Story by Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Design by Sam Askew, Campus Carrier managing editor
Nearly 70 students presented research projects on Tuesday at Berry’s annual Symposium on Student Scholarship. Students representing a wide range of disciplines presented their research in oral sessions and a poster session held throughout the day. According to Miguel Ampuero, assistant professor of psychology and chair of the council on student research, this year’s event was larger and more interdisciplinary than past symposiums.
“I think that this year we have probably a slightly higher number of presenters than last year. I think last year we were somewhere at 50, and this year we’re probably at the 70s,” Ampuero said. “Certainly, we have made an effort to increase diversity in not only in the disciplines that often are represented at symposium.”
Student submissions of research to present at the symposium undergo a rigorous review process, with most projects originating in grant-funded research, honors theses or exemplary class projects. While all student researchers have faculty mentors, every research project at the symposium is student-led, according to Ampuero.
“These are all student-led projects,” Ampuero said. “All of them are under some kind of mentorship of a faculty member, but these are creative projects from the students, run by the students, conceptualized by the students.”
Senior chemistry major Sarah Quigley presented research she conducted with Associate Professor of Chemistry Mark Turlington on small molecules that could be used to develop better cancer treatments. Her research focuses on using the molecules, known as PROTACs, to target a protein associated with cancer progression.
“This new class [of drugs] is really potent against diseases like cancer, so we’re making a cancer-targeting PROTAC,” Quigley said. “This class of drugs can target any kind of disease that you want, but our target is aurora A, which is a kinase implicated in several types of cancers, so we’re looking to degrade aurora A and prevent cancer progression.”
Quigley received funding for her research through the Richards Grant, a program run by the Office of Undergraduate Research that provides money for student research proposals. She was able to use this funding to present her work at a conference in Puerto Rico. Quigley said that this experience along with previous research she’s done has put her in an excellent position to pursue graduate studies.
“If I did not do research, I would not have gotten into any of the grad schools that I did,” said Quigley, who has committed to a graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Quigley added that the opportunity to present research with the potential to greatly benefit a number of people has been gratifying for her.
“It definitely feels like I’m doing something productive and important, which is definitely what I’ve always wanted,” Quigley said. “I didn’t want my work to feel meaningless, so having those broader applications has really been fulfilling to me.”
Although research is often associated with disciplines in the sciences, many students presented research in the humanities at the symposium as well. According to Ampuero, the Council on Student Research is composed of faculty from all four of Berry’s schools and fosters scholarship in all disciplines.
“That allows us to instill, foster and promote research across all the different schools on campus, and welcome the very diverse and different ways that each discipline conceptualizes or does research,” Ampuero said.
Freshman communication studies major Malena Le presented her research on the construction of whiteness in two Supreme Court cases of the 1920s to marginalize Asian-Americans. She said that the impetus for her research was the recent spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, a trend she links to the legacy of these court decisions.
“It was based off the whole events of 2022, where there was a huge rise in AAPI hate crimes,” Le said. “It stems also on the idea of how at first Asians were considered a model minority, and then once COVID hit, we were immediately disregarded and treated horribly.”
Le’s presentation is based on an informative speech she delivered for a forensics competition last semester, which her mentor suggested could be developed into a symposium presentation. She said that she is looking forward to shining a light on a troublesome aspect of history many don’t know about.
“If it can leave people just being like, ‘wow, what happened here was wrong’ and help them have a better understanding of how especially systematically racism is working, then I think it’d be a win for me,” Le said.
Le added that she appreciates Berry’s support of research in the humanities.
“It was also really helpful to see that there was a bunch of other humanities focused topics,” Le said. “It was nice to see how even though research is normally seen as a more STEM approach, the humanities get some more light shined on them.”
For students interested in pursuing undergraduate research, Ampuero said that the faculty in charge of the research program are always available to assist.
“Find a mentor. Come see us — Ms. Laura Taylor, who is the director of research and sponsored programs, myself, the chair of the council of student research,” Ampuero said. “Just inquire about ways to find a mentor within your discipline.”
Quigley said that interested students should talk with their professors about getting involved in research.
“Don’t be afraid to go up to professors and be like, ‘I really liked your class; can I talk about your research?’ because all of them will,” Quigley said. “No one will say no to that question.”