That’s a wrap: Second virtual Undergraduate Symposium sees another year of student success despite pandemic

Madison McNeal presentation over Zoom

From rabies research to interior design, Northern Arizona University held its annual Undergraduate Symposium from April 12-16, a weeklong virtual event to showcase undergraduate students’ research. This is the second year it was held online and students uploaded their presentations to the 2021 NAU Virtual Symposium Gallery for review.

The symposium has been a tradition at NAU for 13 years. It is a campus-wide celebration of student achievement and ongoing research, including projects from the sciences, humanities, engineering, business, education and the arts. More than 700 students came together to share their creative discoveries and present in-depth research to their peers, professors and the campus and Flagstaff communities.

Presentation submissions were divided into categories by colleges and showcased the variety of student talent across campus. Additionally, research projects funded by certain grants or awards, such as the Hooper Undergraduate Research Award (HURA) and Jean Shuler Research Mini-Grants, had their own categories.

Projects included anything one could imagine: asparagus, robots, bacterial contamination in cosmetic products and complexities with eyewitness identification to name a few.

In the HURA category, Breezy Brock presented, “Rabies Prevention with Early Intervention: A One Health Collaboration for Detecting Rabies Hotspots in Arizona.” Brock is majoring in microbiology and minoring in chemistry. She works for the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI) studying the prevalence, movement and evolution of pathogens such as West Nile virus, COVID-19 and rabies virus. Her current work on rabies, one of the most lethal zoonotic diseases, aims to optimize amplification sequencing to understand how rabies is moving across wildlife reservoirs and geological spaces, and to identify rabies hotspots in Arizona.

HURA is awarded to full-time undergraduate students to encourage greater participation of undergraduates from all disciplines in research, scholarly and creative activities while supervised by a faculty mentor. Students may receive up to $3,500 to fund a project.

George Testo, also with PMI, is majoring in microbiology and shared his work funded by a Jean Shuler Research Mini-Grant. His project stems from emerging evidence that suggests alterations in gut microbiota composition can impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology. His presentation looked at immune gene expression in triple transgenic mice modeling Alzheimer’s and six proinflammatory cytokines were studied to understand the effects of gut microbiota on the gut microbiome axis and pathology of the disease.

The Jean Shuler Research Mini-Grants are similar to HURA and promote scholarly research under the direction of a faculty member. They provide financial support to undergraduate students of up to $500.

From the College of Arts and Letters, senior interior design major Madison McNeal presented research enhancing social interactions by looking at human perceptions to interiors of coffee shops. Her work explored three physical factors: lighting (nature vs. artificial), views (nature vs. artifacts) and furniture (sizes of chairs). The information found from this study can be used by places where people gather, particularly coffee shops, to design a place that will encourage causal social interactions between people.

These were just a few of the students who persevered with their work through the pandemic. All projects were assessed by a panel of professional and novice judges, and students met with their reviewers during the week to receive feedback and discuss their projects further.

Departmental recognitions and People’s Choice Awards are forthcoming.