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Undergraduate Research Month 2021

Restrictions related to COVID19 prevented us from hosting an in-person symposium during Spring 2021. Instead, student researchers participated in a virtual Undergraduate Research Month during April, featuring live events, videos, visual and written research abstracts – and more.

Presentations included departmental Honors videos, A&S research student videos, visual abstracts, and First-Year Monroe Written abstracts. Each presentation type is described in more detail below, where we have also featured some of the best projects from URM 2021.

To see all of the projects from last year's symposium, check out the pages for Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 (which highlighted some projects for Earth Week), and Week 4.

Recipients of the Louis E. Catron grant for Artistic Development participated in a virtual gallery as part of Undergraduate Research Month, where viewers can enjoy projects in dance, photography, theatre, and more.

Departmental Honors Videos

Seniors in the Departmental Honors Program pursue an intensive, year-long research project under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Each Honors project culminates in a thesis and oral defense. As part of Undergraduate Research Month 2021, students presented their work in 3-minute videos using only one optional slide to represent their research.

We have highlighted 10 excellent videos below from across disciplines that were featured as part of Undergraduate Research Month 2021.  To view each video, click on the title, which links to a presentation on YouTube.

More Student Videos

Students across Arts & Sciences completed 3-minute videos describing their research projects, using up to 8 slides.

We have highlighted 10 excellent videos below from across disciplines that were featured as part of Undergraduate Research Month 2021.  To view each video, click on the title, which links to a presentation on YouTube.

 

Written Abstracts from first-year Monroe Scholar projects

First-year Monroe scholars prepared written abstracts describing their research in 250 words.

Below we highlight 10 written abstracts from across disciplines that were featured as part of Undergraduate Research Month 2021.

Grace Nelson '24: Getting a Read on the Health of French in Quebec Through Children's Books (French & Francophone Studies)


QUE LISENT LES ENFANTS: GETTING A READ ON THE HEALTH OF FRENCH IN QUEBEC THROUGH CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Studying popular Quebecian children’s books can provide a good view of the material used to nurture the next generation of francophone Canadians and thus informs a prediction for Quebec’s linguistic fate and thus our preservation of linguistic diversity. Much of the research surrounding my project discusses the various benefits of bilingualism in children and the benefits of early introduction to reading in a foreign language for developing bilingualism, but this is based on individuals. In light of this, I wanted to study the linguistic resources available in a bilingual culture. I observed lists of popular French children’s books from several Quebecian bookstores. I selected the 10 books that appeared the most. These books were then studied for content. My research revealed an abundance of books available for young French-learning Quebecians, the most popular of which were overwhelmingly translations of English books. These results indicate that bilingualism is alive and well in Quebec and will be for the foreseeable future, however, the lack of works from francophone culture in these results suggest the market itself might need a checkup next. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Angela Leruth

 

Laura Kirk '24: Ecoart: Exploring Public Art, Environmental Consciousness, And Community Engagement In Virginia (Community Engagement)


ECOART: EXPLORING PUBLIC ART, ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS, AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN VIRGINIA

Despite heightened legislative and regulatory efforts, established methods of environmental preservation have done little to stem the rapid global tide of ecological devastation. Arguably, this failure is tied to the inability of legislation and regulation to transform environmental consciousness at the individual level. This study examines how ecoart, a form of public art created with environmental motivations, can mobilize individuals and communities at the grassroots level. An array of existing literature has examined the profound implications of ecoart, detailing how this tool can radically alter the way individuals view their relationship to the environment. This change influences pro-environmental behaviors, accumulating at the aggregate level and resulting in more sustainable progress and community-wide engagement. This study aims to build upon existing academic knowledge by exploring examples of ecoart in the state of Virginia. Nine case studies were examined through oral in-depth interviews with eleven Virginia ecoartists. Participants were asked a series of questions aimed at discerning their methods, motivations, and outcomes. This data was synthesized in nine narrative accounts for each ecoart project, displaying how the artists employed the tools of ecoart to achieve environmental goals within their communities. These case studies resoundingly confirm the benefits of ecoart, illustrating how community art projects circumvent traditional forms of environmental preservation in order to more effectively engage individual environmental consciousness and promote meaningful, widespread change. This project, including the literature review and artist interviews, can be accessed at virginiaecoart.weebly.com.

Faculty advisor: Professor Elizabeth Miller

 

Elizabeth Germain '24: An Exploration Of Twitter Responses To Five Major U.S. Mass Shootings From 2016-2020: Have Americans Become Desensitized To Mass Shootings? (Data Science)


AN EXPLORATION OF TWITTER RESPONSES TO FIVE MAJOR U.S. MASS SHOOTINGS FROM 2016-2020: HAVE AMERICANS BECOME DESENSITIZED TO MASS SHOOTINGS?

Mass shootings are occurring in the United States with increasing frequency, yet little research has examined the effect of mass shootings on the psyche of the American people. My research aimed to explore if Americans are becoming desensitized to mass shootings, as evidenced by changes in Twitter responses to mass shootings, and to determine if the amount of gun control discussion occurring in the wake of mass shootings has changed over time. I measured desensitization based on magnitude of discussion, longevity of discussion, and presence of negative emotions in the language of discussion. I used a list of hashtags to gather tweets for the fifteen days following the five deadliest shootings in the past five years. I measured magnitude based on the distribution of retweets, likes, replies, and overall impressions; longevity based on the simple moving average of the number of impressions; and negative affect based on the percentage of negative, neutral, and positive words in the tweets as measured by Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner (VADER), as well as the average proportion of each tweet that expressed fear, disgust, anger, sadness, and anxiety as measured by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). I found a stable magnitude and longevity of discussion, a general increase in negative emotion, and a decrease in the amount of gun control discussion over time. My findings suggest that desensitization has not occurred, but people may be tiring of the gun control conversation, which could have negative implications for gun control activism.

Faculty advisor: Professor Dana Willner

 

Lulu Dawes '24: The Representation Of Slavery In Virginian Plantations’ Grounds Tours, Websites, And Brochures (History)


THE REPRESENTATION OF SLAVERY IN VIRGINIAN PLANTATIONS’ GROUNDS TOURS, WEBSITES, AND BROCHURES

Plantations and their respective tours play an important role in shaping the public's perception of America's complicated past with slavery. In past decades, many researchers have analyzed the ways in which plantation tours portray their personal history with slavery; however, much of this research has focused on large plantations in the deep south. Additionally, sources that did discuss Virginia plantations only referred to the most popular ones, such as Mount Vernon and Monticello, which have a vast resource of professional historians and scholarship. In this research, I analyzed six Virginia plantations—Monticello, Mount Vernon, Smith’s Fort, Shirley, and Sherwood Forest—and their depiction (or lack thereof) of slavery. Looking at variables such as who owns the plantations and if descendants of the original family still live in the house, this study analyzes whether each plantation portrayed slavery in a historically accurate manner and devoted spaces to discuss their history with their enslaved populations. I found that while Monticello and Mount Vernon effectively and respectfully educated the public on the history of their enslaved, the three less popular plantations—Shirley, Sherwood, and Smith’s Fort—failed to highlight the lives of the enslaved population, instead focusing mainly on the planter family or the original house. Common tropes of the former three plantations were referring to enslaved people as “fieldhands” or “servants,” removing enslaved people’s quarters as exhibits, and not mentioning enslaved people on their websites or brochures.

Faculty advisor: Professor Carol Sheriff

 

Bilen Zerie '24: National Unity And Justice For Victims: Learning From South Africa’S Truth And Reconciliation Commission (International Relations)


NATIONAL UNITY AND JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS: LEARNING FROM SOUTH AFRICA’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

For many scholars and policymakers, the post-apartheid South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the poster child for transitional justice mechanisms. Its dramatic, widely broadcasted truth-seeking process brought unprecedented international attention and acclaim. However, voices within South Africa maintain that the TRC failed at truly empowering victims. This study explores several questions to examine the unexplained discrepancy in perceptions. First, what was the commission’s framework and guiding principles, and why was this path chosen? Then, do victims feel that the TRC and its workings were in their best interest, and if not, what has disappointed them?  To answer these questions, this study draws on primary commission documents, scholarly literature, and studies. In particular, it provides a comprehensive evaluation of every accessible survey on victim-satisfaction towards the South African TRC. This analysis reveals that the commission’s focus on restorative justice and amnesties was established in order to benefit powerful parties as opposed to groups disenfranchised by apartheid. Victims remain disappointed and feel as though their demands for reparations, prosecutions, and structural economic reform were dismissed. This knowledge is critical because transitional justice is intended to prioritize victims by acknowledging and atoning for the abuses committed against them. If South Africa—the reigning example of truth commissions in the public eye—failed to uphold this core tenet, then that issue must be recognized and rectified.

Faculty advisor: Professor Kelebogile Zvobgo

 

Katrin Michaelsen '24: Customizable Headache Tracking Application With Smart Watch Connectivity (Computer Science)


CUSTOMIZABLE HEADACHE TRACKING APPLICATION WITH SMART WATCH CONNECTIVITY

According to the WHO, up to 5% of adults have a headache every day, and about 12% suffer from migraines. As of the start of this project there were thirty free migraine tracking applications available on the Apple App Store. However, having analyzed these applications, the current selection does not achieve the level of user-friendly customizability required for such a varied disability. Furthermore, there was no application with a meaningful smart watch component. Consequently, the goal of this project was to create a prototype application for headache tracking that allows the user to personalize their experience, while taking advantage of modern technology to accommodate their busy lives. The first portion of this project was spent on carefully designing each aspect of the application, often drawing on personal experiences with migraine tracking applications for inspiration, both positive and negative. Next, each page of the application was created for the phone application. Basic functionality such as navigation bars and back buttons were added to each page. More complicated functions, such as the settings page and data storage, were added as a proof of concept. Next, a watch application was designed and implemented, including connectivity with the phone application. A general function – logging pain level – was added for proof of concept. While there are popular migraine tracking applications, the market is ripe for expansion and improvement. Taking advantage of modern technology and creating a more customizable and easy-to-use experience are two features that will significantly improve headache tracking.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jim Deverick

 

Gracie Patten '24: Experimental Archaeology In Dress History: The Uniforms Of The Wwi-Era Woman’S Land Army Of America (History)


EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN DRESS HISTORY: THE UNIFORMS OF THE WWI-ERA WOMAN’S LAND ARMY OF AMERICA

The American involvement with WWI coincided with the formation of the Woman's Land Army of America (WLAA), an organization that sought to ameliorate the farm labor shortage caused by the draft by training young women, mainly from white middle-to-upper class backgrounds, to engage in farm work while simultaneously advancing the position of these women in society. Previous work on the WLAA has examined its motivations and achievements, but never have the uniforms the women wore been thoroughly examined. This project examined the role that uniforms played in the self-conceptualization of the WLAA and how the uniforms affected women’s fashion going forward by researching and recreating a WLAA uniform. Research for this project involved manuals and publications by the WLAA, images of WLAA farm workers (“farmerettes”), and relevant newspaper articles. Examination of several extant garments as well as period sewing manuals informed the recreation of the uniform. Textual research indicated that the WLAA uniforms played a role popularizing trousers for women. At the same time, textual research also indicated that the uniforms served to distinguish farmerettes from the racialized class of farm laborers, especially in states where farm labor was performed mainly by Black, Latino, or Asian laborers. The recreation of a WLAA uniform revealed the ease of movement granted by the uniforms, further explaining the subsequent popularization of trousers among women. This research improves our understanding of the complicated relationship between race and gender in America during WWI and helps to explain later changes in women’s dress.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jerry Watkins III

 

Alexandra Hiestand'24: The Economic Impact Of Biological Disasters: A Case Study Of Ecosystem Services (Government)


THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BIOLOGICAL DISASTERS: A CASE STUDY OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

A loss of biodiversity can drastically change a country or region’s economy, and the benefits or losses are dependent on the government’s response. Many studies have researched how biodiversity affects ecosystem function (which in turn, affects human benefits and value of the environment), but none have compared cases of extreme, human-led loss in biodiversity. This study examined how government policy can affect the economic aftermath of a biological disaster through four key case studies: the deforestation of the Amazon, the nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl, the 1991 oil spill off the shore of Kuwait, and the recent bushfires in Australia. While these cases occurred all over the globe with different levels of government oversight and responses, they all shared a link between industry and biology; the disaster was tied directly to their economies. This literature review summarized and synthesized pre-existing literature about the intersection of ecosystem and industry and featured research specifically about the four aforementioned case studies. I found that cases that shared information and allowed policy regulations from outside agencies showed better economic resurgence, whereas the cases with unclear governing bodies and slow responses showed negative economic consequences to the disaster. The best mitigation response to an environmentally derived economic downturn was a swift, transparent, and multilateral effort.

Faculty advisor: Professor Dennis Smith

 

Hannah Smith '24: Proposing Diyne Reactions For Usage With Proteins (Chemistry)


PROPOSING DIYNE REACTIONS FOR USAGE WITH PROTEINS

Chemical compounds can be linked together for increased chemical functionality. Proteins such as antibodies can be linked with other compounds, resulting in novel properties which increase therapeutic utility. For example, an antibody could be linked with a toxic drug and a tracking mechanism such as a fluorescent chemical compound to allow specific and trackable treatment of cancer cells. I analyzed several reactions linking 3 or more compounds together using a functionality known as a diyne (two conjugated triple bonds) and compiled a literature review. Diynes are electron rich and thus prone to react with many other compounds. By attaching a protein to one end of a diyne and then reacting that diyne with other compounds, a protein can be linked to multiple compounds for increased functionality. Though many successful diyne reactions have been developed, not all reaction conditions are ideal for proteins and physiological conditions. Reactions involving proteins require specific conditions such as an aqueous solvent (like water), a specific temperature range, and a specific pH range. Also, the addition of a protein to a diyne may alter how the diyne reacts. My literature review analyzed existing diyne reactions for compatibility with proteins. I found five promising reactions which occurred at lower temperatures and worked with various chemical groups attached to a diyne (indicating that the reaction could work with a protein attached to the diyne). These reactions can hopefully be explored for applications with proteins using water as a solvent.

Faculty advisor: Professor Douglas Young

 

Kathryn O'Connell '24: Hetero-Romantic Love, Heterosexiness, And Female Representation In Disney-Pixar Animated Films Since 2006 (Sociology)


HETERO-ROMANTIC LOVE, HETEROSEXINESS, AND FEMALE REPRESENTATION IN DISNEY-PIXAR ANIMATED FILMS SINCE 2006: A CONTINUATION OF MARTIN AND KAZYAKS’S HETERO-ROMANTIC LOVE AND HETEROSEXINESS IN CHILDREN’S G-RATED FILMS (2009)

Media and entertainment are important vehicles of socialization, especially for young children. Disney (Pixar) is arguably one of the most influential producers of children’s films, making important the cultural messages implicated in their movies, particularly those regarding gender and sexuality. Previous research investigated Disney’s representation of female characters as well as the use of hetero-romantic storylines. This previous research examined popular animated films made between the years of 1990 and 2005, made primarily by Disney or Disney Pixar. To update this analysis of children’s films and their representation of gender and sexuality, I analyzed the ten highest-grossing animated Disney (Pixar) films made since the year 2006 based on criteria of previous research, hypothesizing the lesser prevalence of major hetero-romantic plotlines, the objectification of female characters’ bodies, and the assignment traditionally feminine roles to female characters. I noted that there were fewer hetero-romantic storylines in top-grossing Disney (Pixar) films made after 2006 than those made before, and I found that there were no significant instances of sexualization or ogling of female characters’ bodies in the films made after 2006, compared to a moderate number of these instances in films made between 1990 and 2005. My data supported the hypothesis that female representation would have generally improved, judged by the criteria used in my research. These findings allow a better understanding of misogyny in films intended for children and families, which in turn allows a better understanding of the broader narrative of implicit misogyny in our society at large.

Faculty advisor: Professor Judith Hand

 

Grace Nelson '24: Getting a Read on the Health of French in Quebec Through Children's Books (French & Francophone Studies)


QUE LISENT LES ENFANTS: GETTING A READ ON THE HEALTH OF FRENCH IN QUEBEC THROUGH CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Studying popular Quebecian children’s books can provide a good view of the material used to nurture the next generation of francophone Canadians and thus informs a prediction for Quebec’s linguistic fate and thus our preservation of linguistic diversity. Much of the research surrounding my project discusses the various benefits of bilingualism in children and the benefits of early introduction to reading in a foreign language for developing bilingualism, but this is based on individuals. In light of this, I wanted to study the linguistic resources available in a bilingual culture. I observed lists of popular French children’s books from several Quebecian bookstores. I selected the 10 books that appeared the most. These books were then studied for content. My research revealed an abundance of books available for young French-learning Quebecians, the most popular of which were overwhelmingly translations of English books. These results indicate that bilingualism is alive and well in Quebec and will be for the foreseeable future, however, the lack of works from francophone culture in these results suggest the market itself might need a checkup next. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Angela Leruth

 

Grace Nelson '24: Getting a Read on the Health of French in Quebec Through Children's Books (French & Francophone Studies)


QUE LISENT LES ENFANTS: GETTING A READ ON THE HEALTH OF FRENCH IN QUEBEC THROUGH CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Studying popular Quebecian children’s books can provide a good view of the material used to nurture the next generation of francophone Canadians and thus informs a prediction for Quebec’s linguistic fate and thus our preservation of linguistic diversity. Much of the research surrounding my project discusses the various benefits of bilingualism in children and the benefits of early introduction to reading in a foreign language for developing bilingualism, but this is based on individuals. In light of this, I wanted to study the linguistic resources available in a bilingual culture. I observed lists of popular French children’s books from several Quebecian bookstores. I selected the 10 books that appeared the most. These books were then studied for content. My research revealed an abundance of books available for young French-learning Quebecians, the most popular of which were overwhelmingly translations of English books. These results indicate that bilingualism is alive and well in Quebec and will be for the foreseeable future, however, the lack of works from francophone culture in these results suggest the market itself might need a checkup next. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Angela Leruth

 

Visual Abstracts

Creating a visual abstract is an exercise in distilling complex research into its most important points and in engaging readers in new and creative ways. Many research journals have started to require that authors submit not only a written abstract, but also a visual abstract. Visual abstracts have increased in popularity because they break down complex information into a format that is easy and efficient to take in.

We challenged students across Arts & Sciences to engage with this new medium. Below, we highlight 10 excellent visual abstracts from across disciplines that were featured as part of Undergraduate Research Month.

  • The Stage of a Society: Gender and the Palais Garnier’s Architecture

    The Stage of a Society: Gender and the Palais Garnier’s Architecture by Monica Sandu (Modern Languages & Literatures)

  • Internet Based Cultural Competence Training with White University Students at a PWI

    Internet Based Cultural Competence Training with White University Students at a PWI by Yvette Bivens-Sanchez (Psychology)

  • Machine Learning Mine Detection

    Machine Learning Mine Detection by Kate Munkacsy (Applied Science)

  • Phenomenology, Morality, and Game Theory

    Phenomenology, Morality, and Game Theory by Owen Fernandez (Philosophy)

  • Standard File

    Impact of Literature-Based Learning on Intercultural Communicative Competence on Participants in Informal Educational Activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Mallory Milestone (Government)

  • Measuring Zebrafish Anxiety: A Comparative Analysis

    Measuring Zebrafish Anxiety: A Comparative Analysis by Natalie Zyblut (Biology)

  • The von Neumann Boutique: A Published Novel That Introduces Computer Science & Ada Lovelace in a Smart Shop Framework

    The von Neumann Boutique: A Published Novel That Introduces Computer Science & Ada Lovelace in a Smart Shop Framework by Anneliese Brei (Computer Science)

  • Balance Confidence and Stride Width in a Community-Dwelling Elderly Population

    Balance Confidence and Stride Width in a Community-Dwelling Elderly Population by Thompson Brownlee (Kinesiology & Health Sciences)

  • Holocene trends in biogenic silica revealed by FTIR spectroscopy applied to a lake sediment record from northern Norway

    Holocene trends in biogenic silica revealed by FTIR spectroscopy applied to a lake sediment record from northern Norway by Caitlin Walker (Geology)

  • Synthesis Of Chromenes In A Domino Reaction

    Synthesis Of Chromenes In A Domino Reaction by Kevin McFadden (Chemistry)