2018 University Scholars

Congratulations to the 2018 University Scholars!


Tyler Ackley

Major: Pharmacy Studies and Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Soluble Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Isoforms: Functional Roles and Potential Therapeutic Application in Rheumatoid Arthritis
Committee: Caroline Dealy, Reconstructive Science (chair); Brian Aneskievich, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Andrea Hubbard, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Project Summary: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory disease characterized by immune cell induction and subsequent degradation of joint tissues. Despite the complex pathophysiology of RA, many of the available therapies block the same molecular mechanism. Recent research has implicated the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) pathway in RA disease etiology. This project will examine the role of EGFR in cartilage health, as well as explore the functional roles of soluble EGFR isoforms and determine their use as a preclinical biomarker. Through use of these biomarkers, EGFR-targeted therapy can provide a “personalized medicine” approach to RA treatment.

Tyler Ackley is a 3rd year Pharmacy student pursuing his PharmD. In 2017, he graduated with a dual degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Pharmacy Studies. Over his time at UConn, he has worked as a part of three laboratory groups studying epigenetics, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. Following his PharmD., Tyler plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in the pharmaceutical sciences


Brian Aguilera

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Role of CD13 in the Formation and Function of Tunneling Nanotubes
Committee: Mallika Ghosh, Center for Vascular Biology (chair); David Daggett, Molecular and Cell Biology; Ken Campellone, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: Tunneling Nanotubes (TNTs) are structures that connect distant cells through a continuous bridge-like tube. TNTs have been shown to play a major part in cell transport as they allow for a direct connection between distant cells to exchange different types of cargo ranging from small signaling molecules to complete organelles like mitochondria and lysosomes. Because of their ability to transport cargo, TNTs have been shown to play a role in the regeneration and development of tissues with cells interacting and helping each other. However, several pathogens including viruses and bacteria have also been shown to hijack TNTs to spread their infections and in cancer they have been shown to play a role in resistance to treatment through the distribution of toxicity. My project focuses on understanding the mechanism in which CD13, a cell signaling molecule involved in cell adhesion and motility, regulates TNT formation and function.

Brian Aguilera is an honors student majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology from Deerfield Beach, FL, although originally from Bogota, Colombia. He works alongside his mentor Dr. Mallika Ghosh in the Shapiro Lab in the Center for Vascular Biology at UConn Health through the OUR’s Health Research Program. Outside of his academics, he is one of the co-coordinators for METAS, the mentoring Program of the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, and a proud member of Sigma Theta Alpha the pre-health fraternity on campus. In his free time, he enjoys reading, playing the piano, going outside and taking care of his axolotls. Upon graduation, he intends to pursue a MD/PhD focused on Developmental Biology and become an OB/GYN.


Benjamin Babbitt

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Spatiotemporal Characterization of Hydrocephalus Associated Ventriculomegaly in the Developing Mouse Brain
Committee: Joanne Conover, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Joseph LoTurco, Physiology and Neurobiology; Ketan Bulsara, Neurosurgery

Project Summary: The goal of this project is to examine the fate of neuroepithelial stem cells during normal and hydrocephalic brain development. Intra-uterine electroporation (IUE) in conjunction with immunofluorescence will be used to characterize the fate of these stem cells throughout normal development. Utilizing a viral post-infection induced hydrocephalus mouse model, the capacity for stem-cell mediated repair of the ependymal lining of the ventricular wall, the developmental age at which infection is most detrimental, and the pathological progression of ependymal cell denudation and resulting ventriculomegaly will be evaluated.

Ben is a pre-medical student from Shrewsbury MA and carries out his research in the Conover Laboratory. Ben hopes to attend an MD/MBA dual program medical school to study Orthopedic Surgery and Healthcare Management. Ben is also a member of UConn Marching Band and Pep Band, and in his free time enjoys running, hiking, and skiing.


Eric Beltrami

 Major: Physiology and Neurobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Understanding the Function of Inhibitory Lateral Hypothalamic Neurons and their Contribution to Generating Complex Behavioral States
Committee: Alexander Jackson, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Geoffrey Tanner, Physiology and Neurobiology; John Salamone, Psychological Sciences; Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: The neuronal diversity of the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) is poorly defined. The heterogeneity of the LHA may contribute to its role in several homeostatic functions, including feeding, arousal and stress. My project seeks to elucidate the role of inhibitory LHA neurons in mediating complex behavioral states. Using Cre-lox recombinant mouse lines, along with optogenetic and chemogenetic techniques of neuronal activation, these novel cell populations may be selectively targeted to determine their behavioral effects in vivo. This project offers the first glimpse at the function of newly described cell populations in the LHA, differentiated by their expression of neuropeptides, and their potential role in maladaptive behaviors and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Eric Beltrami is an Honors Student, Presidential Scholar, SURF Award recipient and two-time Babbidge Scholar majoring in PNB. He is President of UConn Dance Company, CFO of ENCORE Dance Team, Trip Director of Community Outreach’s HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Awareness Alternative Break, a peer mentor for First Year Programs and an undergraduate TA for PNB 2274/75. Upon graduation, Eric hopes to attend medical school.


Suleyman Bozal

Major: Structural Biology/Biophysics
Project Title: A Robust Delivery System for siRNA Therapeutics and the CRISPR/Cas9 System in Gene Regulation and Editing
Committee: Diane Burgess, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Eric May, Molecular and Cell Biology; Antonio Costa, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Project Summary: The field of RNA therapeutics is growing rapidly and holds enormous potential for the treatment of diseases with genetic or epigenetic underpinnings. However, delivery of these therapeutics remains a challenge as many vehicles prove to be toxic and undependable. This project seeks to create lipid nanoparticle formulations that are capable of delivering siRNA and the CRISPR/Cas9 system to respectively silence or knockout GFP in human embryonic kidney cells. The formulations will be created using a continuous manufacturing system and engineered to maximize efficacy and minimize cytotoxicity with use of anionic lipids.

Suleyman Bozal of Berlin, CT is pursuing a B.S. in Structural Biology/Biophysics. In his free time, he tutors in the QCenter, serves as the treasurer of the Turkish Student Association, and is active in his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta. After graduation, Suleyman will pursue a career as a physician-scientist.


Mei Buzzell

Major: Graphic Design
Project Title: A Backstage Documentary: The Inside View of a Northern Tavern
Committee: Janet Pritchard, Art and Art History (chair); Edvin Yegir, Art and Art History; Kelly Dennis, Art and Art History

Project Summary: Documentary photography works to capture the mundane to complex and the pleasing to the shocking. Documentary photography is a kind of ‘real time’ anthropology. It records people as they exist within their culture. This project of mine is a book that will be based on the experiences gained in a grand resort hotel restaurant with the often-chaotic scenes of the preparation beyond the dining room as well as the dramas of the dining room itself. Photography allows its viewers to interpret their own version of the stories, settings and emotions within an image.

Mei is from Peterborough, New Hampshire and is studying Graphic Design. She is incorporating her passions for photography and sociology in her project to advocate for others. After graduation, she plans to find a graphic design firm in a city to continue pursuing what she loves. Mei enjoys taking photographs, traveling, spending time with friends, and eating fine foods.


Lauren Cenci

Major: English
Project Title: Lamentation and the Melancholic: Elegiac Evolution from Classical to Modern
Committee: Charles Mahoney, English (chair); Yohei Igarashi, English; A. Harris Fairbanks, English

Project Summary: In our ever-changing world, the universal experience of death remains fixed and inescapable. What has changed, however, are the mourning practices observed in western culture. Reflected in poetry from as early as 300 BCE, the literary process of mourning continues to evolve and thrive through both personal and mass death. Consider the elegy, in all its melancholic sublimity, as a cathartic means to wrestle with sadness of several origins, especially that which swells with death. Traditionally written with a characteristic progression from lamentation to consolation, the genre has evolved to produce self-destructive, violent, and sometimes inconsolable poems. Starting with classical Greek pastoral poetry, I will trace the evolution of the elegy genre through the twentieth century, exploring the volatility of solace at the poem’s conclusion.

Lauren Cenci is an Honors Student majoring in English. She is a Bodywise student manager and a member of the Triathlon Team. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in English with a concentration in poetry and poetics. Outside academics, she enjoys long-distance running and spending time with her two Labrador Retrievers, Tucker and Scout.


Thomas Chessman

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Project Title: In-Process Monitoring and Thermal Image Processing for Real-Time Feedback Control in Selective Laser Sintering
Committee: Xu Chen, Mechanical Engineering (chair); Chih-Jen Sung, Mechanical Engineering; Song Han, Computer Science and Engineering

Project Summary: Selective laser sintering is a pioneering additive manufacturing technique that involves using a laser to melt powdered material together, layer by layer, in order to create a 3-D product. Despite its many benefits including high efficiency, versatility, and ability to process many materials, selective laser sintering suffers from its propensity to generate structural errors during operation.  This project aims to improve final product quality through corrective feedback control.  Process signatures, including melt pool dimensions, will be evaluated in real time using thermal imaging.  Appropriate corrective feedback control will then be applied through parameters such as laser scan speed.

Thomas Chessman is a Mechanical Engineering major and Mathematics minor from Greenwich, CT. He is an undergraduate researcher in the MACS laboratory and a Cadet in UConn’s Army ROTC program.  Thomas plans to study engineering in graduate school and hopes to serve as a helicopter pilot in the Army Reserve.


Emerson Dang  

Major: Physics
Project Title: Exploring New Materials for Nanopositioning
Committee: Ilya Sochnikov, Physics (chair); Cara Battersby, Physics; Barrett Wells, Physics

Project Summary: Strontium titanate, a perovskite crystal, shows remarkable promise for use as a piezoelectric at temperatures below 1 K, with a voltage induced strain response comparable to traditional piezoelectrics at room temperature. Such properties are atypical, as most piezoelectrics exhibit decreased responsiveness at cryogenic temperatures. This project seeks to design a bimorph bender utilizing strontium titanate for use as a nanopositioner in a scanning Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) microscope. The microscope will then be used to probe the phase transitions and magnetic permeabilities of superconductors at low temperatures

Emerson Dang is a physics major from Bloomfield, CT, and a researcher in Ilya Sochnikov’s lab. Upon graduation, Emerson plans on pursuing a graduate degree in physics. When not in school, he enjoys drawing and playground calisthenics.


Sarah Ferrigno

Major: Psychological Sciences and Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Investigating the Role of the 5-HT1B Receptor Regarding Motivational Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder
Committee: John Salamone, Psychological Sciences (chair); Aoife Heaslip, Molecular and Cell Biology; William Bailey, Chemistry

Project Summary: While the most commonly prescribed antidepressants are serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), these drugs tend to be unsuccessful in treating the motivational symptoms of major depressive disorder. Lack of energy, fatigue and reduced exertion of effort severely impair many aspects of a patient’s life, including employment, social function, and responsiveness to treatment. It is likely that the motivational dysfunctions induced by SSRIs are due to overstimulation of one or more of the 5-HT receptors. Therefore, the aim of this project is to determine if the 5-HT1B receptor is involved in motivational functions related to depression using a validated rodent model.

Sarah Ferrigno is an Honors student from Montgomery, NJ double majoring in Psychology and MCB. She has spent her past two summers doing neuroscience research at UConn as a Holster scholar and at the University of Pittsburgh as summer fellow. After graduation, she intends to obtain a PhD. in Neuroscience.


Kat Folker 

Major: Puppet Arts
Project Title: The Monster and the Mob: Exploring Otherness through the Art of Horror
Committee: John Bell, Dramatic Arts (chair); Lewis Gordon, Philosophy; Bart Roccoberton, Dramatic Arts

Project Summary: Horror has always served as a benchmark for the fears and anxieties of society. The monsters protagonists take on aren’t just meant to insight fear, but disgust, often times serving as representations for taboos of race, class, and gender. The goal of this project is to explore this dynamic in a hands on environment, incorporating the aesthetics of horror and the puppets ability to act as a conduit for ideas. The project will conclude with a short film focused around a protagonist who struggles with the prejudices of the society around them as it is terrorized by a monster.

Kat Folker is a Puppet Arts Major from Ashford, Connecticut. She is the Undergraduate Assistant at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry where she assists with house management and daily operations. Upon graduation she plans to pursue a career in fabrication for film.


Kayleigh Granville

Major: Environmental Science
Project Title: Variations of Denitrification Rates and Nitrous Oxide Emissions during the Lunar Tidal Cycle across Seasons
Committee: Ashley Helton, Natural Resources and the Environment (chair); Beth Lawrence, Natural Resources and the Environment; Chris Elphick, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Project Summary: Denitrification is a microbial process that transforms reactive nitrogen in wetland sediments into inert nitrogen gas that is emitted into the atmosphere. Human modifications to wetlands can alter the denitrification process, causing incomplete denitrification to occur and wetlands to emit nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere. Current research indicates that denitrification rates and N2O emissions from coastal wetlands may vary across seasons and among different vegetation zones, although it is unclear how. The goal of this project is to determine patterns in denitrification rates and N2O emissions across seasons and among different vegetation zones. The findings have implications for how we manage and restore wetlands while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kayleigh Granville is an Environmental Science major from Newtown, CT. She is an undergraduate researcher in the Helton lab, the president of UConn Wildlife Society, and a member of the UConn Club Running Team.


Ming-Yeah Hu

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Allied Health Sciences
Project Title: Stem Cell Spheroids for Cartilage Regeneration
Committee: Syam Nukavarapu, Orthopedic Surgery (chair); Jeanne McCaffrey, Allied Health Sciences; Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: About 30 million adults in the U.S. are affected by osteoarthritis (i.e., joint disease) and the associated cartilage loss. Articular cartilage repair is a significant clinical challenge. Current clinical solutions, such as microfracture and autologous chondrocyte implantation, produce sub-optimal results, which necessitate the need to develop new repair strategies. Stem cell spheroids have been of recent interest in tissue engineering because they offer extracellular matrix and cell-cell interactions that are more representative of human tissues. This project will develop stem cell spheroids and the strategies to use them alone or in combination with biodegradable matrix for articular cartilage and osteochondral tissue engineering.

Ming-Yeah Hu is from Milford, CT and pursuing a dual degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and Allied Health Sciences. She hopes to attend medical school after graduation. Outside of school, she enjoys being on the UConn Cheerleading team, working as a CNA, traveling, and admiring her many succulents.


Celeste Kurz

Major: Nutritional Sciences
Project Title: Addressing Childhood Obesity by Improving Personal Factors and Language Acquisition in Middle School Students: Implementing a Bilingual, Hands-On, Gardening, Cooking, and Nutrition Education Program
Committee: Amy Mobley, Nutritional Sciences (chair); Michael Puglisi, Nutritional Sciences; Phoebe Godfrey, Sociology

Project Summary: Health-indicating behaviors established early in life generally persist into adulthood, demonstrating the need for health education and interventions in the critical period of pre- to early adolescence. This project seeks to: 1) preventively address the problem of childhood obesity and resulting health consequences, particularly among at risk Hispanic youth, by implementing and evaluating a bilingual (Spanish-English), hands-on, gardening, cooking, and nutrition education program, 2) assess the impact of the educational intervention upon six personal factors, and 3) address methodological gaps in the research literature.

Celeste Kurz is currently pursuing a degree in nutritional sciences with a minor in Spanish, and intends to complete a Registered Dietitian internship and obtain a Masters in Public Health after graduation. She is a student farmer and treasurer of Spring Valley Student Farm.


Eric Lepowsky

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Project Title: 3D Printing of a Degradable, Photo-Polymerizable Material for Application to Drug Manufacturing
Committee: Savas Tasoglu, Mechanical Engineering (chair); Wendy Vanden Berg-Foels, Biomedical Engineering; Luyi Sun, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Project Summary: 3D printing – an additive manufacturing method whereby successive layers of material form a 3D structure – has been applied across many fields. Bioprinting has harnessed the capabilities and adaptability of 3D printing for biomedical applications and, more recently, drug manufacturing. 3D printing enables the precise and unique dosing of drugs and on-demand, prescription-specific production. However, current approaches have not yet accessed the high-resolution fabrication method of inkjet-based printing. This project will focus on characterizing a custom inkjet 3D printer, understanding the foundational fluid mechanics of inkjet printing, studying the degradation and release properties of biocompatible materials, and creating a proof-of-concept user interface for 3D printing dosage forms. The ultimate goal is to work towards the development of an inkjet 3D printer for the direct-write printing of pharmaceutical products.

Eric Lepowsky is a Mechanical Engineering major with a minor in Mathematics. He was previously awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Named Award for research on paper-based microfluidics and a NASA-CT Space Grant Undergraduate Research Fellowship for research on bioprinting. Upon graduation, Eric plans to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.


Craig Mendonca 

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Development and Ex Vivo Characterization of Enteric Coated Chitosan Microspheres for Crohn’s Disease Management
Committee: Diane Burgess, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology; Akiko Nishiyama, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: The objective of this project is to use controlled and targeted delivery of the anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone for the localized treatment of Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is characterized by inflammation of the terminal ileum and colon that cannot be cured pharmacologically or surgically. Polymers have the ability to form microspheres, which are spherical structures that carry molecules to a target site and release them in a controlled manner. This ultimate goal of this project will be to develop and test a microspheric formulation designed to withstand the acidic stomach environment, traverse the small intestine, and release dexamethasone at the active site in the colon. 

Craig Mendonca is a double major in Physiology and Neurobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He works in the Burgess Lab in the UConn School of Pharmacy and he is the Executive Secretary of the UConn Genetic Engineering (iGEM) Team. After graduation, Craig plans to attend medical school. His hobbies include cybersecurity and spending time outside.


Jennifer Messina

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Cancer and Signaling Pathways of Metallothionein Induced Chemotaxis
Committee: Michael Lynes, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair); Adam Zweifach, Molecular and Cell Biology; Nichole Broderick, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: Increased expression of metallothionein (MT), a stress response protein, has been linked to the manifestation of many different cancers and associated with decreased chemotherapy efficacy. This project will investigate the signaling pathways involved in MT mediated chemotaxis in breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer using small molecule inhibitors of the Arp2/3 complex and phospholipase C. By understanding the signaling pathways responsible for MT’s chemotactic effect in various types of cancer, it can be determined if UC1MT, a monoclonal anti-MT antibody known to mitigate MT’s chemotactic effect, would be an effective therapeutic to inhibit cancer metastasis.

Jennifer Messina is an Honors student majoring in MCB and pursing a Plan B Master’s in MCB with a focus in Cell and Developmental Biology. Outside of academics, she is a member of the UConn Lion’s Club and volunteers at the Mansfield Fire Department as an EMT. After graduation, she plans to enroll in a combined MD/PhD program, and then pursue research in the field of trauma surgery.


Monica Nagalla

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Localization of Odorant Binding Proteins in Drosophila Antennae
Committee: Karen Menuz, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Linnaea Ostroff, Physiology and Neurobiology; Rahul Kanadia, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: With the increased prevalence of disease transmission to humans, it is critical to study the underlying mechanisms of pest sensory capabilities. The focus on my project is on Odorant Degrading Enzymes (ODEs). Odor degradation is thought to contribute to signal termination of odor signaling, allowing insects to accurately assess odor levels. Previous research suggests that non-neuronal auxiliary cells may play a role in odor degradation, though it is unclear which type expresses putative ODEs, such as Cyp450 enzymes. For my University Scholar project, I will be using mRNA tagging and RNASeq to profile the RNA expressed in each cell type in order to determine which auxiliary cells express ODEs.

Monica Nagalla is an Honors student from Westwood, MA majoring in PNB and minoring in Healthcare Management. Outside of academics, she is an active member of UConn Surya, a bollywood fusion dance team, and enjoys spending time with family and traveling. After graduation, she hopes to attend medical school.


Avi Patel

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Individualized Major: Social Perspectives on Health
Project Title: Development of a Sonically Powered Biodegradable Nanogenerator for Bone Regeneration
Committee: Thanh Nguyen, Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering (chair); David Goldhamer, Molecular and Cell Biology; Maryann Morris, Allied Health Sciences

Project Summary: Reconstruction of bone fractures and defects remains a big challenge in orthopedic surgery. While regenerative engineering has advanced the field greatly from its days of utilizing bone grafts, regenerative strategies, using a combination of biomaterial scaffolds and adipose stem cells (AdSCs), still suffer from issues of their own. One key matter of difficulty is inducing osteogenesis in AdSCs. Numerous works have shown electricity’s ability to stimulate bone regeneration; however, most electrical stimulators currently in use employ implanted batteries or percutaneous leads, which require an invasive removal process. Piezoelectric materials, a type of smart material which can generate electrical charge from mechanical vibrations, show much promise in this regard. Recently, poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA), a common biodegradable polymer used in sutures, has been found to exhibit piezoelectricity when appropriately processed. As such, the goal of this project is to fabricate an ultrasonically powered, PLLA scaffold for the purpose of bone regeneration.

Avi Patel, who calls Fremont, California his home, is currently pursuing a Molecular and Cell Biology and Social Perspectives on Health dual-degree. He serves as an Advanced Technical Specialist for the University but has career goals of becoming an emergency medicine physician. In his free time, he enjoys going on service trips, catching up with the latest in technology, and rock climbing in the wilderness.


Hetal Patel

Major: Materials Science and Engineering
Project Title: Cryogenic Dislocation Nucleation Study on the Body-Centered Cubic Metals by Using Spherical Nanoindentation
Committee: Seok-Woo Lee, Materials Science and Engineering (chair); S. Pamir Alpay, Materials Science and Engineering; Bryan Huey, Materials Science and Engineering

Project Summary: NASA’s vision for deep space exploration brings exciting challenges for which scientists are leveraging unique properties exhibited by nanomaterials. Ultra-fine motion control in space telescope mirrors, gyroscopes, and robotic arms in ultracold environments require nanoelectromechanical systems, actuators, and nano-sensors. Knowledge of small-scale mechanical properties at cryogenic temperatures (30~298K) is critical in designing these mechanically robust devices and avoiding fracture. Mechanical properties of materials change drastically at nanoscale and they must be re-defined through nanomechanical measurements with an atomic level precision. Permanent deformation of widely used BCC metals is controlled by a linear crystallographic defect called dislocation. At nanoscale, dislocation nucleation marks the onset of plastic deformation and the maximum strength of the material. This project aims to study dislocation nucleation behavior in BCC metals as a function of temperature by using spherical nanoindentation and also to obtain the Peierl’s barrier- the maximum possible strength defined at 0K. Research outcomes will have direct applications in designing mechanically reliable small sensors and devices for future low temperature aeronautical applications.

Hetal Patel is an Honors student from South Windsor, CT, majoring in Materials Science and Engineering, along with a Computer Science and a Mathematics minors. She enjoys participating in STEM outreach events and she is the vice president of the Material Advantage professional student organization. She plans to pursue a PhD in either computation materials science or nanomechanics.


Usra Qureshi

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Human Rights
Project Title: Assessment of Access to Maternal Healthcare for Syrian Refugee Women in Greece: A Human Rights Perspective
Committee: Kathryn Libal, Human Rights Institute (chair); Judith Landin, Molecular and Cell Biology; César Abadia, Anthropology

Project Summary: Though the right to health is recognized as an international legal principle, refugee women’s access to health care has not been widely realized as a human right with concrete obligations on the part of countries where refugees reside or wait to transit to another country of asylum. This project aims to investigate the discrepancies that exist amongst law/policy and the realities of maternal health care access amongst the female migrant population in Greece. Information collected through interviews with various groups will be used to develop recommendations that seek to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Usra Qureshi is deeply involved in refugee ordeals locally and abroad, having organized efforts for refugee camps in Greece and assisted in the resettlement of an Iraqi family in Hartford. She also enjoys photojournalism and was recently named a Roberto Romano fellow by the Human Rights Institute for her work.


Ericka Randazzo

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology and Pathobiology
Project Title: Identification of Neural Progenitor Cells that Give Rise to Supratentorial Ependymomas in a Novel Preclinical Model
Committee: Joseph LoTurco, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Paulo Verardi, Pathobiology and Veterinary Science; Joanne Conover, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: Supratentorial ependymomas (ST-EPN) are an important subclass of brain tumors that develop in the third or lateral ventricles of the brain and have been found to be significantly correlated with a novel fusion involving the C11orf95 and RELA genes. The cellular origin of ST-EPN is an incompletely defined population of neural stem cells (NSCs), possibly including radial glial cells (RGCs), intermediate progenitor cells (IPCs), or other related NSCs. Specifically which endogenous cell types are capable of being transformed into ST-EPN, however, remains uncertain. This project focuses on more clearly identifying the endogenous neural cell populations vulnerable to transformation into ependymoma malignancies by the C11orf95-RELA fusion.

Ericka Randazzo is a member of the Honors Program from Norwalk, CT, pursuing a dual degree in PNB and Pathobiology, with a minor in Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Outside of academics, she is an active member of the UConn Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country teams, the Pre-Medical society, SASP tutoring program, and the Pre-Med newsletter committee. After graduation, Ericka plans to pursue a Research (Plan A) Master’s Degree in PNB before attending medical school, with the ultimate goal of pursuing an MD/Ph.D and specializing in Sports Orthopedic Surgery.


Kelsey Richard

Major: Individualized Major: Global Health
Project Title: The Effect of Load on Cartilage Regeneration in Bovine Knee Articular Cartilage
Committee: Caroline Dealy, Reconstructive Science (chair); David Pierce, Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering; Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary:  Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common cause of disability in the US in older adults; 10-15% of adults over 60 have some degree of OA and the prevalence of this disease is on the rise as the population ages.  The reason OA is such a challenge in the clinic is because damaged articular cartilage does not effectively repair by itself. This project explores ways to stimulate natural regeneration of articular cartilage by progenitor stem cells that are already present in articular cartilage tissue.  More specifically, the focus is on how mechanical load and localized delivery of an EGFR ligand can synergistically stimulate the tissue and lead to a targeted treatment of OA.

Kelsey Richard is pursuing a B.S. in Global Health with a minor in Spanish.  She is passionate about providing healthcare to underserved populations and leads an alternative break entitled UConn Bridge to Guanin.  Kelsey hopes to earn an M.D., serve her country while promoting global health through the military, and continue to do translational research in her field throughout her career.


Meagan Sundstrom

Major: Mathematics-Physics
Project Title: Analyzing the Effectiveness of Studio Physics through the Lens of Intellectual Humility
Committee: Fabiana Cardetti, Mathematics (chair); Manuela Wagner, Literatures, Cultures and Languages; Jason Hancock, Physics

Project Summary: Intellectual Humility (IH), a virtue comprised of intellectual confidence and awareness of fallibility, has been a rising field of research in Philosophy and Psychology. With a growing need to stimulate academic confidence and open-mindedness across many disciplines, research on IH in education is only at its beginning stages and further exploration is in demand.  The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of Studio Physics with regard to the learning experience this teaching style affords in terms of IH, confidence in working in groups on Physics problems, and conceptual knowledge gains.  Through student surveys, conceptual assessments, and laboratory observations, this project aims to compare students in a Studio Physics setting to students in a traditional, lecture-style Physics environment with respect to IH characteristics.

Meagan Sundstrom is an Honors student from Walpole, MA pursuing a B.S. in Mathematics-Physics and a minor in Spanish.  Meagan enjoys playing for the UConn Women’s Club Lacrosse team and traveling to new places like Salamanca, Spain, where she studied abroad in Summer 2016.  She plans to continue research in the field of Physics Education while acquiring a PhD in Physics after graduation.


Krishna Vali

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Investigating the Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment in a Drosophila Model of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Committee: Geoffrey Tanner, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair); Daniel Mulkey, Physiology and Neurobiology; Anastasios Tzingounis, Physiology and Neurobiology

Project Summary: Nationally, the incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) exceeds that of all other health diseases with an annual incidence of 1.7 million new cases. The objective of this project is to investigate the use of the ketogenic diet (high fat, low glucose diet) as a therapy to treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the result of multiple traumatic brain injuries. The purpose of this project is to elucidate the metabolic pathway of the ketogenic diet to identify potential pharmacological targets which would allow for the replacement of complicated dietary regimens with simple administration of drugs.

Krishna Vali is from Seymour, CT, majoring in Physiology and Neurobiology. In his free time he enjoys tutoring at Mansfield Middle School and volunteering with Collegiate Health Service Corps to deliver health education to underserved populations. He likes to relax by playing tennis, ping pong and badminton. After graduation he plans to attend medical school and continue conducting research.