa Jreij, studying the effects of education on economic development in primary, secondary, and university education systems.

Although her teammates were unable to make the summer trip, Garcia traveled to Victoria along with the team’s advisor, professor of sociology Dr. Samuel Cohn. Dr. Cohn had been working on a project in research towards eradicating poverty, and needed a team of research assistants. The previous summer, Garcia traveled to Austin, Texas to gather census data at the University Library at the University of Texas in correlation with Dr. Cohn’s research efforts. Her team would ultimately gather census data for over 40 countries, including The United States, Canada, and England. Garcia’s background as an English major influenced her role as writer and large concept framer for Dr. Cohn’s research.

After Garcia completed the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program with teammates Gunawan and Jreij, Dr. Cohn encouraged the team to apply for the Canadian Sociological Association Conference, and the team was accepted. Garcia applied for and was awarded with an Undergraduate Research Travel Award, giving her the privilege to spend nine days in Victoria, four of which she would spend at the conference.

Victoria, Canada
Victoria, Canada
Garcia expressed her appreciation for the beautiful sites she saw on her trip, beginning with a ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria. She was impressed by the progressive nature and awareness level at the University of Victoria. She said, “It’s interesting because at the University of Victoria, global warming IS a thing. It is not a debate, but instead an issue to which people are working to make a change.”

At the conference, Garcia heard presentations which were mostly political discussions dealing with poverty, sanitation, and water. She said it was a great learning experience to be in the same room with incredibly successful professors from all over the United States and Canada. Her favorite presentation was made by a man who purchased a golf membership in India in order to observe class differences between elite members, caddies, and staff. He lived in India for six months, attending the golf course each day, interviewing and observing these individuals.

Julia's presentation group. Dr. Cohn is pictured Row 1 far right and Julia Garcia right behind.
Julia’s presentation group. Dr. Cohn is pictured Row 1 far right and Julia Garcia right behind.
Also at the conference, Garcia presented the team’s thesis “The Influence of Education on Economic Development,” along with Dr. Cohn. She said this was her first opportunity to fully experience the research process. Garcia said the statistical analysis segment of the project was time consuming and somewhat frustrating, but overall she wouldn’t have changed much that the team did throughout their work. She encouraged students to take part in undergraduate research and to create relationships with professors. Garcia said, “Why wouldn’t you be a part of a great experience with the opportunity to take a fully paid trip to Canada?”

IMG_1375The senior will be graduating in May 2014, and hopes to travel as a part of her many post-graduate aspirations. She is considering law school or a graduate degree in public policy or comparative literature, but intends to take a year off of school to live in Washington, D.C. or Austin, or to travel the world. Through research, Garcia saw many inevitable problems in society which tied into her already present humanitarian interests. She said should would definitely consider living in another country where she would find a humbling experience.

Honors and Undergraduate Research is very proud of Julia Garcia, along with her research teammates Devita Gunawan and Vennessa Jreij. Congratulations to the team and Dr. Cohn in all of their research accomplishments and their acceptance to travel to the Canadian Sociological Association Conference in Victoria!

New Program Fosters Undergraduate Research in the Humanities

This summer nine students participated in a pilot program to promote broader participation in undergraduate research by students in the College of Liberal Arts. The program was co-sponsored by the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research and Honors and Undergraduate Research. 

After attending a workshop on undergraduate research hosted by HUR, Dr. Sarah Misemer, Associate Director at the Glasscock Center, was surprised that there was little emphasis on undergraduate research in the humanities.  Misemer along with Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, Associate Director of Honors and Undergraduate Research, fleshed out an idea for a pilot program to educate undergraduates on how to perform research in the humanities. MacKenzie was able to seed the pilot program with funds received from the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies, with a matching contribution from the Glasscock Center, using the Center’s research space and computer access.

The result was the Glasscock Summer Scholars program designed to give students one-on-one time with a professor to create an idea for a research project that they will continue to work on as a University Research Scholar’s thesis in the following academic year.  

Over the summer two classes were formed: one, titled Biblical Criticism taught by Dr. Steve Oberhelman, Professor in the International Studies Department, and the other named After Combat taught by Dr. Marian Eide, Associate Professor in the English Department.  Each class consisted of three to five students who spent four to five hours per day in the classroom for two weeks.  This intense learning environment spurred the students to develop research ideas.  For the remainder of the summer the students prepared a research proposal by consulting with their faculty advisors, analyzing primary literature, and participating in workshops sponsored by the University Writing Center.

Oberhelman’s students chose topics ranging from how the success of David’s Kingdom can be related to the peace process in the modern world to the issue of infallibility versus inerrancy.  Eide’s students are studying the stories of veterans returning from war by examining how combat stories are told, creating literary criticisms, and writing their own short stories. The summer culminated in a Glasscock Scholars Symposium, where the students publicly presented their research proposals at the Glasscock Center.

Participants agreed that the Glasscock Summer Scholars program was a great success.  “HUR and the Glasscock Center were able to bring a community of young scholars together in one area,” said Oberhelman.  He went on to describe how the involvement of undergraduates in research was significantly enhanced through the in-depth learning experience: up to 40 hours/week in class, personal interaction with faculty and peer learning.

Both HUR and the Glasscock Center look forward to the continuation of unique programs like this. “Honors and Undergraduate Research was pleased to be able to provide support for this program in collaboration with the outstanding resources provided by the Glascock Center.  Although undergraduate research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs on campus traditionally has had strong financial support, students in humanities often have limited access to space and funding for in-depth research projects.  We hope to be able to nurture more of a culture of undergraduate research in the humanities in the future with programs such as this,” said MacKenzie.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

REU summer undergraduate research poster session showcases summer achievements

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.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

CSI: Texas A&M University

The demand for forensic and investigative scientists has been growing for years and is expected to continue.  As one of the country’s only forensic science programs, Texas A&M has a unique opportunity to allow students to participate in undergraduate forensic research. HUR has chosen “Undergraduate Excitement as a Pathway to Talent Expansion and Retention of Underrepresented Students” from the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program in the Department of Entomology as the newest Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR).  SPUR programs are intended to give students the opportunity to spend their summer participating in a research project.  The Forensics SPUR program this summer will give two undergraduate students the chance to conduct a research project of their choice alongside any of 10 faculty representing 7 different departments across campus.

The Forensic and Investigative Sciences undergraduate degree program is the only nationally accredited, comprehensive, undergraduate forensic degree program in the state of Texas.  Dr. Kevin Heinz, Professor of Entomology and Director of the Forensic and Investigative Science Program, believes this summer research opportunity will provide students a unique opportunity to improve their knowledge of forensic science while developing both critical thinking and communication skills.

Students who participate in research this summer will gain valuable knowledge of the field of forensic and investigative sciences through the development of their own research projects. Their experiences will also stimulate them to increase their scientific literacy, build skills in scientific inquiry, foster enthusiasm for forensic and investigative sciences, consider ethical issues related to research and communicate the results of their studies to a large audience.  As a capstone requirement for the program, students will participate in the HUR poster symposium in July where they will have the opportunity to present the results of their studies to the campus community.  Each SPUR student will also prepare proposals and full manuscripts for submission in Explorations; the Texas A&M undergraduate journal

The goals of this program include, increasing student retention and building a foundation for a future proposal to obtain support from the National Science Foundation for a formal summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in Forensic and Investigative Sciences.  “Receiving this award will further advance the stature of the nationally accredited program at Texas A&M,” wrote Heinz. Heinz’s students will be provided with a balanced and empowering experience that will develop their academic and professional skills in this SPUR program.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu