2015 University Scholars

Omar Allam
Major: Chemistry
Project Title: Self-Healing Double Network Hydrogels
Committee: Thomas Seery, Chemistry/IMS (chair), Douglas Adamson, Chemistry/IMS, and Rajeswari Kasi, Chemistry/IMS

Project Summary: Hydrogels are three-dimensional polymers networks, in which the networks are hydrophilic and thus readily absorb water. Theoretically, because hydrogels have such a large percentage of water they have a wide array of applications; however, they are extremely brittle, which limit their use. Their poor mechanical strength stems from hydrogels’ physical and chemical properties. These brittle hydrogels consist of networks cross-linked via covalent bonds. This study aims at synthesizing hydrogels in a double network fashion in which the polymer networks are cross-linked via hydrophobic moieties. In theory, as the physical crosslinks fracture, they can reform via hydrophobic interactions resulting in self-healing properties.  This novel design will provide an opportunity for new applications such as artificial cartilage, contact lenses, and scaffolds for delivering medicine.

Omar Allam is a Chemistry major from Mansfield, CT. A graduate of Glastonbury High School, he loves to give back to his community by volunteering as an EMT. Omar also works part-time as an assistant chef at a Mediterranean restaurant where he specializes in baklava. Omar plans to attend medical school after graduation.

Prakhar Bansal
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: In-Silico AFM Nanoindentation of Wild-type and Mutant Norwalk Virus Capsids
Committee: Eric May, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Carolyn Teschke, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular & Cell Biology

Project Summary: Norovirus is the leading cause of epidemic acute gastroenteritis. I am interested at looking the protein dynamics of the Norovirus capsid. The capsid has two main domains: the shell and protruding domains. The shell domain forms the main part of the spherical shell, and the protruding domain forms arch-like structures on top of the sphere. Using Molecular Dynamics, I hope to better characterize the role of the protruding domains in the strength and dynamics of the Norovirus capsid by analyzing nanoindentation simulations on Norovirus capsids with and without the protruding domains.

Prakhar Bansal is pursuing a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology with a minor in Mathematics, and an M.S. in Structural Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics.  He loves music and participates in the UConn Concert Band, as well as the basketball and hockey pep bands.  Prakhar hopes to go on to medical school after graduation.

Michael Bond
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology; Individualized: Chemical Biology
Project Title: Characterization of AK301, a novel microtuble disrupting agent and identification of a novel cancer checkpoint
Committee: Charles Giardina, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Dennis Wright, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and William Bailey, Chemistry

Project Summary:  My University Scholar project will explore the effects of microtubule disruption on the sensitivity of colon cancer cells to cytokine induced apoptosis. Our lab has identified a novel microtubule-disrupting agent, known as AK301, that sensitizes colon cancer cells to apoptosis. Other microtubule disrupting agents, like colchicine, do not have the sensitizing capability of AK301. My project aims to understand the unique properties of a mitotic arrest induced by AK301 using techniques like immunofluorescence staining and live cell imaging. In addition, I will synthesize new AK301 derivatives in an effort to increase potency and identify cellular targets other than tubulin.

Michael Bond is very passionate about science. Whenever he is not in class you can usually find him in the lab. His goal is one-day to develop small molecule inhibitors for the treatment of pediatric solid tumors. When he is not in lab he enjoys playing softball and ice-skating.

Michael Cantara
Major: Engineering
Project Title: Ultracold Trimer Formation and the Construction of an Optical Dipole Trap
Committee: William Stwalley, Physics (chair), Phillip Gould, Physics, and Edward Eyler, Physics

Project Summary: With our current apparatus, a magneto-optical trap (MOT) is utilized to trap Rubidium atoms and cool them into the ultracold (T < 0.001 K) regime.  From here, one may now prepare molecules via photoassociation and perform precise high resolution laser spectroscopy.  My project will involve adding an optical dipole trap, a technique that not only allows for the trapping of ultracold atoms, but also simultaneously increases the atomic density and decreases the atomic temperature.  Such an addition will enhance future experimentation and will serve to bring the group closer to observing a polyatomic ion, ultracold Rb3+, which we believe has never been observed at ultracold temperatures.

Originating from Barrington, RI, Michael Cantara is undertaking a combined B.S and M.S in Physics.  He plans to continue his research in ultracold atomic and molecular physics in a Ph.D.  program following graduation.
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Ashley Dumaine
Major: Computer Science and Engineering
Project Title: A General Protocol and Application Programming Interface for Wireless Electroencephalographic Communication Systems
Committee: Jeffrey Meunier, CSE (chair), Laurent Michel, CSE, and Robert McCartney, CSE

Project Summary: Electroencephalographs (EEGs) are input devices available as commercial wireless headsets that are capable of picking up signals associated with facial expressions, emotions or even focused thoughts. These could be used by physically impaired people (e.g., paraplegics or victims of ALS) to control prostheses or wheelchairs, restore mobility, and increase independence. Yet, high-level and reusable protocols to program and control these EEGs are seriously lacking and impeding the development of sophisticated modular control applications. The objective of this project is to fill this void and demonstrate the flexibility of such protocols and APIs through a mind-controlled UAV project.

Ashley Dumaine is majoring in Computer Science and Engineering and minoring in Mathematics. She currently works as an undergraduate researcher at the UConn VoTeR Lab. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s degree.

Shaina Forte
Major: Nursing
Project Title: A New Instrument, the Accumulated Pain/Stressor scale, Measures How Early Life Stress Alters the Gut Microbiome of Preterm Infants
Committee: Xiaomei Cong, Nursing (chair), Joerg Graf, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Deborah McDonald, Nursing

Project Summary: Preterm infants are subjected to numerous stressors, including repeated painful invasive procedures, during their stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Furthermore, current research supports that the gut microbiome of preterm infants differs from that of healthy-term infants, such that preterm infants demonstrate reduced microbiota diversity. My project will measure the accumulated stressors that preterm infants are subjected to in the NICU, investigate the gut microbiome patterns of these neonates by fecal analysis, and examine the relationship of cumulative early life stress and microbiome patterns. I will utilize and test a new method to measure accumulated stress in the NICU which, if proven more efficient, will aid future research studies on early life stress.

Shaina Forte is a nursing student from Canton, Massachusetts. After graduation, she plans to become a Nurse Practitioner. One day, she would like to travel as a nurse to a developing, Spanish-speaking country. On campus, she dedicates her time to a few organizations that she is passionate about, including the UConn Boxing Club, Mixed Martial Arts, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club.
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Sonya Haupt
Major: Structural Biology and BioPhysics
Project Title: Characterization of exopolysaccharide genes in the archaeon Haloferax volcanii
Committee: R. Thane Papke, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Victoria Robinson, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Daniel Gage, Molecular & Cell Biology

Project Summary: Biofilms are dynamic, coordinated establishments of microorganism within self-produced matrices made of exopolysaccharides, amyloid proteins, and extracellular DNA.  Studies have focused on bacterial biofilm species, yet research done by Sonya is on an archaeon species, Haloferax volcanii.  Archaea provide novel insights along with similar features for the comparison of biofilms across domains.  H. volcanii also demonstrate some of the most interesting multicellular behaviors ever observed in an archaeon.  Using targeted gene deletions and phenotypic analysis, Sonya hopes to identify genes necessary for the production of matrix exopolysaccharides, thus creating a biofilm deficient strain for further study.

Sonya Haupt is a junior majoring in Structural Biology and Biophysics.  She is a member of the Papke Lab in the Molecular and Cellular Biology department.  She is the secretary and a player for the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Club team as well as a rider in the Equestrian Program.
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Asahi Hoque
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Why is Women’s Health Just Maternal Health? A View from NGOs and the State in Bangladesh
Committee: Manisha Desai, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies & Sociology (chair), Shareen Hertel, Political Science & Human Rights, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular & Cell Biology

Project Summary: I will examine the women’s health NGOs and state health policies in Dhaka, Bangladesh to provide evidence for what appears to be a lopsided focus on women as reproducers on an international scale. I will also interview a cross-section of individuals involved in instituting and providing health care to women in Dhaka in order to identify how this international focus on women’s reproductive capacity influences these groups and if this limits women’s right to health. By doing this project, I aim to create a dialogue about women’s right to health to ensure a more holistic approach to women’s health care.

Asahi Hoque is from Cheshire, CT and is majoring in Molecular & Cellular Biology and Human Rights with minors in WGSS & Political Science. She is an avid human rights activist, movie junkie, and the Program Coordinator of Distressed Children & Infants International. She also does research in Dr. Robinson’s lab.

Leanne Jankelunas
Major: Animal Sciences
Project Title: Investigating the Efficacy of Plant-derived Antimicrobials in Increasing the Sensitivity of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin resistant  Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) to Antibiotics
Committee: Kumar Venkitanarayanan, Animal Science (chair), Mary Anne Amalaradjou, Animal Science, and Sandra Bushmich, Pathobiology

Project Summary: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) are pathogenic bacteria that have developed resistance to multiple antibiotics. This has significantly decreased treatment options for patients infected by these organisms. My project will attempt to use three Plant-derived Antimicrobials (PDAs) to increase the sensitivity of MRSA and VRSA to methicillin and vancomycin, respectively. The implications of this study are the potential to discover a new treatment method that will control the development of further drug resistance within these bacterial pathogens.

Leanne Jankelunas is a double major in Animal Science and Pathobiology and from Chester, NY. She aspires to become a veterinarian for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. After graduation, Leanne plans to earn a D.V.M. and also a Ph.D, likely in microbiology or a related field.

Kewa Jiang
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Novel Method for Efficient Generation of Recombinant Vaccinia Viruses
Committee: Paulo Verardi, PVS (chair), Joerg Graf, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Antonio Garmendia, PVS

Project Summary: Vaccinia virus (VACV) has the ability to infect a wide range of mammalian cells and has been used for recombinant vaccines, immunotherapies and oncolytic therapies. The aim of this project is to develop a simpler, more efficient system to generate recombinant vaccinia viruses (rVACV). This system will utilize RNA interference (RNAi) and selectlively silence genes that are essential for viral replication. In this project, only the parental VACV would be rapidly eliminated through induced-silencing of an essential VACV gene from the parental/recombinant pool. Such a system would greatly accelerate future VACV research.

Kewa Jiang is a Molecular and Cell Biology major and a Digital Arts minor. Her ultimate career goal is to become a physician-scientist and focus on researching infectious diseases. She is also a part-time digital illustration hobbyist.

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Rofina Johnkennedy
Major:  Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Novel Antimicrobial Compound Discovery in the Trachymyrmex Septentrionalis Symbiosis
Committee: Jonathan Klassen, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), Marcy Balunas, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Thomas Deans, English

Project Summary:  The evolution of antibiotic resistant pathogens has caused a pressing need for the discovery of novel antimicrobial compounds for drugs. Natural products remain the best source of molecular scaffolds, as they possess structural and chemical diversity that can be exploited for drug development. Secondary metabolites secreted by microbes show pharmacologically relevant activities and can serve as candidates for drug discovery. Focusing on minimally explored environments such as insect-bacteria mutualisms increases the likelihood of finding novel compounds. My project will investigate the production of antibiotics, biosurfactants, and siderophores by microorganisms in the Trachymyrmex septentrionalis symbiosis. T.septentrionalis is a species of fungus-growing ant that engages in a symbiotic relationship with a fungal cultivar.

Rofina Johnkennedy is from Fairfield, CT and is double majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and English. She is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Klassen’s lab (MCB) and plans on pursuing an MD/PhD in microbial pathogenesis upon graduation. Rofina is a Writing Center tutor and Co-Director of UNAIDS in UConn’s Model UN.

Shaan Kamal
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Computational Investigations into the Molecular Underpinnings of Eyesight Signaling Pathways
Committee: Eric May, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: PDE6 is a key enzyme in the eyesight signaling pathway and it is extremely difficult to express in bacteria. As a result, it has never been isolated and its atomic structure has not been solved, which has prevented extensive experimental studies on the enzyme. To overcome the challenge of studying the protein experimentally, I will employ a computational approach in studying PDE6. Through intensive simulations and the use of methods such as Steered Molecular Dynamics, Umbrella Sampling, and Principal Component Analysis, I hope to elucidate how PDE6 functions at the molecular level.

Shaan Kamal is a Molecular and Cell Biology major from Salem, CT. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school and study to become an ophthalmologist.
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Alison Koontz
Major:  Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Project Title: Through Genera and Generations: A study of elasmobranch tapeworm systematics, phylogenetics and parasite-host coevolution
Committee: Janine Caira, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (chair), Elizabeth Jockusch, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Andrew Bush, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Project Summary:  The study of parasitism as a life strategy presents the unique opportunity to investigate evolutionary relationships within parasite taxa and between parasites and their associated hosts. Alison’s University Scholar project has three primary goals: (i) to describe a novel zoological genus of tapeworms found in stingrays, with the generation of two novel species descriptions, (ii) to explore the phylogenetic relationships between this novel genus and related tapeworm taxa, and (iii) to assess the degree of coevolution between these parasites and their hosts. This project contributes to current understanding of species diversity and provides insight into evolution at the species level and coevolution between parasites and their hosts.

Alison Koontz is an Ecology & Evolutionary Biology major, Molecular and Cell Biology minor, currently working as an undergraduate researcher in the Caira Lab. From a young age, she has had a passion for parasites, and plans on enrolling in a PhD program to continue her research into the hidden world of parasites.

Jessica Laprise
Major: Nursing
Project Title: Identification of Pediatric Healthcare Providers’ Knowledge and Attitudes Regarding Pain
Committee: Jacqueline McGrath, Nursing (chair), Renee Manworren, Nursing, and Cheryl Beck, Nursing

Project Summary:  The purpose of my project is to compare the current attitudes, knowledge, and knowledge/attitude gaps of healthcare provider’s at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to those of student nurses at UConn School of Nursing. Data will be collected through the Pediatric Healthcare Providers’ Knowledge and Attitudes Survey (PHPKAS) developed by Dr. Renee Manworren PhD, APRN, FAAN. I converted PHPKAS to an enduring electronic format; increasing ease of use online. Study results will provide baseline information and will be used to evaluate educational needs and facilitate the planning for interventions to increase sensitivity and competence in caring for pediatric patients with pain.

Jessica Laprise is an undergraduate Nursing student from Bristol, CT; research interests include pediatric pain and palliative medicine. She plans to pursue graduate education and become an advanced practice nurse and pediatric nurse scientist. In her free time she enjoys volunteering at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and going to the beach.
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Diana (Cristina) Macklem
Major: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Project Title: Habitat Use, Population Distribution and Abundance of Eurycea bislineata and Desmognathus fuscus in an Exurban Landscape
Committee: Tracy Rittenhouse, Natural Resources and the Environment (chair), Eric Schultz, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Ashley Helton, Natural Resources and the Environment

Project Summary:  This project examines the abundance, distribution, population composition, and habitat use of Eurycea bislineata and Desmognathus fuscus in an exurban landscape using a multi-faceted approach that incorporates techniques from wildlife ecology, genetics, and biogeochemistry. Salamanders will be collected from 15 streams in Coventry and Mansfield, Connecticut, and marked using with tags in order to perform a mark recapture analysis. Tissue samples will also be taken and microsatellite analysis will provide insight into mating systems, sibling relationships, and effective population size. The aquatic habitats will be quantified by measuring sediment distribution and turbidity, chloride concentration, and basin- and reach-scale characteristics.

Cristina Macklem is an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major with a passion for herpetology. At the University of Connecticut, Cristina has been involved in the Wildlife Society, the UConn Outing Club, and even studied abroad in Costa Rica. She has conducted research in Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse’s lab since her freshman year.

Emma Manuel
Major: Biology
Project Title: Effects of a Ketogenic Diet on Protein Damage during Osmotic Stress and Aging in C.elegans
Committee: Elaine Lee, Kinesiology (chair), Thomas Abbott, Molecular and Cell Biology, and David Daggett, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary:  Reductions in the rate of protein synthesis in C. elegans neurodegenerative disease models, osmotic stress acclimation, starvation, diet manipulation, and pharmacological treatment result in reduced protein damage during stress and aging. The aim of this project is to test the hypothesis that ketone supplementation as a model of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet in C. elegans results in reduced protein damage during osmotic stress and natural aging in neurodegenerative disease models. Emma’s project will also test a panel of 10-12 markers identified in human transcriptome data for requirement in the osmotic stress response during ketone supplementation in C. elegans. The project will identify conserved mechanisms by which low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets may be protective.

Emma Manuel is a Biological Sciences major from South Windsor, CT and aspires to attend medical school. In her medical studies, she aims to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Outside of academia, Emma enjoys mentoring elementary school children through Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an accomplished tennis player and a sister of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

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Edward Novikov
Major: Electrical Engineering
Project Title: Towards Automatic Seizure Onset Detection in Epilepsy Patients: A Systems Approach
Committee: Shalabh Gupta, Electrical and Computer Engineering (chair), Maria Gordina, Mathematics, and Sabato Santaniello, Biomedical Engineering

Project Summary:  Epilepsy affects over 60 million people worldwide with chronically recurring, abrupt, and severe seizures.  Seizures are finite-time episodes of disturbed cerebral function induced by abnormal, synchronous, and excessive electrical discharges of large groups of cortical neurons.  Origins of the neurological disorder remain largely mysterious.  Neurostimulation is an alternative to surgical resection for epilepsy patients and has provided promising results.  However, its effectiveness critically depends on the seizure’s onset time.  Thus, the proposed research aims to develop novel computational tools to detect the onset of epileptic seizures, which will assist clinicians in earlier intervention and, eventually, in real-time treatment via neurostimulation.

Edward Novikov is studying Electrical Engineering and Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science.  In his spare time, he engages in Ballroom and Latin dancing, photography, and the outdoors. Edward loves spending time with family and aspires to earn an advanced degree in the sciences upon graduation.

Giorgina Paiella
Major: English
Project Title: Woman a Machine: The History and Gendered Semiotics of Female Automata
Committee: Dwight Codr, English (chair), Margaret Breen, English and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Mitchell Green, Philosophy, and Alenda Chang, English

Project Summary:  Automata, or self-operating machines, have captured the literary and scientific imagination for centuries. Although created in the form of animals, instruments, and humans of both genders, the female automaton is perhaps the most persistently reimagined of these entities. This project aims to examine how female automata function in a variety of literary works and films, arguing that these gendered, created machines are the most relevant and persistent metaphors we have for exploring the frameworks of gender and gender performativity in their engagement with the relationship between man and machine, creator and created, and animator and animated.

Giorgina Paiella is an English major double minoring in philosophy and women’s studies. She is the president of the UConn National Organization for Women (NOW). After graduation, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in English and teach at the university level.

Srinath-Reddi Pingle
Major: Biology
Project Title: The Effect of K63-Linked Polyubiquitin on Active Complex Formation of RIG-I and MDA5
Committee: James Cole, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), Elizabeth Jockusch, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular and Cell Biology

Shanicka Reynolds
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Drug Treatment for Depression: Deprenyl’s Effect on Motivation, Effort and Behavior
Committee: John Salamone, Psychology (chair), Felicia Pratto, Psychology, and James Chrobak (Psychology)

Project Summary: Depression is more than a feeling of sadness. It can progress into a disabling disease that degrades mental, physical, and social health. One of the most debilitating symptoms of depression is a decrease in motivational behavior. Motivational symptoms such as fatigue and anergia are difficult to treat and many of the existing antidepressants do not effectively treat motivational symptoms. This project will focus on the MAO-B inhibitor drug, deprenyl. The goal is to provide a more detailed characterization of the motivational effects of deprenyl through experimentation. Successful increase of motivational behavior using deprenyl will not only benefit patients suffering from depression, but will help patients of various disorders such as Parkinson’s where depression can be a side effect of their disease.

Shanicka Reynolds is from Bloomfield, CT. She is currently a member of the executive board for the West Indian Student Organization, Japanese Student Association, and Rowe Scholars. After graduation, she hopes to travel and then attend medical school where she will specialize in neurology.
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Alexandra Rudolph
Major: Animal Sciences
Project Title: Effects of bovine granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor on milk neutrophil apoptosis
Committee: Michael O’Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair) Sheila Andrew, Animal Science and Steven Szczepanek, Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences

Project Summary:  Mastitis, one of the most serious diseases affecting the U.S. dairy industry, is characterized by the influx of polymorphonuclear neutrophils to the infected mammary gland. Previous research has shown that circulating granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GMCSF) levels are higher in mastitis-affected animals relative to healthy animals, suggesting GMCSF contributes to delayed neutrophil apoptosis during mastitis infection. This project will investigate GMCSF regulation of apoptosis by analyzing: (1) the kinetics of apoptosis in GMCSF-treated milk neutrophils isolated from healthy and subclinical mastitis-affected dairy cattle; and (2) the expression profiles of apoptotic genes in GMCSF-treated milk neutrophils isolated from these sample groups.

Alexandra Rudolph intends to graduate as a dual degree student in Animal Science and Molecular and Cell Biology.  After graduation, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics.

Sagune Sakya
Major: Pharmacy
Project Title: Mechanism of Action of Small Compounds on the Transcription of PDGFR
Committee: Akiko Nishiyama, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair), Dennis Wright, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Daniel Schwartz, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary:  Gliomas are a common type of brain tumor. High grade gliomas are difficult to treat and have a poor survival rate. One pathway that leads to glioma formation is excessive signaling by platelet derived growth factors (PDGF) through PDGF receptors α and β (PDGFRα and PDGFRβ). Downregulation of PDGFR could decrease PDGF signaling and therefore may decrease proliferation of tumor cells. This project will investigate the mechanism of action of small molecules that have been found to downregulate PDGFRα. The goal is to further the understanding of glioma formation and to identify new drug targets that may improve glioma treatment.

Sagune Sakya is from East Lyme, CT. She is a pharmacy major and plans on earning a PharmD from the UConn School of Pharmacy. After graduation, she hopes to work as a clinical pharmacist at a hospital.
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Brendan Smalec
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Looking Beyond the Genetic Code: Mapping the Epigenomic Landscape of Tumorigenesis and Metastasis in the White-Footed Mouse
Committee: Rachel O’Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), Judith Brown, Allied Health Sciences, and Jean Givens, Art & Art History

Project Summary:  I will be examining the genetic and genomic abnormalities that are associated with a naturally occurring cancer that exhibits a predictable metastatic pattern in Peromyscus leucopus, the white-footed mouse. Specifically, I will study how DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that binds to the DNA double helix, differs between different genomic elements in cancerous and noncancerous individuals and tissue types. The results will allow for a closer insight into how epigenetic markers play a role in cancer susceptibility and disease progression.

Brendan Smalec is a student in the honors program from Cheshire, CT majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and Art History. He hopes to earn a Ph.D. in genetics and genomics and conduct research focusing on how genome dynamics can drive both evolution and disease.

Evrett Thompson
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Identification of the cellular targets that govern inhibition of hedgehog signaling by the Vitamin D scaffold
Committee: M. Kyle Hadden, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair), Ashis Basu, Chemistry, and Charles Giardina, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary:  The Hedgehog signaling pathway is a key regulator in the control of embryonic proliferation and tissue patterning during embryonic development. Aberrations in hedgehog signaling have been linked to the development of basal cell carcinoma and medulloblastoma. Vitamin D3 and VD3 based molecules have been shown to inhibit hedgehog signaling and are potential anti-cancer drugs. The project looks to identify target genes affected by calcitriol, VD3 and, a selective, VD3-based, inhibitor of hedgehog signaling. The project will also work as a de novo approach to identify potential cellular targets of the vitamin D ligands.

Evrett Thompson is from New Milford, CT, and is working toward a double major in Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry. After graduation he intends to work in the pharmaceutical industry to conduct research and development for novel pharmaceuticals. Go to top

Stephanie Vu
Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Understanding how the dorsal and ventral subregions of the hippocampus process spatial memories using single unit recording
Committee: Etan Markus, Psychology (chair), Alexander Jackson, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Robert Gallo, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary:  Hippocampal pyramidal cells, or “place cells,” demonstrate spatial tuning. These cells fire in spatially restricted fields which together generate a representation of the environment. When exposed to a familiar environment, place cell firing patterns remain relatively constant. In contrast, place cells can alter their firing patterns, or “remap,” in response to changes in environmental or behavioral contexts. This project aims to further investigate the phenomenon of remapping in the hippocampus using single unit recording in a freely moving animal. We hope to functionally dissociate the dorsal and ventral hippocampal subregions and gain further insight regarding the brain’s spatial navigational system.

Stephanie Vu is pursuing a major in physiology and neurobiology. She was first introduced to behavioral neuroscience research through UConn Mentor Connection and since then has been fascinated by the functions and capabilities of the brain. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend medical school and continue research as a neurologist.

Victoria Wickenheisser
Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: The Circadian Cycle and Its Implications for Learning, Memory and Health
Committee: Etan Markus, Psychology (chair), Joseph Crivello, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Richard Stevens, UConn Health Center

Project Summary:  My university scholar project involves observing the activity of rats during the circadian (light/dark) cycle, in both young and aged populations. It is often implied that sleep is related to cognitive function and learning ability and that this declines with age. This project aims to observe this relationship of activity/inactivity and cognitive performance on a spatial task, over the lifespan. Additionally, there is increasing support of the use of light therapy as a form of complementary alternative medicine. The second part of this project will involve further research on the potential for light-therapy in disease states resulting in memory decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Victoria Wickenheiser is a junior pursuing a Physiology and Neurobiology major with a Spanish minor, from Cheshire, CT. She is an executive board member of the CLAS Student Leadership Board, a sister of Kappa Alpha Theta, and an avid runner, dancer and yoga-enthusiast. She plans to attend medical school following graduation.
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Alyssa Zabin
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Occupational Stressors and Health Outcomes for Correctional Nurses
Committee: Blair Johnson, Psychology (chair), Lynne Goodstein, Sociology, and Denise Panosky, Nursing

Project Summary:  With over 1.5 million American adults incarcerated as of 2013, the healthcare needs of correctional facilities are enormous. Correctional nurses provide much of this care, and despite the importance of their role, few studies have addressed their occupational stress and health outcomes. A recent SHARE study found that work/family conflict remains a primary area of occupational stress for correctional nurses. Thus, the current project compares the occupational stressors and health outcomes for nurses working in correctional and non-correctional settings. The project also examines how stress and health outcomes at the community level relate to the nurses’ individual levels of stress and health outcomes.

Alyssa Zabin is a double major in Psychology and Sociology from Trumbull, CT. She works in the SHARP Laboratory as an undergraduate researcher. After graduation, Alyssa plans to attend a graduate program in Industrial Organizational Psychology.

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