2016 University Scholars


Tessa Brighton

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Longitudinal Evaluation of White Matter Integrity in Relation to Protein Abnormalities Due to Aging
Committee: Joanne Conover, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Jay Rueckl, Psychological Sciences/Brain Imaging Research Center; Peter Molfese, Psychological Sciences/Brain Imaging Research Center

Project Summary: In order to implement clinical interventions for neurodegenerative diseases, a more adequate understanding of the healthy aging brain must be first achieved. Previous research has shown ventricular expansion normal with aging causes damage to the epithelial lining of the brain’s ventricles.  This lining is vital to the health of the brain as it filters the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) entering and leaving the brain tissue.  This research project will explore the repercussions of damaged ventricle lining by utilizing DTI imaging to analyze white matter integrity, immunostaining periventricular tissue to observe protein deposition, and mass spectroscopy of CSF to discover protein level abnormalities in cognitively normal and impaired subjects.

Tessa Brighton is a Physiology and Neurobiology major from Westerly, Rhode Island.  She is an undergraduate researcher in the Conover Laboratory and hopes to obtain a doctorate after graduation.  She loves playing her flute and piano, and she spent a semester abroad in Italy studying art.


Kelly Chan

Major: Pharmacy
Project Title: Translesion Synthesis Inhibitors as Anti-Cancer Adjuvant Agents
Committee: M. Kyle Hadden, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Andrew Wiemer, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Brian Aneskievich, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Project Summary: The translesion synthesis (TLS) pathway is the primary mechanism through which proliferating cells replicate past DNA damage. The TLS pathway also allows cancer cells to survive, mutate, and develop resistance in spite of platinum-based chemotherapy. The inhibition of TLS may sensitize cancer cells to platinum-based agents and reduce tumor mutagenesis. This project aims to identify and evaluate TLS inhibitors as adjuvant agents for first-line platinum-based chemotherapy. The combination of TLS inhibitors and platinum-based chemotherapy may ultimately reduce the dose of chemotherapy, diminish associated toxic effects, and avert chemo-resistance.

Kelly Chan is earning her Doctorate of Pharmacy at the UConn School of Pharmacy. She enjoys contributing to the research and development of critical disease medications. After graduation, she plans to facilitate the transition between drug discovery and clinical trials in the pharmaceutical industry.


Brock Chimileski

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology; Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Defining Orexin Neuron Diversity in the Lateral Hypothalamic Area
Committee: Alexander Jackson, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Rahul Kanadia, Physiology and Neurobiology; Craig Nelson, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: This project explores the molecular and anatomical characterization of orexin neurons within the lateral hypothalamus of the mouse brain. Orexin neurons are found exclusively in this region and are involved in the regulation of hunger, sleep, and reward. Because these cells regulate many different functions, it has been hypothesized that different subpopulations with specialized roles exist. This project uses single cell transcriptional profiling to measure the expression of particular genes in individual orexin neurons. This technique allows for the existence of subpopulations to be investigated, with the goal of ultimately providing a better explanation of how the lateral hypothalamus and orexin neurons regulate metabolism and wakefulness.

Brock Chimileski is a double major in PNB and MCB from Newtown, CT. In addition to being a member of Dr. Alexander Jackson’s lab in the PNB department, he is also exploring clinical research at Connecticut Children’s Hospital. He plans to volunteer as an EMT in the near future and will attend medical school after graduation.


MinJi Choi

Major: Pharmacy
Project Title: Factors Involved in Suppression of Human Vɣ9Vδ2 T-Lymphocytes and Impact of Checkpoint Blockades on the Effector Functions of Vɣ9Vδ2 T-Lymphocytes
Committee: Andrew Weimer, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Andrea Hubbard, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Brian Aneskievich, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Project Summary: γδ (Vγ9Vδ2) T cells are one of the two types of T cells that express the γδ T cell receptor. γδ T cells feature distinctive roles at the interface of innate and adaptive immune responses and in tumor surveillance. Anti-cancer effector functions of γδ T cells are affected by immune checkpoints, which are the body’s self-defensive mechanisms against auto-immunity. It is known that blocking immune checkpoints enhances effector functions of γδ T cells. This project will further investigate how various checkpoint blockades affect anti-cancer effector functions of γδ T cells that may open up new possibilities for cancer immunotherapy.

MinJi Choi is an international student from Seoul, South Korea. She is a Pharmacy major and plans to graduate with a Pharm.D. from UConn School of Pharmacy. Upon completion of the Pharm.D., she plans to further pursue a Ph.D. in the field of cancer immunology.


Adrian Coscia

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Investigation of the Structure and function of the ERMES complex
Committee: Nathan Alder, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair); Victoria Robinson, Molecular and Cell Biology; Debra Kendall, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Project Summary: To date, the ERMES is the most attractive candidate for a protein complex that mediates lipid exchange between the ER and mitochondria. Lipid transport proteins generally mediate the monomeric transfer of lipids from a donor to an acceptor membrane. This project aims to characterize the assembly and function of ERMES subunits. A rigorous and thorough examination of the lipid binding properties of ERMES subunits will yield valuable functional insights. Additionally, this project aims to construct an in vitro translational system that will serve as a template to study the lipid transport activity of the ERMES complex.

Adrian Coscia 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. After graduation, Adrian plans to work towards a combined M.D./Ph.D.


Christina Cotte

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Pathobiology
Project Title: B-1 Cell Generation in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Sickle Cell Disease
Committee: Steven Szczepanek, Pathobiology (chair); Xiuchun Tian, Animal Science; Michael Lynes, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is widely known as an example in biology of a genetic disease that allots protection against malaria. To those who suffer from the disease, it is much more. People with SCD have an increased susceptibility to infection and a shortened lifespan. Upon closer investigation of an SCD patient’s immune system, it was discovered that a crucial compartment is missing: the B-1 subset of B cells. This study aims to solidify when in development these cells become defective to determine if the issue is with the B-1 cell’s generation or activation in the pathology-ridden SCD environment. This will provide crucial data for developing a treatment. This project plans to achieve this by using a humanized transgenic SCD mouse model to conduct SCD and wild-type mixed bone marrow chimera adoptive transfers. The ratio of cells once the mice have been fully reconstituted will provide insight into whether or not the hematopoietic stem cells are defective in SCD.

Originating from New Fairfield, CT, Christina Cotte is pursuing dual degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology and Pathobiology. She is a member of the Club Track and Field team and the Club Climbing team at UConn. In her free time she enjoys crafting and coming up with healthy versions of classic desserts. Upon graduation, Christina plans to enter into an M.D./Ph.D. program specializing in the immune system and its relationship with cancer.


Andreea Dinicu

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Whole Profile Characterization of MyoD Knockout Satellite Cells
Committee: David Goldhamer, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair); Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology; Joseph Crivello, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: Muscle stem cells, otherwise known as satellite cells, are vital in regenerating muscle following injury caused by trauma and disease. The formation of these cells is largely dependent on the expression of myogenic regulatory factors (MRFs). MyoD, one of the four MRFs, contributes to the development of satellite cells and is up-regulated in response to muscle tissue damage. This project will characterize the development of satellite cells using a MyoD-knockout mouse model. It will first analyze the growth of these cells in the absence of the gene and will subsequently discover if and how they are regenerated upon injury.

Andreea Dinicu is pursuing a Molecular and Cell Biology major with minors in French and Spanish. Originating from Romania, she dedicates her time to working with underserved populations through her involvement with Global Brigades, the Institute for Community Research, and UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinics. After graduation, Andreea plans to attend medical school.


Tess Dokmanovich

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Acute and Chronic Effects of Ketamine Administration on Hippocampal and Prefrontal Oscillations in Young Rodents during Sleep and Wakefulness
Committee: James Chrobak, Psychological Sciences (chair); Chi-Ming Chen, Psychological Sciences; Alexander Jackson, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: The hippocampus is an essential brain structure involved with cognitive processes and the creation of new memories, with sleep functioning as an important behavioral phenomenon that promotes memory consolidation. In order to understand how oscillations may relate to higher order cognitive operations, researchers can examine the cognitive deficits characteristic of schizophrenia. This project involves recording multi-site electrophysiological data during both sleep and wakefulness from the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of young, chronically ketamine-treated rodents, the animal models for schizophrenia.

Tess Dokmanovich is an Honors student from Hebron, CT pursuing a degree in Physiology and Neurobiology. She currently conducts research in Dr. James Chrobak’s Behavioral Neuroscience lab and plans to attend medical school after graduation, ultimately specializing in Pediatrics. Outside of academics, Tess is a member of the UConn Dance Team.


Caitlyn Durfee

Major: English
Project Title: Revising Techno-Orientalism: Yun Wenqing in Shanghai
Committee: Cathy Schlund-Vials, English/Asian and Asian American Studies (chair); Ellen Litman, English; Liansu Meng, Literatures, Cultures and Languages

Project Summary: “Orientalism” describes the exoticizing of and patronizing attitudes toward the Western imagination of the East. Perhaps more exotic than the Orientalist present is the techno-Orientalist future, often depicted in Western science fiction as passive yet frighteningly alien. In a revision of this problematic trend, this project will take a more nuanced approach to the study of the futurity of China as a state. The science fiction novel is a form of speculative fiction optimal for this investigation, not only due to the genre’s political history in China, but also because of its necessary engagement with the country’s cultural, social, and technological climate. This project aims to create a novel that will follow the main character as she grapples with the realities of future China: the conflicts between order and chaos, equity and inequity, and inertia and change.

Caitlyn Durfee is a Floridian pursuing a dual degree in English and Chinese with a concentration in Creative Writing. In her spare time, she likes to go outdoors, listen to music, and exercise—sometimes all at once. She intends to earn an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and contribute further to the body of creative literature regarding China.


Aiden Ford

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology; Child Development and Health
Project Title: The TS2-Neo Mouse Model of Autism: A Comprehensive Neuroanatomical Analysis
Committee: Holly Fitch, Psychological Sciences (chair); Joseph LoTurco, Physiology and Neurobiology; Inge-Marie Eigsti, Psychological Sciences

Project Summary: This project aims to explore neurobiological origins for specific behavioral anomalies identified in the TS2-neo mouse model of Timothy Syndrome (TS) and syndromic autism spectrum disorder (ASD), particularly stereotyped actions and socio-communicative irregularities. Animal models are a powerful tool for the study of developmental neuropathologies because they allow us to investigate the multifaceted relationship between a mutated genotype and its impact on neural processing. Through the measurement of grey and white matter structural volume supported by an immunohistochemical analysis of cortical neuron biomarker expression, this project hopes to gain key insight to the underpinnings of TS-mediated ASD as a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Aiden Ford is pursuing a double major in Physiology and Neurobiology, and Child Development and Health, with minors in Anthropology and Neuroscience. She is an undergraduate researcher in the Fitch Lab and plans to focus her future medical career on advocating for children’s health in the American Northwest.


Christina Jiang

Major: Nutritional Sciences; Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Understanding the Role of SR-B1 in Adipocyte Lipid Metabolism and Inflammation
Committee: Christopher Blesso, Nutritional Sciences (chair); Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology; Ji-Young Lee, Nutritional Sciences

Project Summary: Obesity is associated with a number of complications that may increase the risk for chronic disease, including inflammation and dysfunctional high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles. Scavenger receptor class B member 1 (SR-B1), an HDL receptor found in the cell plasma membrane, plays an important role in cholesterol exchange and the initiation of intracellular signaling cascades. This project will examine the role of SR-B1 in adipocyte function using an in vitro model of adipocytes (3T3-L1). It will explore the function of SR-B1 during adipogenesis and then determine its role in adipocyte lipid metabolism and inflammatory response, via loss-of-function knockdown experiments using siRNA.

Christina Jiang is from Hamden, CT and is pursuing a dual degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and Nutritional Sciences. She hopes to pursue an advanced degree in Molecular Nutrition and attend medical school to become a cardiologist. Her hobbies include dancing, reading, volunteering, and exercising.


Brian Liang

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Investigating the Role of Collagen in Nanoparticle-Cancer Cell Interactions
Committee: Xiuling Lu, Pharm Sci (chair); Kenneth Campellone, Molecular and Cell Biology; Thomas Abbott, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: This project investigates why mesoporous silicate nanoparticles are able to target and adhere to tumor cells.  It is hypothesized that something in the outer covering of the tumor cell, the extracellular matrix, contains proteins that may be facilitating adhesion and targeting.

Brian Liang is a junior majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and minoring in Sociology. He is part of the UConn International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team (Captain), UConn Bioethics Club (CFO), and Christian Students On Campus (member). He plays Real Time Strategy computer games and swims recreationally, approximately 12,000-15,000 yards weekly.


Stephanie S. Lin
Major: Psychological Sciences; Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Investigating Treatment Options for Music Performance Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Empirical Study
Committee: Blair Johnson, Psychological Sciences (chair); Peter Kaminsky, Music; John Redden, Physiology and Neurobiology; Frederic Chiu, Concert Pianist

Project Summary: Music Performance Anxiety (MPA) is a debilitating condition that can significantly impair one’s mental health and physical well-being. Although efforts have been made with regard to the treatment of MPA, it is unclear which methods are the most effective (and to what degree). To address this issue, this project will run a comprehensive meta-analysis to quantitatively compare interventions. In a related experiment, the project will assess the ability of positive reappraisal (i.e., excitement and the power pose) to alleviate one’s psychological and physiological symptoms.

Stephanie S. Lin is a PNB/Psychological Sciences double major from central Massachusetts. Some of her greatest passions in life include music, mentoring, photography, and volunteering. She currently works as an EMT/PCA and is pursuing a career in psychiatry.


Ayush Mittal

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Title: Antigen Persistence in Dendritic Cells and Influence on T Cell Maintenance

Committee: Pramod Srivastava, Cancer Center/Immunology (chair); Charles Giardina, Molecular and Cell Biology; Carl Schlichting, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Project Summary: The interplay of cells influencing the innate and adaptive immune responses determine much of the reply the body has to foreign organisms and viruses. Dendritic cells in particular are a key bridge between innate and adaptive immunity, these cells being responsible for the majority of cytotoxic T cell priming. Antigen persistence is a novel concept demonstrating the ability of dendritic cells to themselves contain means for prolonged relationships with antigen. The project I am pursing will shed light on different aspects of this relationship, characteristics such as time of antigen presentation to T cells and degree.

Ayush Mittal is a student of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in Molecular and Cell Biology. He is the leader of the premier yoga organization on campus named UConn Yoga Sangha and hopes to improve UConn’s campus through mindfulness, community service and healthful living.


Isabel Nip

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: The Role of Cytoskeleton in Parkinson’s Disease
Committee: Kenneth Campellone, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair); Kyle Baumbauer, Nursing; Joseph LoTurco, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: Neurological disorders affect people in all walks of life.  One such condition, Parkinson’s disease (PD), is a chronic progressive movement disorder characterized by dopamine deficiency and intracellular aggregations called Lewy bodies composed mostly of the protein alpha-synuclein (α-syn).  Although many study PD, the causes and the molecular bases for such an illness are poorly understood.  The goal of this research is to study the role of the neuronal cytoskeleton in neurodegenerative diseases to better understand the causes of PD.  This project will examine how α-syn interacts and affects cytoskeletal dynamics and other important cellular processes like autophagy.

Isabel Nip is from West Hartford, CT and is a Molecular and Cell Biology major and Honors student.  After graduation, she plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. and integrate medical research with medicine.  She enjoys playing the piano and performing Chinese traditional dances.


Emily Norton

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: The Effect of Hydrocephalus on Neural Stem Cell Differentiation and Ependymogenesis
Committee: Joanne Conover, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Qian Wu, Pathology; Joseph LoTurco, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: This project will examine the stem cell niche and ependymogenesis in both normal and hydrocephalic brain development by quantifying and mapping ventricle volume in normal and hydrocephalic developing brains, immunohistochemical staining ventricle walls to analyze cytoarchitectural development, and analyzing the fetal stem cell niche using cell-specific markers. Through the analysis of both mouse and human models, this project aims to generate a map of ependymal cell development and neural stem cell organization for normal and pathological conditions as well as contribute to the currently limited knowledge on how hydrocephalus, a common birth defect in the United States, affects brain development.

Emily Norton is a Physiology and Neurobiology major from the small town of East Hampton, CT. In her spare time, she works as student manager at the UConn Bursar’s Office and assists as an undergraduate teaching assistant for anatomy and physiology. After graduation, Emily hopes to obtain her Ph.D. and pursue a career in biomedical research.


Genevieve Nuttall

Major: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Project Title: Does Plumage Color in Birds Respond to Environmental Change?
Committee: Morgan Tingley, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (chair); Christopher Elphick, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Harry Frank, Chemistry

Project Summary: This project will explore the effects of habitat change on bird pigmentation. Birds retrieve certain feather colors, such as red and orange, from their diet. As their habitats change, dietary sources may be altered.  This project will determine if this has an impact on the coloration of birds’ feathers. It will use Red-winged Blackbirds as a study organism because this species has experienced major habitat shifts due to wetland destruction and agricultural expansion. Males of this species use their red shoulder feathers to signal territory. This project will examine these feathers to determine how their pigmentation has changed over time and space.

Genevieve Nuttall is an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology student at UConn. She is currently a junior and hopes to complete a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology after completing her undergraduate degree. She is interested in avian biology and conservation and hopes to apply this interest to future research.


John Ovian

Major: Chemistry
Project Title: Shining Light on Oxidation Reactions: A New Avenue for Environmentally Benign Chemistry
Committee: Nicholas Leadbeater, Chemistry (chair); William Bailey, Chemistry; Mark Peczuh, Chemistry

Project Summary: Developing more efficient, greener methods to construct molecules is becoming an increasingly important consideration within the organic chemistry community. This project seeks to utilize visible light (the ideal renewable reagent) to power difficult oxidative transformations. This is accomplished by employing an organic photocatalyst in a dual catalytic cycle with ACT (an environmentally-friendly oxidant), which will result in more sustainable processes (less oxidant required, air and light used as “reagents”). Ultimately, this project seeks to transition this round-bottom flask methodology to continuous flow processing, which enhances the scalability and efficiency of the reaction.

John Ovian is pursuing dual B.S./M.S. degrees in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics. He has published three papers and is a teaching assistant for both the honors organic and general chemistry sequences. He also enjoys singing as the music director of Extreme Measures, one of UConn’s a cappella groups. John plans on enrolling in a Ph.D. program upon graduation.


Marissa Piccolo

Major: Political Science and Economics
Project Title: Women in State Legislatures: The Relationship Between States’ Attitudinal and Structural Conditions of Levels of Female Representation
Committee: Virginia Hettinger, Political Science (chair); Paul Herrnson, Political Science; Kenneth Couch, Economics

Project Summary: This project explores and seeks to explain the variation between the levels of female representation in different state legislatures across the country, investigating a variety of potential structural/institutional, attitudinal, and demographic factors. It will look at factors related to both candidate emergence and candidate success and will use bivariate analyses and logistic regression. The project hopes to give an updated look at the lack of representation of women in politics using data from 2015 to supplement prior research. The project aims to reveal new, creative ways to approach the issue.

Marissa Piccolo is a two-time Homer Babbidge Scholar, Truman nominee, Holster Scholar, former SHARE grant recipient, and Roper Center research assistant. She collaborated with staff at EMILY’s List and the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers as a Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow for this project. Marissa plans to attend law school.


Leslie Prunier

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Project Title: Additive Manufacturing in Secondary Schools: Fabricating Resources for Music Programs
Committee: Julian Norato, Mechanical Engineering (chair); James Jackson III, Music; Diane Van Scoter, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing

Project Summary: Many public schools cannot afford to purchase musical instruments for their school music programs. This project intends to produce is a low-cost plastic baritone horn that can be manufactured with a 3D printer. Numerous secondary schools have purchased 3D printers for their students to use in science and engineering programs, and this project will design this musical instrument in such a way that these common printers can reliably create it for under $100. As a result of this research, more students will be able to participate in school music programs and benefit from an arts education.

Leslie Prunier studies mechanical engineering at UConn. She is an officer of the UConn 3D Printing Club, and she also plays the baritone horn in the 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps. These two passions are brought together by this original University Scholar project.


Summit Singhaviranon

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemical Engineering
Project Title: High Efficiency Production of 1,3-Propanediol by Recombinant Escherichia coli
Richard Parnas, Institute of Materials Science/Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (chair); Ranjan Srivastava, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Jonathan Klassen, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: This project will finically incentivize future production of environmentally friendly biodiesel by fermenting the waste glycerol that accompanies this process into 1,3-Propanediol (1,3-PD). 1,3-PD is a high-value platform chemical whose demand is rapidly growing. Clostridium butryicum has the highest recorded 1,3-PD productivity from the fermentation of glycerol. This study aims to genetically modify Escherichia coli, expressing the dha operon from C. butryicum, to maximize 1,3-PD production. These modifications include a deletion in the arcA gene, the adhE gene, and the overexpression of the yqhD gene. It will then determine the optimal bioreactor conditions for the newly made recombinant organisms to produce 1,3-PD.

Summit Singhaviranon is pursuing a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering, a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology, and an M.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology with a concentration in genetics and genomics. After graduation, he hopes to attend medical school and further study how genetics can be applied in modern medicine.


Rachel Smiley

Major: Natural Resources and the Environment
Project Title: Beyond Capture: Application of a Visual Body Condition Index to Determine Effects of Nutritional Condition on Timing of Migration by Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
Committee: Chadwick Rittenhouse, Natural Resources and the Environment (chair); Ashley Helton, Natural Resources and the Environment; Jason Vokoun, Natural Resources and the Environment

Project Summary: This project will develop a visual body condition index that will make it possible to evaluate the health of mule deer visually without having to come in contact or harm any individuals, allowing biologists to non-invasively assess the health of a large sample of the population while reducing cost and mortality.  It will use the visual body condition to investigate the relationship between nutritional condition and timing of migration.

Rachel Smiley is a junior studying Natural Resources and the Environment with a concentration in Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation and a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  She enjoys spending her free time outdoors.  After graduation she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Wildlife Biology.


Victoria Sylvestre

Major: Nursing
Project Title: Type 1 Diabetes and Health Care Providers: Understanding Social Perceptions, Stigma and Shame
Committee: Ruth Lucas, Nursing (chair); Cathy Schlund-Vials, Asian and Asian American Studies and English; Cem Demirci, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Endocrinology & Pediatrics, UCHC

Project Summary: The etiology of type 1 diabetes is due to the body’s failure to produce insulin, a hormone converting food to energy compatible to the body, not simply an individual’s lifestyle choices.  The rigorous long-term management is not recognized or considered by society as a “disability;” therefore, this creates an increased psychosocial impact. During adolescence, these effects are heightened as a person explores his or her identity. The aim of this study is to engage pediatric healthcare providers in a discussion about integrating the emotional and developmental transition of adolescents, the emotional burden of living with chronic illness, and adolescents’ perception of diabetes as a disability.

Victoria (Tory) Sylvestre is a nursing student who grew up in Newark, DE. Her research interests include chronic illness and disability identity.  After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in pediatric nursing and hopes to earn a doctoral degree. Her hobbies include reading, knitting, and spending time with friends.


Benjamin White

Major: Psychological Sciences
Project Title: Exercise and Quality of Life: The Influence of Community Level Factors on Exercise Intervention Efficacy
Committee: Blair Johnson, Psychological Sciences (chair); Linda Pescatello, Kinesiology; Debarchana Ghosh, Geography

Project Summary: Cancer treatments often have severe debilitating effects on a patient’s overall well-being. One of the more effective methods of dealing with these side-effects is participation in exercise-promoting interventions. Unfortunately, results of such programs can vary from little success to very successful. To address this variability, this project will map prior interventions across the U.S. to determine whether geospatial features, such as urban density and community trust, affect the success of these exercise interventions.

Benjamin White is pursuing a B.S. in Psychological Sciences. He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. after graduation to continue his research on examining mental health and behavior based on ecological variables.


Shaharyar Zuberi

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Single-Cell Gene Expression Analysis of Astrocytes in Glial Scar Formation
Committee: Joanne Conover, Physiology and Neurobiology; Chi-Ming Chen, Psychological Sciences; Craig Nelson, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: Astrocytes are a type of glial cell that are essential in many different brain functions. However, one of their most important duties is their role in reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation – a highly studied, although poorly understood, physiological phenomenon in which these cells undergo a variety of genetic and morphological changes in response to neurological injury. This project will employ single-cell transcriptome analyses to elucidate the heterogeneity of astrocytes involved in scar formation by delving into their gene expression. A comprehensive understanding of the distinct roles and gene expression patterns of these astrocyte populations is integral to the study of central nervous system injury and disease.

Shaharyar Zuberi is a Physiology and Neurobiology major from Rocky Hill, CT. In his spare time, he loves playing sports, watching movies, and hanging out with friends and family. He is fascinated with the intricacies of the brain and hopes to continue studying neurodegeneration after graduating from medical school.