Once again this summer, a number of Honors students have received VCU Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Summer Fellowships from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Fellows receive a cash stipend of $1,500. Applications, including the student's personal statement, the mentor’s recommendation letter and a co-written research proposal, were submitted in March. The students’ projects range across disciplines as they work with faculty mentors from a variety of departments.
HPEX major Morgan Kimmel’s project is titled “High Sodium Intake, Vascular Function, and Exercise Tolerance: The Role of Oxidative Stress.” She says that working in the exercise physiology lab is teaching her practical lab skills such as pipetting blood, operating an ultrasound, and analyzing data. “It's giving me firsthand experience in interpreting results, while improving my writing skills,” Morgan, a senior, adds. “By understanding how salt affects the way our body functions during exercise, we can make educated choices in our diets to be healthier."
Emily Furlich, a senior majoring in both English and gender, sexuality and women's studies, is researching “Queer Coding in Truman Capote's 1971 Screenplay of The Great Gatsby,” specifically examining how he codes characters from Fitzgerald's novel as more explicitly homosexual. “What better way to argue for the validity of queer readings than through examining a queer interpretation by Capote, one of America's literary giants, of a great canonical work?” she notes.
Krishna Ravindra is working with cardiologist Antonio Abbate (who also leads our Discover Medicine in Italy program). His project is “Predictive Role of C-Reactive Protein and N-Terminal Pro-Brain Natriuretic Peptide Levels for Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Patients with Heart Failure across a Wide Range of Left Ventricular Ejection Fractions.” He says, “Working with Dr. Abbate has allowed me to see how a background in clinical medicine and translational research can allow one not only to help patients based on the current medicine available, but also have the opportunity to explore novel therapeutic strategies to improve patient care.”
Jameson Wilbur praises his biology-department mentor, Derek Prosser, calling him fantastic. “Dr. Prosser does a great job explaining Ph.D.-level content at an undergraduate level and I feel he really cares about me understanding the project rather than just getting the work done,” he notes. Jameson’s project is “An Investigation of the Complex Protein Machinery Involved in Clathrin-independent Endocytosis in Yeast,” a process utilized by cells for nutrient uptake from the environment. “We hope through this work others can build on our advancements in a variety of topics, including cancer research, as many types of cancer cells utilize a similar endocytic pathway,” Jameson explains.
Senior bio Yu Par Aung Myo’s project, “The Role of NCX Genes in Oligodendrocyte Maturation,” focuses on the molecular underlining of oligodendrocyte myelination. Oligodendrocytes are cells in the Central Nervous System (CNS) responsible for encasing neuronal axons with myelin, a fatty sheath which enables fast and efficient signal propagation along the neuron. “Understanding more about the mechanism of myelination enables better insight into therapeutics of diseases which involve myelin destruction and dysregulation,” she explains. One such disease is multiple sclerosis (MS), a heavily studied topic in her mentor Babette Fuss' lab. “With the repository of information already available to me at my mentor's lab, uncovering another facet of the molecular mechanism of myelination will add to said pool of information and potentially advance therapeutics targeted at remyelination,” says Yu Par Aung.
Sophomore biomedical engineering major Mudassir Lodi is researching alternative treatment methods for prostate cancer with his project, “Effect of Histone Deacetylate Inhibitors and Immunomodulation on Tumor Immunogenicity In Vivo and Ex Vivo.” He notes, “By finding unique solutions, we can improve patient outcomes because the scope of possible effective treatment methods would be that much greater.”
Junior sculpture and art history major Caroline Meyers will use her fellowship to travel to the University of Kansas to view the personal papers of the late art historian Marilyn Stokstad and interview many of her associates. “I'm interested in the ways in which art historians ‘do’ art history outside of traditional research, and I consider what I'm going to be doing a form of socially-engaged art history,” she explains. Caroline has titled her project “The Biography of Marilyn Stokstad: Generating Radical Future Art Histories.”
In an effort to link anthropogenic pollution to habitat degradation, junior Jordan Rasure will be evaluating snail responses to the presence of cigarette butt leachate in her project, “Impact of Cigarette Butt Leachate on the Fecundity, Survival, and Recruitment of Freshwater Snails (Physa acuta) in the Presence of a Predator (Dugesia tigrina).” She notes that “this is especially relevant to the Richmond area because of the heavy human use of the James River and Belle Isle.” Because the biology major hopes to be involved in conservation and research in the future, Jordan says that “the chance to see a project through from start to finish as an undergraduate is an invaluable step in the right direction.”
HPEX sophomore Christa Sparling, whose project is called “Determining the Mechanism of Sphingosine Kinase 1 Deficiency in Niemann-Pick Type C Disease,” sums up the research experience well: “ I have not only gained experience that I will carry with me into my future endeavors, but I have had the opportunity to meet like-minded people who truly care about my success, and that is truly priceless.”
The remaining Honors researchers and their summer projects are:
Richard Albright: “Investigation of a Poorly-Characterized Gene, AVL9, as an Agent in Reducing ALS Cellular Pathologies”
Mishkat Aldrdery: “Synthesis and Evaluation of HIPP Analogues for Photoaffinity Labeling”
Thea Cheuk: “Queer Eye for the Hero Guy: Exploring Dick Grayson's Sexuality”
Jessica Nguyen: “Objective-based Optimization of Muscle Force Distribution: A Computational Model of Elbow Flexion”
Amanda Pham: “Effects of Polymer-Nanoparticle Interactions on Nanofiber Supported Catalysts”
Devina Thapa: “Evaluation of Bladder Shape and Sensation and the Relation to Blood Flow in Patients with Overactive Bladder”