12 undergraduate students earn College of Arts and Sciences research grants

UMSL students (from left) Michael Austin, Sara Ricardez, Jacob Smreker, Meghan Littles, Kristin Bales, Rachel Schafer, Nick Terzich and Amanda Loelke are among the 12 undergraduates who received a 2017 College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award this spring. Not pictured are Fatima Amtashar, Miranda Jany, Danielle Oyler and Laura Smith. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When people think of collegiate research, often professors and their graduate researchers first come to mind.

But at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, you’ll also find undergraduate students stepping into lab coats and helping advance projects at the university. That’s because the UMSL undergraduate experience extends beyond the classroom and campus life.

“One of the important aspects of education at UMSL is the opportunity students have to participate in independent research, scholarship and creative endeavors,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ron Yasbin. “The college prides itself on encouraging our students to take advantage of this component of our research and land-grant mission.”

It does so specifically by awarding the College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award annually to students who apply for funding for their research projects at the university. This spring, CAS Undergraduate Research Awards went to 12 students, who received up to $1,000 in funding for their individual research.

“Beyond promoting independent research, scholarship and creative endeavors,” said Yasbin, “this experience exposes students to the real-life requirement of writing grants in order to pursue these endeavors.”

For many of these undergraduates, this is the first time they apply for a grant and receive research funding. That was the case for senior psychology major Meghan Littles.

“I was really excited about it because I’m going on to grad school, and with applications, it was really important to get a lot of research experience to make myself a better candidate,” Littles said. “So it was really nice having this opportunity here at UMSL.”

Alongside Assistant Professor of Psychology Emily Gerstein, Littles researches parent-child interactions, specifically cases where children are born prematurely. She studies developmental risks’ effects on family relationships and emotional well-being of the parents and child. The research award allowed her to attend and present at a major conference in the field, the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development Bienniel Meeting in Austin, Texas.

It wasn’t the first time senior biology major Michael Austin applied for funding, but it was his first time securing money. Austin, who studies fly behavior and decision-making in Assistant Professor of Biology Aimee Dunlap’s lab, used his funding to purchase raw materials for his research.

He bought vials in which to house flies, substrates used to test the flies and materials to prototype a wind tunnel that tests exactly how much effort flies will exert to fly against wind and get what they want.

“I really like the idea that my lab does experimental evolution,” Austin said. “There’s so many different types of stories you could make up about why something evolved, but we’re actually doing the experiments and manipulating the variables to find out what makes certain things evolve. In this case we’re looking at the evolution of preferences and learning.”

While this year’s award recipients are all researching in the biology, chemistry and psychology fields, the CAS Undergraduate Research Awards are also open to the humanities and arts fields within the college.

See below for a full list of 2017 award recipients.

Fatima Amtashar
Major:
Biochemistry and biotechnology
Research adviser: Michael Nichols
Project title: “Modulation of Alzheimer’s disease amyloid-beta protein aggregation by cell-derived microvesicles and a novel antibody”

Michael Austin
Major:
Biology
Research adviser: Aimee Dunlap
Project title: “Pay to lay: Testing the strength of experimentally evolved oviposition preferences in Drosophila melanogaster”

Kristin Bales
Major:
Chemistry
Research adviser: Cynthia Dupureur
Project title: “Investigation of multiple-polyamide binding to DNA using circular dichroism spectroscopy”

Sara Ricardez
Major:
Biochemistry and biotechnology
Research adviser: Teresa Thiel
Project title: “Investigation of the novel cyanobacterium 2RC”

Miranda Jany
Major:
Psychology
Research adviser: Carissa Philippi
Project title: “Stress, movement, and control”

Meghan Littles
Major:
Psychology
Research adviser: Emily Gerstein
Project title: “Parent-child interactions in the context of prematurity”

Amanda Loelke
Major:
Criminology and criminal justice
Research adviser: Carissa Philippi
Project title: “Psychopathy personality traits associated with greater self-focused thought in college sample”

Danielle Oyler
Major:
Pyschology
Research adviser: Bettina Casad
Project title: “Empathy and the perception of counter-stereotypic gender roles”

Rachel Schafer
Major:
Biochemistry and biotechnology
Research adviser: James Bashkin
Project title: “Time-dependent effects of polyamides decreasing human papillomavirus DNA in cells”

Laura Smith
Major:
Biology
Research adviser: Nathan Muchhala
Project title: “How calyx lobe variations within the B. glabrata flowers affects pollinator fidelity within the nectar bat species, Anoura geoggroyi”

Jacob Smreker
Major:
Chemistry
Research adviser: Nigam Rath
Project title: “Solid-state single crystal structure determination of novel organometallic compounds”

Nicholas Terzich
Major:
Psychology
Research adviser: George Taylor
Project title: “Asymmetrical brain function: how hemisphere-specific stroke modifies behavior”

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