Students Honored with Awards for Research at Annual Showcase

News Story:

On Friday, April 25, over 150 Sacred Heart University students and faculty gathered for the ninth annual College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Poster and Showcase Session.

The event featured 28 posters detailing the extracurricular research of more than 70 SHU students from a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, English, computer science and information technology, media studies and digital culture, exercise science, and athletic training.

“Undergraduate research provides the students of the College of Arts and Science with a capstone educational experience,” said Keri Matthews, professor of computer science and information technology and co-chair of the Poster Session. “In its best sense, it fosters critical thinking skills in devising a research plan, discipline in executing the plan, and care in analyzing the results of that inquiry.”

Participating students were required to verbally present their research and answer questions for judges and attendees of the session.

At the conclusion of the event, six of the presentations were awarded top honors:

  • Outstanding Achievement: “Minimal k-Rankings and the Rank Number of Pn2,” a mathematics project by senior Sarah Novotny.
  • Outstanding Achievement: “The Role of Bacterial Endonuclease V in Nitrous Acid Mutagenesis Under Aerobic Growth Conditions,” a biology project by junior Jillian Koster.
  • Outstanding Achievement: “Phenotype Confirmation of Endonuclease V-Deficient E. coli Strains to be Used in Future Nitrate Mutagenesis Studies,” a biology project by Samantha Cote, Sheena Mendez and Milly Panicker.
  • Excellence: “Does an Urban Forest Fragment Provide Quality Foods for Migrating Songbirds,” a biology project by Kristen McIntire and Michelle Mortali.
  • Excellence: “The Effect of Interruptions on Task Performance and Flow,” a psychology project by students Lauren Constantino, Nicole Fiorentino, William Gentzsch, Jennifer Howley, Michael Jotso, Melissa Kostan and Adriana Morgan.
  • Excellence: “The Mathematics of Soduku Puzzles,” a mathematics project by students David Kipperman, Sarah Novotny and Stephen Zito.

“The awards are to acknowledge and recognize students who have done exceptionally well in their research,” said Dr. Nina Tarner, assistant professor of psychology and co-chair of the Poster Session. “All of the contestants did well, but these particular students were especially excellent as far as their scientific reasoning and how well they could speak verbally about what they did.”

Koster, a biology pre-med major from Hackensack, N.J., celebrated her second award in a week. On April 19, the same project she presented at SHU received the only undergraduate award at the Sigma Xi conference at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Sigma Xi is an annual regional conference featuring poster presentations of undergraduate and graduate research in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics and psychology from some of America’s most competitive educational institutions, including Harvard and the University of Massachusetts.

“Both awards are definitely extremely exciting,” Koster said. “I did a lot of work all year with it. Since September I’ve been working with E. coli and bacterial mutagenesis and seeing how they affect mutations in our DNA. Hopefully this can really contribute down the line with some cancer research for people who are deficient in some of the repair mechanisms to fix their DNA when it’s mutated.”

Koster said she appreciates the formal recognition because it shows that her efforts paid off. “You put all the work in and sometimes things go wrong — there are a lot of trials and tribulations with any research, it doesn’t always go perfectly,” she said. “So the experiment works, you get the data, you present the poster for it, and the next thing you know you’re winning an award. It’s great, a great experience.”

Novotny, a graduating senior mathematics major from Ridge, N.Y., was the only SHU student to win both an independent and a group award, the former of which is due to be published later this year.

“It’s nice to get recognized for research that you worked so hard on,” Novotny said. “But it’s not about winning the award; I like talking to people during the presentation. There were a lot of people walking around asking questions — just the fact that people are interested in my posters is a big deal for me. I love my work and I like sharing it with other people.”

Novotny noted that her group project revolving around algorithms for Soduku puzzles generated particular interest at the session. “It is really cool, because everybody gets Soduku puzzles,” she said. “Most people think it’s just a puzzle, but there’s actual math behind it.”

“I am very proud of the students’ work and how the session went,” Tarner said. “It was very well attended by faculty and staff, and even by students who weren’t presenting. Some students even asked about how to be involved next year because they were so impressed and excited about seeing the presentations.”