April 17, 2019 - More than 70 undergraduate research projects were on display yesterday at the Undergraduate Research Conference, planned annually by the Department of Human Science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies.

Since the conference’s founding in 2003, about 920 student projects have been presented. The first event included 10 posters. This year’s, held in the Healey Family Student Center, featured 72 from schools around the region.

Niritta Patel (NHS’19), who co-led the student planning committee with Alexis Schiazza (NHS’19), says the conference “allows everyone to share their discoveries and research experiences while learning about those of others and continuing to motivate a strong passion for research and learning.”  

“I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help plan the conference as co-chair,” she says. “Working very closely with the planning committee and faculty to put on such a successful conference never fails to amaze me, as I get to witness all of our hard work coming to fruition.”

Celebrating Undergraduate Research

Dr. Alex Theos helped plan the event along with the student committee and colleagues Dr. Jan LaRocque and Carol Hom.

“What I really value about today is that it helps us pause and celebrate the role of undergraduate research at the institution,” Theos says. “It is somewhat mindblowing the level at which our students are and the quality and quantity of the research they are doing.”

Theos adds the students’ “passion and excitement” are energizing for him as a professor. “It’s that energy I love about working with undergraduates in the lab,” he says. “It is wonderful preparation for the world beyond – their next step.”

Research and Service

Carolyn Hofley (NHS’19, M’23) has explored bench research in the laboratory of Dr. LaRocque and qualitative research working with poster mentor Dr. Jennifer Huang Bouey. As a student at Georgetown’s School of Medicine this coming fall, she hopes to round out that experience via clinical research.

Her project, “Provider-Level Barriers to Hepatitis C Treatment Among Persons Who Inject Drugs: A Qualitative Study of Primary Care Providers in Southern New Hampshire,” brought together her research and volunteer service interests by working with individuals who inject drugs. Her poster notes that less than 6 percent of these individuals seek treatment for hepatitis C, which is curable.

“I have grown so much from doing research,” she says, noting that the way research and service go hand-in-hand speaks to Georgetown’s Jesuit values.

Finding the Unexpected

Jowan Watson (NHS’19) combined his experience as a human science major and his participation on Georgetown’s football team to develop the project “Role Separation’s Impact on Student-Athlete Well-Being.”

“It has been awesome,” Watson says about the research experience. “Professor [Joan] Riley has pushed me to do something I didn’t think I could do. I give her all the praises and appreciation for it.”

He says he enjoys the unexpected findings of the process: “That’s the fun in doing research.”

Kyrionna Golliday, a senior at Howard University who presented on “Elucidating the Importance of the C. elegans WEE-1.3 Transmembrane Domain by CRISPR/Cas9 Mutations,” shares Watson’s enthusiasm.

“I have actually enjoyed it a lot,” she says, noting that her faculty mentor, Dr. Anna Allen, has made her a better researcher and writer.

“I have grown in my biology experience so much because I have done research,” Golliday adds.

‘Such a Blessing’

Caroline Doherty (C’19) works under the mentorship of Dr. Esther Chang and Dr. Steven Metallo on the project “A Nanomedicine for RB94 Gene Therapy that Enhances Host Immune Responses Against Lung Cancer.”

Her experience has been interdisciplinary, weaving together biochemistry, immunology, and oncology.

“For me, this has been a perfect niche,” she says. “The goal is to help cure patients. That really drives it home at the end of the day. It makes the research worth it for me.”

Part of the learning, she says, has involved becoming better at coping with occasional disappointment — those times when a weekend-long experiment may fail. Overall, she notes, “this lab and this project have been such a blessing.”

Students pointed to the way in which faculty mentors have been so important in their learning process as undergraduate researchers.

Perhaps Delia West (NHS’19), who presented on “The Effect of Education on Overweight/Obesity in Young Adults,” summed up this sentiment best: “The greatest thing about having Dr. [Debbie] Barrington as an advisor is having someone committed to the research that we are doing and also my own development as a person.”