Spotlights

2017 Nancy Mergler Undergraduate Research Mentor award given to Dr. Liangzhong (Shawn) Xiang

In addition to the obvious effort that Shawn is extending to developing undergraduate students through individual mentoring in his lab (see quotes below), Shawn is also supportive of the Office of Undergraduate Research efforts to expand course-based research. In his first semester teaching and entirely on his own, he added a small research project to the sophomore Digital Signals and Filtering course, a notoriously difficult and theoretical gateway course for electrical and computer engineering students. To enhance the educational outcomes of the research project, the next semester he applied for and received an inaugural Graduate Research Guide award from the Office of Undergraduate Research (O.U.R.). That award paid a graduate student to help coach the 24 student teams on research skills. Shawn was very eager to work with the O.U.R. to learn more about course-based research and to provide the best learning opportunity he could for Gallogly College of Engineering students. 

Student comments included:

“… He is never negative about our work. He is always positive pushing us forward. In fact, today I am meeting with him to discuss a scholarship he is helping me apply for.”

"Dr. Xiang always has many undergraduate research assistants and he makes sure everyone gets the chance to contribute to a project and that everyone is learning. He also allows undergraduates who have been in the lab for multiple semesters to take on their own projects, which in my experience is very rare.”

"Like most labs we have a large range of research expertise. We have post Doc, Graduate students, and undergrads. I started with Dr. Xiang a year and a half ago. I started slow working under a post Doc and helping Dr. Xiang with manuscript editing. Now with the help of Dr. Xiang I received a great fellowship and now I head my own photoacoustic microscopy system, as an undergrad. I never felt pushed or over extended, Dr. Xiang simply guided me well.”

"Along with the group meetings and his classes he teaches, Dr. Xiang always finds time to come into the lab and help us hands on with the research. He of course offers praise when things go well. During the group meetings, Dr. Xiang always offers constructive criticism on ideas he has for improvement or a problem a group is having. But also he will find time, especially for the undergrads to come in and look at their system or problem and work with them to help.”

"Unlike the majority of the lab members who have engineering backgrounds, I am a biology/pre-med major. It was difficult for me to familiarize with our research project, which is largely engineering based. Dr. Xiang understood the difficulty and provided me with an extensive amount of explanation and helpful resources. He pointed out to me that my background in biology can contribute to the research in a unique, important way. He then suggested me to do experiments with biological objects such as zebra fish and bacteria, where my area of knowledge can be put into use. In addition, he gave me helpful suggestions regarding my preparation for medical school application, and offers to write me letters of recommendation when I apply.”

Undergraduate Research Day 2016

Undergraduate Research Day (URD) is a blue-ribbon event that was held on April 2nd at the OCCE Thurman J. White Forum Building, 1704 Asp, University of Oklahoma. At this annual conference and celebration, the Honors College hosts students who were funded in their research or creative activities from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and students in general who want to show what they have discovered in their fields. This one-day conference hosted by the Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Research showcases outstanding undergraduate research and creative activity for an audience of other students, faculty, and parents.

Click here to see spotlights and poster presentations from the 2016 Undergraduate Research Day.

Michelle Penrod

OU Major: 
Biology
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Cameron Siler
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
Microsatellites are regions of DNA with multiple repeats of base pairs. Because these are noncoding regions of DNA, mutations are common and the number of repeats at a locus is variable within a population. Individuals with similar numbers of repeats are more closely related than individuals with dissimilar numbers of repeats. This quality of microsatellites makes them useful for population genetics studies. Microsatalite data can be used to analyze how geographic barriers and isolation affect genetic diversity. Our goal for this project is to determine how ecological factors are driving divergence in populations from varying ecoregions of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is an extremely diverse state with varying temperature, rainfall, and terrain. Throughout this study, we hope to observe how populations living in different ecoregions differ genetically.
Awards and/or presentations: 
Penrod, M. (2016, April). Microsatellite study of Acris Blanchardi throughout Oklahoma. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Jon Otto

OU Major: 
History/Social Studies Education Certification
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Jennifer Davis
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
For this research project, I invested research into British intellectual history, especially surrounding the period of the American and French Revolutions. The project was focused on the feelings and attitudes of the British public, government, and various intellectuals towards these revolutions that impacted Britain in such intimate ways. I drew upon various contemporary sources from leading figures of British thought, as well as the work of modern-day scholars, to determine the changes and constants of Britain during this period of intense change in the world surrounding it.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
Looking back, I can say that this research project was one of my proudest moments, just because of the sheer volume of work and dedication I put in to learning all I could about Britain during the late eighteenth century. It was such a fun project to undertake, and if I could, I would do it over and over again.If I had to offer a word of advice to fellow researchers, it would be this: Do not be afraid to stray from your initial point of emphasis. Too often, it can be tempting to build a little box for what you think your research should end up looking like, instead of letting the information you learn guide your end result. Also, be proud of each of the papers and projects you complete, because you will not always have these opportunities.
Published Work: 
Otto, Jon. OU Historical Journal 5 (Spring 2016). http://history.ou.edu/journal-2016

Sarah Capps

OU Major: 
History and English
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Warren Metcalf
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
My undergraduate research project was an Honors thesis about the history of mental healthcare in the state of Oklahoma. I felt like many people knew a fair amount about the history of Griffin Memorial Hospital during the early decades of the twentieth century but that awareness stopped somewhere around 1950. There was a whole process of deinstitutionalization which came afterward and I really wanted to explore how Oklahoma moved from a system of overcrowded psychiatric hospitals to an increasing reliance on outpatient care. In my almost 40-page thesis, I focused on understanding the origins and effects of deinstitutionalization and the way the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center fit into this national process.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
I learned so much during the course of my research that it is impossible for me to summarize my discoveries here. Oklahoma's mental healthcare system underwent such extensive change during the years following World War II that the mental healthcare system that emerged during the 1960s is fundamentally different from the one which operated in Oklahoma during World War II. The fact that there was so much change actually posed the greatest struggle to me. I had stacks of sources from which to draw information. There were national and international processes affecting change in Oklahoma and I wanted to discuss as many as I could. However, there is still information that never made it into my paper. For this reason, my advice to my fellow students is to stay organized and start writing early. Also, make sure you have a clear, strong thesis and organize your argument around it. As you finish your paper and begin to edit, check to see if your final conclusions are in line with your original thesis. I had to strengthen and adjust my thesis several times as I sorted through all the information I found during my research.
Published Work: 
Capps, Sarah. OU Historical Journal 5 (Spring 2016). http://history.ou.edu/journal-2016

2016 Nancy Mergler Undergraduate Research Mentor award given to Dr. Misha Klein

Misha Klein, the 2016 Nancy L. Mergler Faculty Mentor Award for Undergraduate Research recipient, is an Associate Professor in Anthropology. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Center for Social Justice. She earned her PhD from UC-Berkeley in 2002. Focused primarily in Brazil, Dr. Klein’s research examines identity, ethnicity, and race; transnationalism; globalization; and the Jewish diaspora. Her 2012 ethnography, Kosher Feijoada and Other Paradoxes of Jewish Life in São Paulo, describes the complexities of identity and ethnicity in Jewish communities in Brazil. Her undergraduate courses include Cultures of Latin America; Anthropological Perspectives on Globalization; Anthropology of Jews and Jewishness; Cross-Cultural Study of Sex, Gender and Sexuality; Global Cultural Diversity; and Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology.

Dr. Klein has mentored undergraduate students in research related to her areas of interest, but also through using those same social constructs in projects of the students’ own interest and design. Since coming to OU in 2005, she has mentored many undergraduate students as they completed honors and other independent research projects. She has taught almost 1000 additional undergraduates, working closely with them on class research papers and other projects.

Dr. Klein was awarded a Graduate Research Guide for a new course, Race and Ethnicity in Brazil for Spring 2016, but was unable to accept the award as the course was cancelled.

In nominating Dr. Klein for this award, her students detailed her commitment to individualized attention, guidance, and mentorship, her focus on nurturing their growth as scholars and students, and her encouragement for their reaching for opportunities, goals, and awards. Although her selection was based on this nomination, it also serves as recognition of her history of undergraduate mentorship.

Student comments included:

“… the process of beginning my research in the field has been riddled with self-doubt. Dr. Klein does not let me dwell on these thoughts, and reaffirms me in my intelligence and capabilities to ask important questions and develop as a researcher and student. … After every meeting that I have had with Dr. Klein, I leave feeling encouraged. The belief that she has in my ability strengthens my resolve to firmly have faith in myself.”

"Dr. Klein takes the time to go through my writing with me, prodding me to support my assertions with more evidence and clarity, and ultimately to grow in depth of understanding. Feedback from Dr. Klein is always constructive and she will take any amount of time to discuss a concept until I comprehend it clearly.”

"Dr. Klein has been the most supportive and encouraging professor I have known throughout my undergraduate degree. She is constantly bringing my attention to opportunities that are available for me to further my development as a budding scholar of anthropology.”

Landon Wright

OU Major: 
Petroleum Engineering
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Cynthia Rogers
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
This project was created to provide a comprehensive assessment of risks and hazards associated with oil and gas activity in the City of Norman, Oklahoma. In accordance with its completion, a comprehensive database of oil and gas activity occurring within Cleveland County - the county in which Norman lies - has been created. The database will include risk factors associated with each drilling well, storage tank, and injection well. After creating the database, we analyzed the most cost-effective ways to mitigate risks to the community. In particular, research over best practices for inspections and oversight drawing from industry standards and practices in other communities provided valuable information for the risk involvements. Finally, a report with a menu of options for mitigating risk factors was created. This report was disseminated to the broader community via publishing online and a public presentation and dialogue. This project would not have been feasible without the cooperation of the City of Norman, the Oklahoma Corporate Commission, the US Geological Survey, the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Corporate Commission, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Norman Planning Department and Legal Staff and countless other municipal governments and businesses.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
During this project, I learned a lot about the importance of communication and the complexity of government-business interactions. The amount of oversight and correspondence between institutions proved to be quite a challenge to navigate over the course of the project. Being able to understand more of the reasoning for the slowness of government interactions within businesses gave me a better understanding of how our government uses its speed as a means to insulate the public from potential business shortfalls. Of course - as discovered through my project- this process can also cause potential harm to the public when business expansion eclipses the protection that the government intends to provide. In this case, that shortfall was the lack of regulation that the government places on oil and gas producers over the past decade.To my fellow students, I would encourage involvement in any opportunity that comes your way. Initially, I was unsure of becoming involved in this project because I worried that it would be too strenuous and impact my academic performance. However, I have found that it is better to have real, impactful experiences instead of focusing on a number that is soon to be insignificant. For those curious about tackling a big project: do it and take the risk. Contributions to the world as a whole are much more valuable to your well-being - as both an undergraduate student, and life-long learner.
Published Work: 
n/a

Elizabeth Marhanka

OU Major: 
Biology
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Cameron Siler and Jessa Watters
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
I am an undergraduate research assistant in the Siler Lab at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. The Siler Lab studies reptiles and amphibians, and makes up the herpetology department at the museum. My project consisted of surveying southeastern Oklahoma amphibians for a highly virulent fungus, commonly known as chytrid. This project is one of several that the lab is currently conducting to research the presence of this deadly emergent disease in regions across Oklahoma. The United States has a high diversity rate of amphibians in the world. Therefore, it's important to survey for the presence of chytrid to start conservation efforts to save Oklahoma's amphibians.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
No matter what you want to do with your degree, I highly recommend research. Even if you aren't sure research is in your future, it's a great stepping stone if you are wanting to further your education beyond a bachelors degree. It's a great learning experience to help narrow down what your passions in life are. Additionally, a mentor can be almost as important as the research you conduct. A great mentor can open the door for your post-graduate career and give you priceless advice.
Published Work: 
n/a

Jordan Larsen

OU Major: 
History of Science
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Piers Hale
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
I have been researching the relationship between evolution and spiritualism in Victorian England, particularly through the example of science popularizer and spiritualist Arabella Buckley, with the guidance of Dr. Hale. I think many people have a false conception of science and religion necessarily at war throughout history, and one of my aims is to explore and challenge that conception. Buckley demonstrates how in the Victorian Period, they way people viewed their world was not so simply divided into these categories we create -- similar to today.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
It was not until I mustered the confidence to ask my professor to mentor me in a research project that I learned just how supportive OU is of student research. My research has allowed me not only to explore my favorite questions, but connect with professional scholars, helpful scholarships, and scholarly opportunities to present my work. The support is there -- please take advantage of it!
Published Work: 
Larsen, Jordan. "Arabella Buckley's Epic." The Honors Undergraduate Research Journal, University of Oklahoma 15 (2016): 53.

Nathan Richbourg

OU Major: 
Chemical Engineering: Biotechnology
Research Mentor: 
Vassilios Sikavitsas
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
We designed a process for modifying the surface of a cell-culture tissue scaffold to promote cell attachment. In my work, I improved the process for 2D discs of scaffolding material and characterized and validated the modification process.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
If you think you'd like to pursue research, take every opportunity you get as an undergraduate to do research in at least a related field. Nobody will begrudge you your mistakes at this point, and you can learn before you're committed whether you enjoy research.
Awards and/or presentations: 
Richbourg, N. (2016, April). RGD Surface Modification of 3D Cell Culture Scaffolds. Oral presentation at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.
Published Work: 
n/a

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