2022 University Scholars

Congratulations to the 2022 University Scholars!


Jannatul Anika

Major: Biology Education
Project Title: Expanding Teacher Diversity and Learning Achievements: Understanding and Supporting the Teaching Career Decision Making of Minoritized Students
Committee: Catherine Little, Educational Psychology; David Campbell, Curriculum and Instruction; and Jason Irizarry, Curriculum and Instruction

Project Summary: Teacher diversity continues to be a long-established issue within the US public education system as the student of color population increases while the number of teachers of color remains significantly low. Previous research has explored different reasons for this disparity. However, there is limited research that students of color are simply becoming less likely to pick teaching as a career. This project examines racial and ethnic identities and the implications it has on the perception of the teaching profession. I will be studying how college students of color describe the internal and external factors that are influencing their career decision.

Jannatul Anika is an honors student majoring in Secondary Biology Education within Neag’s IB/M program. She is a member of the 2021 Leadership Legacy Cohort and is an Elks Scholar. Her aspirations include working within the educational policy or administration field. Outside of academics, she enjoys music, hiking, and coffee.


Michelle Antony

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Individualized: Community Health
Project Title: Determining Growth Factor Properties Required to Promote Articular Cartilage Healing
Committee: Caroline Dealy, Craniofacial Sciences, UCHC; Rachel O’Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Debarchana Ghosh, Geography.

Project Summary: Cartilage cells have limited capacity for self-repair and cartilage damage incurred during injury often progresses to post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), a form of cartilage degeneration that causes severe, incurable disability in otherwise young and active individuals. My project will explore molecular signaling mechanisms in cartilage healing and narrow the field of candidate growth factors that can activate self-repair by cartilage cells. By identifying growth factors with therapeutic regenerative potential, treatments for patients who have suffered damage to their joints can be optimized.

Michelle Antony is a Molecular and Cell Biology and Individualized: Community Health major from Monroe, CT. On campus, she is a peer research ambassador at the OUR, a student-athlete tutor, and involved in UConn’s genetic engineering club, iGEM. Outside of school, she enjoys working as a CNA, hiking, and visiting the national parks. Following graduation, she hopes to attend medical school


Kathryn Atkinson

Major: Nutritional Sciences and Individualized: Food Studies
Project Title: Cenabis Bene: A Culinary Odyssey through Apicius
Committee: Alexia Smith, Anthropology; Roger Travis, Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; and Molika Chea, Nutritional Sciences.

Project Summary: Surviving texts from antiquity concerning cookery are rare. Apicius, or De re culinaria, is the sole surviving cookbook from ancient Rome and as such is invaluable in the context of food anthropology. Beyond a mere collection of recipes, Apicius provides valuable insight into how food relates to and influences a multitude of aspects of Roman life. This project involves the authentic recreation of selected recipes from Apicius as well as in-depth critical analysis of the cookbook as a whole, examining each recipe through social, historical, and anthropological contexts in order to develop a deeper understanding of Roman feasting customs.

Kathryn Atkinson is an honors student double majoring in Nutritional Sciences and Food Studies with a minor in Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies. Outside of academics, she is on the UConn Fencing Team and enjoys reading, cooking, and crosswords. After graduating, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Gastronomy.


Poorna Balakumar

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Individualized: Asian Arts, Culture, and Feminism
Project Title: Gender and Transnationalism in Kuchipudi Dance
Committee: Matthew Cohen, Dramatic Arts; Bandana Purkayastha, Sociology; Elizabeth Kline, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Lindsay Cummings, Dramatic Arts.

Project Summary: Since ancient times, dance and drama have been an important part of Indian society and culture; however, the study of Indian dance has always existed only in the aesthetic realm rather than in the context of historical, economic and political discourse. The ethnography of Indian dance as an embodied, gendered form of performance provides important insight into the politics of racialization, transnationalism and gender. During my final three semesters, I intend to explore different representations of gender in Indian theatre and performance, focusing on the revival of classical Indian dance forms in the 20th century and the transnational experience of first-generation women learning classical Indian dance under the male gaze.

Poorna Balakumar is an Honors student and Presidential Scholar in the Special Program in Medicine majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology, Pathobiology, and IMJR: Asian Arts, Culture and Feminism, with a minor in Healthcare Management and Insurance Studies. She is the captain of UConn Thunderaas, a competitive Indian dance team on campus, and has been learning nearly all styles of dance since she was three. She hopes not only to attend medical school, but also to teach dance to others someday.


Sarah Bradshaw

Major: English
Project Title: Shakespeare in Contexts
Committee: Charles Mahoney, English; Evelyn Tribble, English; and Gregory Semenza, English.

Project Summary: In this project, I will be focusing on the language of Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of adaptation, studying how the contexts of historical time periods and modes of presentation (particularly page, stage, and film) alter our perception and understanding of Shakespeare’s language. Taking inspiration from Charles Lamb’s claim, “I am not arguing that Hamlet should not be acted, but how much Hamlet is made another thing by being acted” (On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, 293), I hope to explore how adaptations make new things of older sources––tracing the role of adaptation from Shakespeare’s retellings through the more modern medium of cinema.

Sarah Bradshaw is an honors English major pursuing minors in Film Studies and Art History. She is fascinated by the intersection between these fields and aspires to continue these studies through a PhD. In addition to her love of books and movies, she is enthusiastic about music, dance, and photography.


Ashlyn Cartier

Major: Anthropology
Project Title: A Zooarchaeological Meta-Data Analysis of Early Animal Domestication in the Neolithic Northern Levant
Committee: Natalie Munro, Anthropology; Sarah Johnson, Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; and Richard Sosis, Anthropology.

Project Summary: The domestication of animals in early human societies fundamentally altered socio-economic and ideological systems, which greatly contributed to the rise of complex societies. This project examines competing theoretical frameworks regarding the processes that led up to this moment through a data-based test of the multiregional and core area models of animal domestication. Using zooarchaeological data, this project will also map local and regional spatiotemporal trends of domestication in the Northern Levant. Analysis of this data will consider the larger impacts that domestication had on human society, as well as the role human behavior and choice played in this phenomenon.

Ashlyn Cartier is an honors student majoring in Anthropology and minoring in History. She is currently a student assistant in the Homer Babbidge Library Conservation Lab. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Archaeology, focusing on the processes that led to the rise of complex societies.


Shane Connolly

Major: Biological Sciences
Project Title: Impact of protist grazing on Medicago truncatula through alteration of bacterial community structure
Committee: Daniel Gage, Molecular and Cell Biology; Jonathan Klassen, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Robert Bagchi, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Project Summary: The role of predatory protists in the rhizosphere and their impact on plant growth have been largely unappreciated until recently. Protists are able to increase plant growth through the release of nitrogenous waste products and shifting soil bacteria communities towards more beneficial groups. The question that still remains is which of those mechanisms is primarily responsible for protist mediated plant growth, especially in legumes. This project aims to answer that question through developmental comparisons of Medicago truncatula in both protist grazed and un-grazed soils. The goal is to highlight the importance that microbivores play in a horticultural setting.

Shane Connolly is a junior from Milford, CT majoring in Biological Sciences. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar, snowboarding, thrifting, and hiking. After graduation, he aspires to obtain a dual title PhD in astrobiology and plant ecophysiology in hopes of pursuing a career at NASA.


Ashiti Damania

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Validation of RGC Subtype Markers Across Development to Understand Axon Regeneration
Committee: Feliks Trakhtenberg, Neuroscience, UCHC; Leighton Core, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Akiko Nishiyama, Physiology and Neurobiology.

Project Summary: The inability for central nervous system (CNS) neurons to regenerate after damage is problematic for patients suffering from CNS injuries. Mouse retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), a type of cell in the eye whose axons form the optic nerve, have been established as a model for studying axon regeneration. Recent research has identified many RGC subtypes based on differences in gene expression profiles. This project aims to investigate the role of RGC subtype gene expression on RGC regenerative capacity after CNS injury. The research can provide insight into creating gene therapies to treat optic neuropathies and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Ashiti Damania is an Honors Student and STEM Scholar from Trumball, CT majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and minoring in Neuroscience and Physiology and Neurobiology. She is involved with the national honor society in neuroscience (Nu Rho Psi) and Community Outreach. She plans to pursue a career in medicine.


Rayna Esch

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Role of Perimuscular Connective Tissue Injury and Repair in FOP
Committee: David Goldhamer, Molecular and Cell Biology; John Redden, Physiology and Neurobiology; and David Knecht, Molecular and Cell Biology.

Project Summary: Fibrodysplaisia Ossificans Progressive (FOP) is a rare congenital disease in humans characterized by a biological phenomenon known as heterotopic ossification in which bone forms within skeletal muscle and associated connective tissue, including muscle fascia, a thin connective tissue layer that surrounds the muscle. A specific cell type, known as Fibrogenic/Adipogenic Progenitors (FAPs), is the primary contributor to heterotopic bone formation in FOP. The ossified lesions are often the result of mutant FAP signaling and differentiation following injury to muscle or connective tissue. Rayna will be studying the distinct role that fascial injury plays in the process of heterotopic ossification.

Rayna Esch is a Molecular and Cell Biology major and Human Development and Family Sciences minor from Wallingford, CT. She is a presidential scholar, vice president of Knit for NICU, and involved in the UConn Alzheimer’s Association. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend medical school.


Alexandra Goldhamer

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Human Rights
Project Title: Exploring the Neural Circuits of Diet-Induced Obesity
Committee: Natalie Sciolino, Physiology and Neurobiology; Amy Howell, Chemistry; Kathryn Libal, Human Rights; and David Daggett, Molecular and Cell Biology.

Project Description: Dysregulation of norepinephrine (NE) signaling has been implicated in obesity’s pathogenesis. Drug therapies that currently exist have a broad range of negative side-effects, which underscores the importance of identifying specific NE neural circuits that can be targeted to inhibit hunger signals. My project focuses on the inhibitory projections from the locus coeruleus to the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) that are underactive in the pathogenesis of diet-induced obesity (DIO). The goal of my project is to stimulate this circuit with the purpose of elucidating the specific hunger-promoting cell type(s) in the LHA that, when inhibited, attenuate DIO’s progression.

Alex Goldhamer is an Honors student studying Molecular & Cell Biology and Human Rights, with a minor in Mathematics. She is a mentor for BIOL 1107 and a Teaching Assistant for Cell Biology. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue graduate school and continue research in the field of neurobiology.


Leah Graf

Major: Nursing
Project Title: Finding Hope in Hospice Care:  A Structured Life Review Intervention to Improve Life Satisfaction in Hospice Patients
Committee: Juliette Shellman, Nursing; Millicent Malcolm, Nursing; and Amisha Parekh de Campos, Nursing

Project Summary: Life review is a systematic recollection of past events. Dr. Robert Butler postulated that, as the elderly and those with terminal illness approach the ending of their lives, there is a resurgence of life experiences to the conscience. These memories include unresolved conflicts and negative events. A successful life review conducted by an active listener assists the individual to process unresolved conflicts and attain ego-integrity in the final stage of life. Hospice care has become an increasingly accepted option for chronic and terminal illnesses because it focuses on the maintenance of quality of life for end-of-life patients. In employing the use of a Structured Life Review intervention, I aim to explore how life review can be used to increase quality of life and ego integrity, as well as decrease symptoms of depression in hospice patients.

Leah Graf is a junior student pursuing a B.S. in Nursing. She is a member of Students Advancing Reminiscence Research (STARR) and the International Center for Life Story Interventions and Practice (ICLIP), and is a trained reminiscence facilitator. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. and conduct research investigating the effects of reminiscence, life review, and life story practices on health outcomes in various populations.


Paul Isaac

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology and Diagnostic Genetic Sciences
Project Title: To “B” or not to “B”: An Investigation of B and Sex Chromosomes in L. polyphemus and Their Role in the Immune Response
Committee: Rachel O’Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology; Denise Anamani, Allied Health Sciences; Jonathan Klassen, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Stacey Hanlon, Molecular and Cell Biology.

Project Summary: The pharmaceutical industry bleeds the North Atlantic horseshoe crab (L. polyphemus) to derive LAL, an important sterility test, from their blood. Unfortunately, these bleeding practices have led to a slow population decline. My research aims to characterize and establish foundational data about the L. polyphemus genome, specifically focusing on identifying the presence of B and sex chromosomes in L. polyphemus and observing changes in gene expression upon exposure to pathogens. The ultimate goal of this work is to end horseshoe crab bleeding practices by establishing robust information about the L. polyphemus genome that can be used to synthesize potent synthetic alternatives to LAL.

Paul Isaac is an Honors STEM scholar majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and Diagnostic Genetic Sciences with a Bioinformatics minor. Outside of lab, he is part of the STEM Scholar Executive Board, the Middle School Science Bowl Board, and Husky Hungama, UConn’s South Asian a capella group. After graduation, Paul hopes to attend medical school.


Abigail Moran

Major: Physics and Applied Mathematics
Project Title: Measuring the Acceleration of the Milky Way with Pulsar Timing
Committee: Chiara Mingarelli, Physics; Jonathan Trump, Physics; and Maria Gordina, Mathematics

Project Summary: Accurate measurements of the acceleration of our galaxy make it possible to conduct tests of general relativity and study dark matter. Because millisecond pulsars have incredibly stable rotation periods, the effect of galactic motion on the object’s spin is measurable. If the distance and proper motion of the pulsar are also measured, the galactic effects can then be isolated from all other factors which affect the pulsar’s spin. My project thus aims to measure the acceleration of the Milky Way using this property. This work will use more data points (i.e. more pulsars) than any previous study and will thus hopefully produce the most precise value to date.

Abigail Moran is a junior Honors student from Trumbull, CT pursuing a double major in Physics and Applied Mathematics with a minor in Astrophysics. Outside of academics, she is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi and plays the trumpet. She plans to attend a PhD program in astrophysics after graduation.


Soohyun Oh

Major: Exercise Science
Project Title: Effects of exercise timing around vaccination on immune response to influenza vaccination
Committee: Elaine Choung-Hee Lee, Kinesiology; Anthony Vella, Immunology, UCHC; and Lawrence Silbart, Allied Health Sciences.

Project Summary: Influenza contributes to the four leading causes of global mortality. The 2017, 2018 flu vaccine against both influenza A and B viruses were only 40% effective. Although there are adjuvanted influenza vaccines that increase effectiveness, its adverse effects point toward other adjuvants such as exercise. Various exercises have shown to be effective by increasing anti-influenza IgG, IgM and Antibody titers. However, other health benefits of exercise, optimal intervention, timing, intensity, type of exercise are not established. This project will test the correlation of exercise and its improvement in vaccine efficacy by investigating the optimal exercise intervention timing following vaccination.

Soohyun Oh is an Exercise Science major from Clifton Park NY. He is a pre- medical student with aspirations in pursuing a career in medicine and bioethics. In his free time, Soohyun enjoys playing basketball and traveling to take pictures.


Sarah San Vicente

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Defining the Role of TIGIT as an Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor in Ovarian Cancer
Committee: Andrew Wiemer, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Patricia Rossi, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Project Summary: While immunotherapy has been a successful breakthrough treatment option for many forms of cancer, ovarian cancer has yet to reach this level of success. Despite prior failures, the complex tumor microenvironment of ovarian cancer provides a multitude of targets for immunotherapeutic drug targeting. My project aims to determine the relationship between γδ T cells and the novel protein TIGIT in the context of ovarian cancer. I plan to define TIGIT as a potential immune checkpoint inhibitor through the use of anti-TIGIT blockades in cytokine recovery, cancer cell viability, and γδ T cell proliferation assays. If proven successful, this project could facilitate development of an anti-TIGIT immune checkpoint inhibitor drug for use in ovarian cancer.

Sarah San Vicente is an honors student pursuing a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Psychology. She is a member of the Kidney Disease Screening & Awareness Program, as well as the Collegiate Health Service Corps. After graduation, Sarah plans to attend medical school, while later working as a physician-scientist.


Elisa Shaholli

Major: Economics
Project Title: Religious Identity and Diabetes: A Muslim American Perspective
Committee: Brenda Brueggemann, English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Metin Cosgel, Economics; and Kelly Newlin Lew, Nursing.

Project Summary: The CDC estimates that in the United States alone, around 10% of the population has diabetes. My project specifically looks at the experience of Muslim diabetics, and how religious identity could impact diabetes care, perspective, and treatment. For example, Muslim religious identity may impact dietary choices or behaviors or religious institutions like mosques may provide resources for food insecurity, all of which impact one’s experience with diabetes. Through a qualitative interview-based research format, my project aims to better understand how religious identity could intersect with health experiences, and get a better idea surrounding the Muslim diabetic identity.

Elisa Shaholli is a Stamps Scholar double majoring in English and Economics. She is passionate about accessibility and inclusion, and hopes to pursue a career integrating both for individuals with disabilities.


Joshua Yu

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Nanoparticle-Mediated Inhibition of Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Committee: Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences; David Knecht, Molecular and Cell Biology; and Theodore Rasmussen, Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Project Summary: Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a devastating form of cancer that affects everyone from the young to the elderly. The goal of this research project is to further understand the mechanism leading to superior efficacy of doxorubicin nanoparticle formulations in mice when compared to established chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin and the commercial liposomal doxorubicin product, Doxil® for treatment of AML. By understanding the accumulation of nanoparticles in vivo, nanocarrier formulations can be further optimized for in vivo effectiveness. In the future, my hope is that these treatments will prevent relapse of AML by addressing the foundational cause of cancer resistance and recurrence.

Joshua Yu is an honors student studying Molecular and Cellular Biology from Frederick, MD. At UConn, he is involved in the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, the Symphonic Band, and the Peer Allies through Honors program. Following graduation, he plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree in pharmaceutical sciences.