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2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Michelle Violanti

Pictured from left to right is CCI Dean Michael Wirth, Michelle Violanti, and Suzie Allard, CCI Associate Dean for Research.

Congratulations to Michelle Violanti, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! She received this award as the top mentor in the College of Communication and Information. Violanti is an associate professor in the School of Communication Studies, where she researches interpersonal and organizational relationships and the gendered, raced, and classed nature of communication.

While her profile modestly claims that she still hasn’t found an answer to why business majors struggle to communicate, Violanti’s students attest to the tremendous opportunities for growth and professionalization that she has provided through her teaching and mentorship. One of her recommenders, Katie Scott, says:

“As I write this, I am sitting in the conference hotel where I will present my research, which has been nominated for an award, to regional scholars. In addition, I am co-investigator on another project being presented here. I am at this conference because Dr. Violanti encouraged and aided me in the submission of my research. I am here because she kept me informed about funding opportunities. I am here because Dr. Violanti took additional time out of her schedule to help me develop as a scholar and professional.” Her guidance extends to the conference itself, teaching students how to interact and communicate with professional scholars as colleagues.

For Clint Graves, Violanti’s mentorship continued well beyond the classroom as well. In addition to her help with research projects, “Dr. Violanti also guided me through the process of preparing the manuscript for submission as well as gaining IRB approval status to present the work outside of the classroom. . . . I have not only developed compelling, relevant, and publishable research, I have learned disciplinary conventions and gained invaluable skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.”

From her support for students’ original work to her continued influence over their professional development, Violanti has clearly had a profound role as a mentor.

Michelle Violanti received a BA in communication arts and BSBA in finance from Villanova University, an MA in speech communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a PhD in communication studies from the University of Kansas. Her faculty profile can be found here: https://www.cci.utk.edu/users/michelle-violanti.

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Jorge Variego

Congratulations to Jorge Variego, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! He received the top award in the Humanities division in the College of Arts and Sciences. Variego is a lecturer and adjunct assistant professor of music theory and composition.

One of Dr. Variego’s students, Elise Stephens, praises his exemplary personal mentorship. She writes that “during the past year, he has taken me under his wing showing me how to collaborate creatively, achieve dreams, tackle technical problems, and advocate for my education. Always available to talk about my research blending visual art and music, he has helped me overcome performance fears and included me in chamber ensemble comprised of music students. He has served as an unwavering supportive voice during times of doubt.  He has served to give me an extra push when my work wasn’t equal to my potential.”

Another student, Alex Gray, adds that Dr. Variego has worked to provide unique opportunities for his students: “I am a member of Dr. Variego’s ensemble, the UT Electroacoustic Ensemble, and he has opened the doors for us to play at several other universities, a music festival in New York, and Big Ears Festival. He also made it possible for us to produce a CD and market it online, giving most of us our first credits on a published album and helping us learn how to produce and sell an album.”

Besides being recognized for his instructional role, Variego has received several awards for his own compositions and performances, including 1st prizes in the “Carlos Guastavino” and “Jorge Pena Hen” composition contests. He received his bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rosario, Argentina, an MM in composition and clarinet performance from Carnegie Mellon University, and a PhD in composition from University of Florida. His faculty profile can be found here: https://music.utk.edu/faculty/variego.php.

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Kevin Stevens

Congratulations to Kevin Stevens, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! He was the top mentor in the College of Architecture and Design. Stevens is a lecturer and adjunct assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Design.

Students Adam Smith and Rachel Elbon collaborated on a EURēCA project under the tutelage of Professor Stevens. In their words:

“Throughout our research for our EURēCA submission, Professor Stevens inspired us to continue to research, question, and diagram our findings. Because of this,  our learning experience during the entire process exceeded our expectations. Not only were we able to fully develop our ideas conceptually and systematically from start to finish, but we truly enjoyed the process. We believe that our project would not have been executed to its full potential without Professor Stevens, and believe that he is an excellent choice for the Faculty Research Mentor Award.”

In addition to Smith and Elbon’s work, students of Stevens have placed in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s international Annual Steel Design Student Competition for three straight years.

Stevens received a BA in art history and BS in architecture from University of Maryland College Park and a master’s in architecture from Rice University. In addition to teaching, he has worked eleven years in private firms and continues to operate his own practice. His faculty profile can be found here: http://archdesign.utk.edu/faculty-staff/facultystaff/kevin-stevens/.

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Vermont Dia

Congratulations to Vermont Dia, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! He was the top mentor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Dia is an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, specializing in food chemistry and food bioactives.

Dia is known both for the challenge of his courses and the great lengths he goes to in order to help his students with the challenge. As Alexis Hamilton writes,

“Undergraduate research can be daunting and many students, including myself, struggle with feelings of inadequacy toward or insufficient knowledge to complete research projects. Additionally, approaching professors to ask for the opportunity to pursue research under their guidance can be nerve-wracking. Dr. Vermont Dia has made that process easier by proving continuously his appreciation for his students, their education, and their contribution to the scientific community. Dr. Dia not only trained me personally and spent several hours ensuring I knew experiment steps and procedures, but also made himself available to problem solve if and when those experiments did not go as planned.”

Hamilton goes on to say, “His lab was a superior environment to learn, practice, and encourage pursuit of science. It is clear he is a well-trained, intelligent, and professional scientist who is exceedingly enthusiastic about his research and educating students. He has further inspired me to pursue a STEM graduate degree program and remains a mentor to me now.”

Vermont Dia received a BS in food technology and an MS in food science from the University of the Philippines, and a PhD in food science and human nutrition from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His faculty profile can be found here: https://ag.tennessee.edu/foodscience/Pages/Vermont-Dia.aspx.

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Sarah Lebeis

Congratulations to Sarah Lebeis, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! She received the honor as the top mentor in the Natural Sciences division in the College of Arts & Sciences. Lebeis is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology. Her work combines the fields of microbiology, immunology, and metagenomics with the aim of furthering understanding of the relationships between host plants and microbial communities.

David Grant says joining her lab has been the highlight of his time as a UT student. He describes a strong, student-centered emphasis to all of her work as a researcher. He says,

“Dr. Lebeis excels at creating environments that feel more community-oriented than focused solely on individual work. From the time I started working in her lab, she has never wavered in being extremely approachable and confident in her ability to answer any question I’ve had, even if the answer requires that I approach the problem in a different way. Her mentoring consistently fosters critical thinking and never stifles my ideas. . . . What’s most incredible is her willingness to adapt to the needs of the classroom. I believe this distinguishes her above all other professors in that she will reassess her teaching methodology to reach every student in the class.”

Grant also praises her mentorship of the Microbiology Undergraduate Club and its broader appeal to students from all majors and backgrounds.

Andrew Willems shares the appreciation for Lebeis’s dedication to her students. He says, “When I joined Dr. Lebeis’s lab I had no background in microbiology research or many lab techniques. Under her tutelage, I have gained a plethora of new lab skills. These new skills have allowed me to gain a new level of confidence and passion for science. . . . Along the same lines, she has given me plenty of autonomy to develop my skills on my own and has invaluable in providing opportunities to assist me in my future endeavors.”

Sarah Lebeis received a BS from Michigan State University, a PhD from Emory University, and held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of North Carolina. Her faculty profile can be found here: https://micro.utk.edu/faculty/lebeis.php.

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Matthew Cooper

Congratulations to Matthew Cooper, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! He took the top honor in the Social Sciences division within the College of Arts & Sciences. Cooper is an associate professor in the Psychology Department whose lab aims to “improve understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying stress-related psychopathologies.”

Cooper’s students praise all facets of his laboratory and the leadership he provides there. One student, Elena Bagatelas, writes, “Dr. Cooper is very attentive to his undergraduate students in his research lab and is eager to give them responsibilities in the lab, encouraging a great hands-on learning environment. He teaches us how to understand research articles through interactive talks at our lab meetings, and allows us to present them as practice so we can learn how to interpret and explain articles.” Kimberly Bress praises the lab community as the “most important aspect of Dr. Cooper’s mentorship,” including everything from lecture and guidance to the supportive atmosphere he creates through his graduate student assistants.

Bress, who has taken Cooper’s courses for five semesters, goes on to describe how “last year, he made it possible for me and another undergraduate student to attend the Society for Neuroscience Conference in San Diego, California.  This experience is the most academically and professionally significant opportunity which I have had as an undergraduate.  It has defined and inspired my continued interest in pursuing a research career.”

Matthew Cooper received a bachelor’s degree in animal behavior from Bucknell University, and a PhD in psychology from the University of Georgia. He is a past recipient of UTK’s Scholar of the Week award and has been awarded grants from the National Institute of Health and National Science Foundation, among others. For more on his lab, visit http://cooperlab.weebly.com/.

In addition to the events and activities planned by the Office of Undergraduate Research, several centers, departments, committees, and student groups host undergraduate research conferences. These conferences are open to the campus community and, depending on the event, to the public. You can see a full list here:

Departmental Undergraduate Research Events

2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor – Sunha Choi

Congratulations to Sunha Choi, one of seven recipients of the 2017 Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor of the Year Award! She was the top mentor in the College of Social Work. Choi is an assistant professor and Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholar in the College of Social Work.

Both of Choi’s student nominators credit her for far exceeding what might be expected of a typical professor. For Holly Hill, this amounted to years of education in a single semester:

“When I signed up for Honors Social Work Research with Dr. Choi, my knowledge of the entire research process did not go much further than what I had learned from elementary school science projects. Dr. Choi has taught me everything about research from definitions of terms, to how to form a research question, how to design research and how to calculate and interpret the results. She has taught me the importance of research and the impact that it can have on creating change in social work practice, policies and, on a larger scale, in agencies and in communities.”

Haley Emitt praises Choi’s emphasis on student growth, writing, “Dr. Choi has helped me become confident in my own abilities, because when I ask her a complex question, she helps me process through the question so that I can answer it myself, instead of just giving me an easy answer. Dr. Choi has encouraged me to think outside the box and has truly strengthened my understanding of research,” and that “Dr. Choi has always made me aware of outside research presentation or publication opportunities.”

Additionally, both nominaters note Choi’s skill at fostering a strong, supportive classroom experience for all students.

Sunha Choi received an MSW and PhD from Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has studied disparities in healthcare among foreign-born adults. She’s been featured twice in Tennessee Today and received awards from the Gerontological Society of America and the Aging and Public Health section of the American Public Health Association. Her faculty profile can be found here: http://www.csw.utk.edu/faculty/pages/choi/index.htm.

 

Students Recognized at UA Global Summit in Dublin

Rachel Hunt, Alexandra Brito, and Sierra Roark at The Undergraduate Awards in Dublin, Ireland Thursday, November 9, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

Rachel Hunt, Alexandra Brito, and Sierra Roark at The Undergraduate Awards in Dublin, Ireland Thursday, November 9, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

Three UT students recently returned from Dublin, Ireland, where they attended the Undergraduate Awards Global Summit and received international honors for their academic research.

Alexandra Brito, a May 2017 graduate, was presented with the Thomas Clarkson Gold Medal for her paper “Effects of Language Immersion versus Classroom Exposure on Advanced French Learners: An ERP Study” in the Language and Linguistics category. Brito’s award was presented by Chris Lubbe, inspirational speaker and former bodyguard for Nelson Mandela, during a ceremony held at Dublin City Hall November 9.

Sierra Roark, also a May graduate, received recognition as a regional winner in Classical Studies and Archaeology for her paper “Wood Charcoal Analysis from Coan Hall (44NB11),” and senior Rachel Hunt was recognized as a highly commended winner in Architecture and Design for her project “Herbaria.”

Alexandra Brito, Sierra Roark, and Rachel Hunt present their projects to peers at the UPresent event in Dublin, Ireland Wednesday, November 8, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

Alexandra Brito, Sierra Roark, and Rachel Hunt present their projects to peers at the UPresent event in Dublin, Ireland Wednesday, November 8, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

“We are proud of the academic efforts of our three students,” said Marisa Moazen, executive director for undergraduate research and community engagement in UT’s Office of Research and Engagement. “The Undergraduate Awards Global Summit has been an incredible opportunity to showcase their work on an international stage and network with peers at universities worldwide.

This year’s UA Global Summit, which drew 130 of the world’s top-performing students from 52 universities and 16 countries, began with a dinner at the historic Smock Alley Theatre, built in 1662. On the second day, more than 70 students delivered three-minute presentations summarizing their research—on subjects ranging from literature to physics—to an audience of their peers, UA organizers, board members, and representatives. Along with sightseeing tours and mixers, the students heard from several different speakers on issues related to higher education, research, business, philanthropy, and other topics.

Alexandra Brito poses with the Thomas Clarkson Gold Medal presented to her at The Undergraduate Awards in Dublin, Ireland Thursday, November 9, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

Alexandra Brito poses with the Thomas Clarkson Gold Medal presented to her at The Undergraduate Awards in Dublin, Ireland Thursday, November 9, 2017. Photo by The Undergraduate Awards

Each year, the coveted UA Gold Medal named in honor of a different global scholar.

This year, the medal—the one Brito received—was named for abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. “As a young man, Clarkson had won his first prize for an essay on slavery and then dedicated his whole life to its abolition in the British Empire, something he saw achieved by an Act of Parliament in 1833,” UA Chairman Jim Barry explained. “The Undergraduate Awards has exactly that ambition—that young men and women across the globe would address their academic talents to matters of significance in all fields of learning in the hope that it would spark their passion to be change makers and leaders into the future.”

The Office of Undergraduate Research is now soliciting entries from students who would like to represent UT in the 2018 competition; the deadline is in May. Students who wish to compete in the Undergraduate Awards can submit up to three academic papers, research projects, or portfolios completed during the current academic year for which they have received an A or equivalent.

More information about the Undergraduate Awards can be found at ugresearch.utk.edu. Contact Moazen (865-974-8560, mmoazen@utk.edu) with additional questions.

Present your research across the state, nationally, or internationally

Now that you’ve completed an undergraduate research project, we invite you to present that project at an upcoming conference. If your abstract is accepted, our office can provide either partial or full funding to the event! You can submit the same abstract to each of the events, if you are interested.

Here’s the list with deadlines:
Tennessee Experiential Learning Symposium 2017 (APSU, Clarksville, TN) – Deadline to apply October 20. – Present your research, study abroad, or internship experience to other students in Tennessee through oral or poster presentations. Transportation and funding for registration fees will be provided for those who register, present, and attend. The event will be held Thursday, November 2, 2018. Register and submit abstract at: https://epay.apsu.edu/C20023_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=407.

Posters on the Hill 2018 (Washington, DC)- Deadline to apply is November 1. – Present your research to Congress! 60 students nationwide will be chosen to present their research to Congress. In the past three years, three UT students have been selected. This is the longest application of the 4 events and requires a biographical sketch and interest statement. Our office can help with the submission, make an appointment and stop by. Full travel funding for the student is available if accepted. Event is held at the end of April before Congress adjourns. Faculty mentors are invited to attend. Submit here: http://ugresearch.utk.edu/activities/posters-on-the-hill/

Posters at the Capitol 2018 (Nashville, TN) – Deadline to apply is November 7 – Present your research to the State Legislature in Nashville. Seven students will be chosen to represent UT at this event. Will it be you? Full travel funding is available if accepted. Event is typically held the last Wednesday in February. Submit your abstract at: http://ugresearch.utk.edu/activities/posters-at-the-capitol/.

National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2018 (Edmond, OK) – Deadline to apply is December 5. – Presentations of research and creative works to and from 4,500 undergraduates from around the country. This is an impressive and inspiring event to attend. Submissions include oral presentations, posters, visual arts and performing arts (music, dance, theatre, and film). The University of Central Oklahoma is this year’s host April 4-7, 2018. Travel funding is available for those with accepted submissions. Faculty mentors are invited to attend and can use the event to recruit potential graduate students. Submit abstract at: http://www.cur.org/conferences_and_events/student_events/ncur_2018/

Your Professional Conference! Want to attend the professional conference in your discipline? You can apply for travel funds if you have been accepted to present your research. Check out the details at: http://ugresearch.utk.edu/students/undergraduate-research-travel-grants-program/

Have a great semester!
The Office of Undergraduate Research

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