2023 University Scholars

Ananya Aggarwal

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Cisplatin Loaded Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles for the Treatment of Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Committee: Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Christina Ross, Nursing; James Cole, Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Summary: Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC) represents over 90% of oral cancer cases, and often results in lymph node metastasis and relapse. Cisplatin, a chemotherapeutic drug, is used to treat OSCC, but repeated systemic administration causes high toxicity and drug resistance. Through this project, I will investigate if using mesoporous silica nanoparticles to control cisplatin delivery and release to OSCC tumor tissues can reduce toxic effects in healthy tissues while promoting sustained drug release at tumor sites. My hope is that this research will improve potential treatments and patient outcomes in the future.

Ananya Aggarwal is a Stem Scholar majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology. On campus, she is a Trip Director for both Honors Across State Borders and Community Outreach. In her free time Ananya enjoys catching up with friends over coffee, and after graduation she plans to attend dental school.

Lauren Baskin

Majors: Political Science and English
Project Title: Literary Invocations in Political Discourse
Committee: Yohei Igarashi, English; Eleni Coundouriotis, English; and Jane Gordon, Political Science

Project Summary: Looking for political themes in literary works is now a very commonplace interpretive technique in literary studies. But how do novels, poems, and plays function in today’s political discourse? This project, “Literary Invocations in Political Discourse,” draws on both Political Science and literary studies with specific aims to understand how, when, and why literary works appear in discussions of politics. Through quantitative and qualitative methods, this project will examine presidential reading lists, newspaper articles, and social media posts to discover what role literature plays in political discourse today.

Lauren Baskin is an honors student majoring in Political Science and English. Her campus involvement includes Alpha Phi Omega, The Undergraduate Political Review, and Empowering Women in Law. After her undergraduate career, she aspires to go to law school, and hopefully pursue law and academia in various capacities.

Aidan Caron

Majors: Geographic Information Science and Political Science
Project Title: Promoting Environmental Justice: A Mixed-Method Approach to Identifying Socioeconomic Disparities in Urban Park Access
Committee: Xiang Chen, Geography; Jeffrey Ladewig, Political Science; Stacy Maddern, Urban and Community Studies

Project Summary: Urban parks are imperative in strengthening the overall quality of life in communities across the United States… but is park access and quality socially equitable? Urban park access has seldom been studied multi-dimensionally, with the majority of current literature overlooking the role of park quality in shaping the likelihood of park utilization. My project will leverage geographic information systems (GIS) and field collection methods to determine whether or not park accessibility and quality are equitable across socioeconomic groups in the study region (Hartford County, CT). I hope to publish the results of my project in a peer-reviewed journal to stimulate political action and further research.

Aidan Caron is a junior from Ellington, CT majoring in Geographic Information Science & Political Science. An aspiring community planner and GIS specialist, he is Co-Vice President of the UConn Geography Club and is currently completing a fellowship with the US Department of Transportation. Aidan loves cool maps, playing saxophone, and competitive disc golf!

Christian Chlebowski

Majors: Accounting and Individualized: Government, Policymaking, and Law
Project Title: One Small Step, One Giant Leap, One Extraordinary Journey: Comparing America’s Trajectories to the Moon in Apollo and Artemis
Committee: Mary Vernon, Accounting; William Simonsen, Public Policy; and Alina Lerman, Accounting

Project Summary: The successful launch of Artemis I in 2022 put America on a trajectory back to the moon–albeit in an incredibly different society from prior lunar explorations. My research aims to contextualize the Apollo and Artemis programs through a fiscal analysis of lunar-centered appropriations and the public support and Congressional attitudes they derive from. The resulting three-part thesis will track these factors in both eras before culminating with a discussion of significant differences and America’s lunar future. By analyzing our “small steps,” we prepare for all the “giant leaps” that are to come as we push the bounds of human exploration.

Christian Chlebowski is a Nutmeg Scholar pursuing a dual degree in Accounting and Individualized: Government, Policymaking, and Law. On campus, he is an Honors Guide for Peer Success and President of the Honors Council. Upon graduation, he hopes to join the accounting profession and utilize his knowledge to serve his communities.

Richard Dube

Majors: Mathematics and Physics
Project Title: An Educational Resource for Particle Identification (PID) in High-Energy Particle Physics
Committee: Richard Jones, Physics; Myron Minn-Thu-Aye, Mathematics; Diego Valente, Physics.

Project Summary: Particle Identification (PID) is the process of determining which particle left a specific signature in the detectors used in Particle Physics experiments. PID only requires high-school-level mathematics and a basic conceptual understanding of Particle Physics. Consequently, PID can provide high school and early undergraduate students the opportunity to explore the field of Experimental Particle Physics, ultimately allowing them to engage with the field far earlier than previous students. This project will create python-based activities that teach high-school and undergraduate students common PID methods, allowing them to perform advanced analysis of real experimental data.

Richard Dube is a STEM Scholar pursuing dual degrees in Mathematics and Physics. He is particularly passionate about High-Energy Physics and Physics Education. After graduation, he plans on pursuing a Ph. D. in Physics with the goal of working in academia.

Sindy Gorka

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Investigation of Post-Mitotic Read-through Transcription Timing and Function
Committee: Leighton Core, Molecular and Cell Biology; Jessica Costa-Guda, Center for Molecular Oncology, UCHC; and Jaci VanHeest, Educational Psychology

Project Summary: The focus of my project is transcriptional regulation. Transcription usually follows specific termination models, but there are cases where this pattern unfolds differently. Read-through transcription is a process where RNA polymerase keeps producing transcripts past the termination site of the gene. My project will determine the time that read-through transcription happens, which I hypothesize occurs around anaphase to telophase. My project will also investigate the function of post-mitotic read-through transcription, which I hypothesize has an effect on activating enhancers and/or readjusting CTCF sequence-specific binding regions, which thus in turn has an effect on regulating cell-specific gene expression and organization.

Sindy is a Presidential Scholar pursuing a BS in Molecular and Cell Biology and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics. Outside of academics, she is a part of the Club Swim Team and is involved in Public Health/Learning Community Council activities.

Deborah Heaslip

Major: Animal Science
Project Title: Investigation of the Induction of Tail Bifurcation in Ambystoma maculatum
Committee: Elizabeth Jockusch, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Mary Amalaradjou, Animal Science, Amy Safran, Animal Science

Project Summary: Regeneration is the rebuilding of damaged or lost tissues after injury. In nature, salamanders drop their tails as a survival method so that the assumed predator or threat takes their tail and not their life. This highly conserved trait among salamanders sometimes goes awry, resulting in bifurcated tails (forked tails). My project will investigate what physical alterations must be done to an Ambystoma maculatum tail to create a tail bifurcation, as tail bifurcations rarely occur in wild populations. By using classical methods and modern ideas regarding regeneration, I will determine the most effective way to induce tail bifurcation.

Deborah Heaslip is an honors STEM scholar majoring in Animal Science with an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology minor on the pre-veterinary track from Patterson, New York. Here at UConn, she is involved in a multitude of science programs supporting minority representation in the sciences, such as the McNair and LSAMP programs. Outside of school, she likes to go on hikes to appreciate local wildlife, ski, and occasionally play tennis when she has the time. After graduation, she hopes to attend veterinary school to become a laboratory animal veterinarian.

Katherine Jimenez

Majors: English and Journalism
Project Title: Where Sunflowers Die: A Novel
Committee: Regina Barreca, English; Sean F. Forbes, English; and Julie A. Serkosky, Journalism

Project Summary: War in Latin America has forced women to seek refuge in the United States in search of better opportunities, which simultaneously strained familial relationships and caused trauma that wove deep threads of fear of abandonment through the lives of their children and families. This goes largely unaddressed in Latino communities, continuing the cycle of generational trauma. My project will investigate the damaged relationship between mother and daughter through a fictional retelling of my mother’s life in Revolutionary Nicaragua after my grandmother abandoned her to seek refuge in the United States.

Katherine Jimenez is an honors English major and journalism major from Derby, CT. She is passionate about creative writing and 20th-century literature that is primarily female-driven. After graduating, she intends to pursue a masters and Ph.D in English Literature with a focus on the “mother-in-war” issue in literature.

Sofya Levitina

Majors: Physics and Mathematics-Statistics
Project Title: Prediction of Black Hole Mass in the Real Universe Using Artificial Intelligence Algorithm Trained on CAMELS Simulations
Committee: Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, Physics; Alexander Teplyaev, Mathematics; and Caiwen Ding, Computer Science and Engineering

Project Summary: Black holes are one of the most mysterious phenomena in our Universe integral to star formation, galaxy evolution, and gravitational forces. With the first image of a supermassive black hole in our galactic center, the relevance of black holes in media and education is at its peak. The CAMELS project built state-of-the art cosmological simulations that allowed for further black hole analysis. Previously, I was able to develop an algorithm trained to predict black hole mass by analyzing correlating galactic and black hole properties in CAMELS simulations. For this project I will improve the algorithm using real galactic data to correctly predict known black hole masses, in hopes to achieve an accurate prediction of an unknown black hole mass in a distant galaxy.

Sofya Levitina is an honors Physics and Mathematics-Statistics major and Astrophysics minor. Outside of academics, she is the president of Society of Physics Students and the co-president of Women in Physics. Sofya is also a UCONN@COP27 fellow and is a part of UCG, a selective consulting group on campus. In her spare time, Sofya enjoys cooking and traveling.

Alexey Pozdnyakov

Majors: Mathematics and Computer Science
Project Title: Machine Learning Mathematics: A Modern Approach to Ancient Problems
Committee: Kyu-Hwan Lee, Mathematics; Jeremy Teitelbaum, Mathematics; Derek Aguiar, Computer Science and Engineering.

Project Summary: Mathematicians have been interested in rational solutions to equations with integer coefficients since ancient times. The Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture is a millennium prize problem which, if proven true, would determine rational solutions to elliptic curves: y2 = x3 + Ax + B. An interesting modern approach to studying elliptic curves is to find patterns in massive datasets of such curves using machine learning. This approach has already allowed us to discover a striking pattern in the number of solutions to such equations modulo primes. In this project, I will search for other mathematical patterns using machine learning, as well as for explanations of the patterns we have already found.

Alexey Pozdnyakov is an Honors student majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science, as well as minoring in Physics. After graduation, he plans to pursue a PhD which allows him to further study mathematics and machine learning. Outside of research, he enjoys spending his free time lifting weights or playing volleyball.

Romir Raj

Major: Biomedical Engineering
Project Title: 3D Genome Architecture and Genomic Implications
Committee: Jelena Erceg, Molecular and Cell Biology; Mayu Inaba, Molecular and Cell Biology; Patrick Kumavor, Biomedical Engineering

Project: Romir first joined Dr. Mayu Inaba’s Lab at UConn Health, Farmington, which studies chromosomal homolog pairing. To expand upon his research, Romir also joined Dr. Jelena Erceg’s Lab at UConn, Storrs, to investigate homolog pairing in developing Drosophila embryos. In the summer of 2022, Romir received the SURF grant and conducted research in both the Inaba and Erceg Labs, where he further studied and built upon his past research on interchromosomal interactions (mainly homolog pairing). This research experience resulted in two journal publications, in Nature Communications and Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. In his final three semesters, Romir plans to study more about genomic architecture and the possible functional implications of this architecture.

Romir Raj, from Glastonbury, is an Honors student majoring in biomedical engineering. He plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in genetics and genomics after completion of his bachelor’s degree to be a practicing physician who performs clinical research. Outside of academics, Romir volunteers at Saint Francis Hospital and is a founder of a non-profit organization chapter on campus. He enjoys listening to music, spending time with friends, and running outside.

Rylee Thomas

Majors: English and Communication
Project Title: “The Ghostly Dynasty”: Victim-Blaming, the Gothic Novel, and the Modern True Crime Drama
Committee: Ellen Litman, English; Sean Forbes, English; Stephen Stifano, Communication; Sara Stifano, Communication.

Project Summary: Throughout history, a disturbing trend in social perceptions of domestic abuse and violence against women is a tendency to blame the victim. While feminist movements have changed this culture for the better, contemporary society continually criticizes women for behaving in ways that bring tragedy upon themselves. To explore this dichotomy, Rylee is writing a contemporary young adult horror novel that plays upon the conventions of both the gothic novel and the modern true-crime drama. Her novel, titled The Ghostly Dynasty, will explore the double standards that society places on women in both literary and criminal justice.

Rylee Thomas is an Honors junior pursuing a dual degree in English and Communication. She is proud to be an undergraduate fellow at the UConn Humanities Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the Long River Review. When not writing, you can find her at the rink with her figure skating team.