More than 350 undergraduates presented their research at the recent Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference, sharing the culmination of a year’s work in campus labs and independent inquiry with faculty. 

“For these students, this conference offers an important piece of their education by providing an opportunity to present their work to an audience and interact with students on different career paths,” said Keri Swaby, director of undergraduate research. “Which is why we’re really excited to see the increased interest in participation for this year’s event.” 

Students from six of the university’s colleges presented 210 posters at the April 28 event, an increase in participation of almost 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The event is named for Dennis Dean, former director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, University Distinguished Professor, and a long-time supporter of undergraduate research whose endowment funds several conference awards and scholarships. 

“Undergraduate research was one of the most valuable experiences I had as a student at Virginia Tech,” said Sophie DeSimone, who graduated in 2022 and now serves as the project manager at the Office of Undergraduate Research. 

Last year, DeSimone received the Undergraduate Research Excellence award for her work at the Brown Lab, in the Department of Biochemistry, where she was part of the Ribosomal Drug Discovery team. 

“I was fascinated by the complexities of antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics. The research used new technology that had never been done before on a very important, and underfunded, issue,” said DeSimone. “My time working in the lab convinced me that everyone should be involved in research while they’re at Virginia Tech.”

For many current students, the conference allowed them to share work that aligned with their personal and career goals.

Maddie Moore’s poster presentation, which looked at using film to teach group values, came from her work in Leadership and Social Change, a transdisciplinary minor in the Pathways General Education program hosted by the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education. Moore is a rising senior majoring in agricultural sciences and plans to work in agriculture education. 

“There’s a concept in this research called ‘congruency’ which is when people act in accordance with their values,” said Moore. “That’s what this research has meant to me; the opportunity to pursue a topic that’s very important to me, both personally and professionally.”

For others, participating in research opened up experiences previously unavailable to them in their coursework.

Peter Schiff, who graduated this spring with a degree in microbiology, presented a poster titled “Dynamics of Tick-Borne Co-Infections.” The research was done at the Eastwood Lab in the Department of Entomology and supported by the Global Change Center.

“This research involved live pathogens, so it was conducted in a Biosafety Level 3 lab,” said Schiff.  “How many students get the opportunity to work in that setting? Or participate in research funded by the Global Change Center?” 

The event was hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research which engages with more than 3,000 students each year on the Blacksburg campus to help them find research opportunities. 

The symposium recognizes Virginia Tech and local high school students with awards and monetary prizes totaling more than $2,500 from eight university colleges, units, and research initiatives. This year’s recipients are as follows:

Undergraduate Research Excellence Award

  • Morgan Atkinson, biological sciences, “Tensile Evaluation of the Vaginal Canal in Swine for Vaginoplasty”
  • Jennie Lee, chemistry, “Detection of Atmospheric Microplastic Fallout in the Southwestern Appalachian Mountain Region”
  • Victor Mukora, computational modeling and data analytics, “Application of Real-Time MLR to Predicting Solar Energy” 

Undergraduate Research Excellence Award (runners-up)

  • Gabriel Mendelson, biochemistry, “Characterization of Mutations in AHASS2 in Arabidopsis”
  • Elyse Shoppell, biological sciences, “Small Protein, Big TARGET: Transient assay reporting genome-wide effects of transcription factors”
  • Shreya Yedla, biomedical engineering, “Gas-Chromatography Mass-Spectrometry-Based Plasma Metabolomic Analysis of Type 2 Diabetes in Mice”

Karen Roberto Award for Research in the Social Sciences

  • Trisha Ravigopal, psychology, “Maternal and Developmental Factors in Predicting Anxiety Problems”

Stefan Duma Award for Research in Biomedical Engineering

  • Morgan Atkinson, biological sciences, “Tensile Evaluation of the Vaginal Canal in Swine for Vaginoplasty”

Ben Knapp Award for Research in the Creative Arts

  • Allison Deaton, computer science, “Minecraft as a tool for exploring and learning ecology in the built environment”

Policy Undergraduate Research Award

  • First place: Satya Fisher, real estate, “Housing Instability as a Risk Factor for Increased Adverse Childhood Experiences”
  • Second place: Jack Carroll, environmental policy and planning, “Rural-Urban Bias in Large Language Models Using Spatial Analysis”

ICTAS Award for Excellence in Adaptive Brain and Behavior Research

  • First place:  Lauren Meier, clinical neuroscience, “Daily Alcohol Use and Jealousy as Proximal Correlates of College Students’ Intimate Partner Violence”
  • Second place: Pooja Kalathur, clinical neuroscience, “Exploring the Roles of Maternal and Parental Characteristics in the Development of Child Behavior Problems”
  • Third place: Tanisha Khopey, clinical neuroscience, “Investigating the Correlation between Peripherally Derived Monocytes and Neuroprotection Following Traumatic Brain Injuries”

ICTAS Award for Excellence in Critical Technologies:

  • First place:  Lauren Meier, clinical neuroscience, “Daily Alcohol Use and Jealousy as Proximal Correlates of College Students’ Intimate Partner Violence”
  • Second place: Evelyn Washburn, mechanical engineering, “Modeling the Influence of Turgor Pressure on Cellular Adhesion”
  • Third place: Nikki Keith, biological sciences, “Characterizing a 6.3 MHz High Frequency Endoscopic Histotripsy Device for Noninvasive Tumor Ablation”

ICTAS Award for Excellence for Research in High School

  • First place: Sriya Sridhar, “Utilizing Flow Cytometry to Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Sterilization of a 96 - Well Plate by the Opentrons Liquid Handling Robot”
  • Second place:  Mercy Akanmu, “Differences in the Physical and Structural Changes During Microglial Activation in Pediatric and Adult Glioma Models”
  • Third place: Caoiloinn Christensen, “Comparative Content and Engagement Analysis of Credentialed and Non-Credentialed Nutrition Professionals on Instagram”

Natural Resources and Environmental Research Award

  • First place: Morgan Karns, wildlife conservation, “Identifying and Facilitating Positive Experiences for Birders with Disabilities”

Second Place (three-way tie)

  • Nathan Ferguson, wildlife conservation, “Assessment of Microplastic Contaminants Between Native and Invasive Crayfish Across Various Levels of Habitat Degradation”
  • Rachel Morse and Madeline Alt, wildlife conservation, “Escaping a Glass Trap: Treated glass surface can provide a solution for shrew mortality”
  • Rachel Morse, Madeline Alt, and R.J. Foster, wildlife conservation, “Documenting Bird Mortality from Window Collisions on the Virginia Tech Campus”

Third Place (three-way tie)

  • Alonda Johnson, packaging systems and design, “Exploration of Sustainable Insulation Material and Package Design”
  • Seferina Olivo, environmental resource management, “Case Study of Urban Reforestation Efforts a Decade After Tornado Destruction of a Southwest Virginia Community”
  • Kiya Rahn, wildlife conservation, “Domestic Animal Plant Poisoning Reports: An analysis of trends in Virginia from 2001 to 2021”

Service Learning and Research Award:

Angel Appiadu-Manu, biochemistry, Sebastian Ballesteros, psychology, Yullie Kwak, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, Lauren Meier, clinical neuroscience, and Jordan Teel, clinical neuroscience, “Young Children’s Interest, Self-Efficacy, and Curiosity in Robots throughout a Child-Robot Musical Theater Program” 

More information about research opportunities at Virginia Tech or upcoming events is available online at

Written by Will Rizzo