URSA: encouraging new ideas

By Thomas Albano

The Undergraduate Research Scholar Awards (URSA) committee has announced this year’s scholarship winners, who will each receive $5,000 towards research projects.

Every year, the URSA committee gives the scholarships to at least five students, who then do research with a supervising faculty member and present their findings via a research report and an oral presentation. Recipients present one brief report at Independent Scholarship and Creative Activities Presentations (ISCAP) day during the year they receive the scholarship, and then a more in-depth report is presented the following year.

Dr. Sheena Howard, one of the members of this year’s URSA committee, described what she looked for in a potential recipient.

“I looked for a strong written proposal,” Howard said. “I wanted to see if they met the criteria we set out: quality, coherence and something that was original that the students were predominantly working on by themselves, with some advising from professors, but mainly their own research.”

The winners of this year’s URSA scholarship are: junior theater performance major Camila Bermudez, senior music major Katherine Caughlin, junior biochemistry major Andrew Jemas, junior marketing and advertising major Natalie Taptykoff and junior biology major Elizabeth Urban.

While he was thrilled to have been selected for the scholarship, Jemas feels the need to give more credit to Dr. Danielle Jacobs, assistant professor in the department of chemistry, biochemistry and physics, and Dr. Kelly Bidle, professor in the department of Biology and Behavioral Neuroscience. Jacobs will be Jemas’ advisor for his URSA project.

“In truth, the award belongs much more to Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Bidle, who have given me so much support and guidance throughout the research and application process. I’m even more excited about being able to present the results of my research, both at ISCAP day and at the national American Chemical Society conference in 2016. As a young scientist, it is extremely gratifying to know that people are interested in what I am working on, and that my very first research project has been deemed worthy of attention.”

Jemas’ research will involve “designing new antibiotics that will destroy the biofilms of a wider range of bacteria.”

The title of Bermudez’s project is “Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale: Transformation of the Philomela Myth to Drama and its Relevance to Violence on College Campuses Today.” She plans on writing a paper and putting on a performance of the play in an attempt to show how theater can bring attention to violence, specifically violence against college women.

“I read this play while in high school and researched the topic for a class with Dr. Vanita Neelakanta,” Bermudez said. “It was a special topics course in the English Department on classical and biblical influence on western literature. I wanted to research the topic further and thought the URSA was a great venue to do so.”

Those who won the scholarship last year and will be making presentations this year at ISCAP Day, which takes place on May 6, are: junior voice performance major Jessica Stanislawczyk, senior biochemistry major Brandon Enalls, senior finance major Derek Lake, senior theater performance major Kelsey Carroll (see story, p. 8) and junior psychology major Nicolette Mateescu.

For her research, Mateescu used the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, a neuro-psychological test, and another card set she personally created to test the effects of familiarity on sorting in children with intellectual disabilities. She discovered these children could not perform the test in the correct manner, so she changed the test for the participants’ benefit.

The results will show how environmental support can affect these individuals and have implications on certain skills.

“I chose this topic because I am interested in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Mateescu said. “Through finding better intervention methods, which are adapted to their learning skills, advancements in this field will continue to be made.”

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