Marking its 15th Anniversary, Undergraduate Research Conference Thrives

APRIL 19, 2018 – Fifteen years since it first took place, the Undergraduate Research Conference yesterday prominently highlighted the research projects of 80 student investigators from Georgetown and area universities.

The conference began in 2003 at the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS), aiming to provide undergraduates with “educational opportunities to learn research conference design, management and participation,” founding records show.

Held April 4-5, 2003, the first conference included 10 posters. From then until this year, nearly 850 posters, by students from around the metropolitan area, have been showcased at the event, which also celebrates the important role faculty mentors play in Image of the first Undergraduate Research Conference in 2003undergraduate research. (At right is an image of the first Undergraduate Research Conference poster session, held in St. Mary’s Hall in 2003. Source.)

“The success of the Undergraduate Research Conference is a testament to the vision of its founders, including our former colleagues Dr. Charles Evans and Mr. Jason Murray and the original student committee,” said Patricia Cloonan, PhD, RN, the school’s dean.

Conference Highlights

“We continue to thank them for giving us this vibrant yearly vehicle to promote a critical aspect of our educational mission – guiding the formation of undergraduate researchers, while reflecting a commitment to inquiry, one of the cornerstones of great universities,” Cloonan said.

Held in the Healey Family Student Center, this year’s conference included two poster sessions, oral presentations, an awards ceremony, and a keynote address. Maria Jasin, PhD, a developmental biologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, delivered the address, “Protecting the Genome by Homologous Recombination (and Its Utility for GenomeEditing).”

Expressing her appreciation to the planning committee for the invitation, Jasin said she is “gratified that there’s such an intensive emphasis on undergraduate research so much so to have a day like this to celebrate that.”

Casey Skapek (C’18), a biology of global health major, and Johnny Jung (C’18), a neurobiology major, co-chaired the planning A photo of the 2018 Undergraduate Research Conferencecommittee this year. Skapek noted that she enjoyed seeing “how robust the research community is here at Georgetown.” Jung added that the conference gives undergraduates a visible “way to present what they are doing and [be] acknowledged for it.” (At right is a photograph of one of the poster sessions at the 2018 conference.)

Participating Students

Student participants represented universities including Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, James Madison, and Loyola Maryland, as well as Washington College.

Human science senior Taylor Franklin (NHS’18), who presented the poster “Physician Race/Ethnicity and Patient Characteristics: Pre-ACA and Post-ACA,” said she has truly benefited from working with her faculty mentor Debbie Barrington, PhD, assistant professor of human science at NHS.

“She and I put together a project that suits my needs and was population health focused,” said Franklin. “We meet for three or four hours at a time. We are doing hard work, but she makes it so easy.”

Answering Questions

GW junior Jasmina Abdalla, a biology major, said she became interested in her project, “Trans-generational Effects of Parental Ethanol Consumption on Offspring Ethanol Sensitivity,” while taking a course with geneticist Mollie Manier, PhD, assistant professor of biology.

“[Research] brings to life everything you learn in the classroom,” said Adballa, who is now a member of Manier’s lab. About the process, she says she enjoys “coming up with your own question and figuring out a way to answer.”

And Yomiyou Geleta (C’18), also a biology major, put it simply, “I love it,” when talking about being involved in research as a member of the lab of Lawrence Kromer, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“It challenges you academically,” he said, adding that he has also honed his ability to run tests in Kromer’s lab, while juggling other responsibilities in his schedule. His poster was entitled, “The Role of Eph and Ephrins on Memory Development, Learning, and Motor Coordination in Mice.”

Award Winners

Jan LaRocque, PhD, associate professor of human science, helped plan the event along with the student committee and colleagues Alex Theos, PhD, associate professor of human science, and Carol Hom, program manager.

“It never ceases to amaze me how talented these young investigators are,” she said. “Their final products that are displayed at the conference are a reflection of their ability to achieve a high level of inquiry.”

This year’s award winners include Ted Nelson, PhD, assistant professor of human science, who received the Allan Angerio, PhD, Award for Excellence in Faculty Mentorship at the conference. 

The best poster presentation and oral presentation awards, named in honor of Evans, went to Larissa Wietlisbach (NHS’18) and Danielle Zamalin (NHS’18), respectively, with a “rising researcher” award going to Alexander Lekan (C’20).

Other posters, recognized for excellence, were by Jasmina Abdalla (GWU’19), Lindsay Caprio (NHS’19), Taylor Franklin (NHS’18), Noori Srivastava (NHS’18), Margaret Steiner (GWU’20), Eibhlin Goggins (C’18), Nicole Mansour (NHS’18), Liam Spurr (GWU’18), and Danielle Zamalin (NHS’18).