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Office of Undergraduate Research

Previous Researchers of the Month

hannah merritt in front of her presentation

July 2022: Hannah Merritt

Hannah Merritt is a senior studying Anthropology and African American Studies. Under the guidance of Dr’s Gordon Rakita, Jacqueline Meier, and Jeff Chamberlain, Hannah’s research examines the correlation between the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak and West African mortuary practices. According to Dr. Rakita, Hannah has been actively engaged in undergraduate research since her first year at UNF, and “she has worked hard to find support for her research and disseminate the results of her work.” During the span of her undergraduate career, she has completed two Directed Independent Study courses, an undergraduate thesis, was awarded an OUR research grant, and presented her work at four professional conferences, including the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC), Florida Research Posters at the Capitol, the Showcase of Osprey Advancements in Research and Scholarship (SOARS), and the Florida Collegiate Honors Council conference. In the fall, she will continue her education at the University of York's Master of Science in Funerary Archaeology program.  

hannah thomas in front of a board with her researchAugust 2022: Hannah Thomas

Hannah Thomas is a senior studying Behavioral Neuroscience.  Under the guidance of Dr. Katherine Hooper and Dr. Tracy Alloway, Hannah has been involved in several projects in the fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) laboratory though which she measures cortical activity from participants engaged in cognitive and emotional processing tasks. According to her research mentors, Hannah is “skilled with the technology and with reviewing the literature and is highly motivated to succeed.” In addition to being able to perform fNIRS on human subjects, Hannah helped develop the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) used in many of the fNIRS studies taking place on campus. Additionally, Hannah presented her work at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC), the Showcase of Osprey Advancements in Research and Scholarship (SOARS), and the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) annual meeting.  After graduation, Hannah plans to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.  

alex standing by his research board at a conferenceSeptember 2022: Alex Bartkowiak 

Alex Bartkowiak is a senior studying Molecular/Cell Biology and Biotechnology in Biology.  He is the head undergraduate researcher for a neuropharmacology pilot program in the laboratory of Dr. Marie Mooney, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology.  Alex uses a bioinformatics pipeline to decipher large transcriptomic data sets from neurons isolated from zebrafish exposed to neuroactive compounds like Ivermectin and Gaboxadol.  His passion and excitement for science is recognized and praised by his research mentor and appreciated by his peers in the lab, who see him as a role-model. Alex has always loved science, which motivated him to compete in regional and state science fairs in middle and high school and work in a research lab before advancing to college. As an undergraduate student, Alex has presented his work at the Posters at the Capitol event hosted by the Florida Undergraduate Research Association, the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC), and the Showcase of Osprey Advancements in Research and Scholarship (SOARS).  After graduation, Alex plans to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.  This accomplished young scientist intends to pursue a graduate degree, “with the ultimate goal of being able to give students the same opportunities that I had.”

sydney holding her thesis

October 2022: Sydney Chatani

Sydney Chatani is a Hicks Honors College senior studying sociology, with a minor in leadership. As a member of Dr. Jenny Stuber’s research program, Sydney studied parental and gender roles among young widowers, which is a novel topic in the field of sociology research. She presented her findings at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Student Symposium in April and in a round table discussion at the American Sociological Association meeting in August. In addition, Sydney served as a research assistant at the UNF Northeast Florida Center for Community Initiatives, under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Will, on Magnolia Project: Federal Healthy Start Initiative on Infant Mortality in Jacksonville. Through that experience, she learned about the social and environmental determinants of health and how individuals lacking resources often “slip through the cracks.” Currently, Sydney is working on a quantitative research project exploring the potential association of demographic factors with individuals’ confidence levels in the United States Supreme Court. After graduation, Sydney plans to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in sociology, focusing on qualitative methodology and the subfields of applied, family, and medical sociology. She feels lucky to have received support and opportunities at UNF and wants to give future undergraduates the same opportunities someday.

Rebecca Robinson Rey with here poster

November 2022: Rebecca Robinson Rey

Rebecca Robinson Rey is a senior physics major, with a concentration in astrophysics. As a member of Dr. Chris Kelso’s research program, Rebecca studies the detection of satellite dwarf galaxies and how those data can predict dark matter in the universe. Using Monte Carlo modeling, she was able to determine the number of satellites from data captured using Dark Energy Survey (DES) and Pan STARRS1 (PS1) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which map galaxies near earth. She intends to use similar modeling to predict the detection of new satellite dwarf galaxies by the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) telescope, and hence dark matter, in the deep universe. Rebecca enjoys learning about cosmological aspects of the universe and developing her coding skills through this project. Previously, Rebecca worked with Dr. John Hewitt to analyze data from star clusters captured using the Fermi-Large Area Telescope (LAT). In addition to her research interests, Rebecca serves as the vice president of the UNF Society of Physics Students, through which she also volunteers her time as a peer tutor. She has presented her research data at the Natural Sciences Poster Session and was a featured speaker at Spooky Research, which was organized by the UNF Research Ambassadors Club. After graduation, Rebecca plans to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in either astrophysics or medical physics.

December 2022 Undergraduate Researcher of the MonthDecember 2022: Nicholas Strasser 

Nicholas Strasser is a senior biology major who graduates this month.  Nicholas has been working with Dr. John Hatle since 2021 to study how protein quality impacts metabolism related to lifespan, reproduction, and development.  They generate synthetic diets with unique amino acid concentrations to determine how protein composition improves life-history traits of Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers. This project is time-intensive, and Dr. Hatle commends him for his dedication to the project, his careful manipulations and analyses, and his perseverance.  Nicholas presented his research data in poster format at the U-GLIDE Symposium on campus and will present again in January at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.  Nicholas found that his undergraduate research experience allowed him to develop an ability to gather data, synthesize ideas and conclusions, and present results in a concise manner.  His time in the Hatle lab prepared him to be an effective scientific communicator and investigator.  These qualities will be an asset as he matriculates in a medical school program next fall.  In addition to his research endeavors, Nicholas serves as a physics and biology SI leader and a member of the SASS leadership team.  He is the current president of the Biomedical Pre-professionals club and volunteers at the Muslim American Social Services (MASS) Clinic and ProMedica Hospice.  He encourages developing scientists to be confident because from his own experiences, he’s learned that through confidence, he was able to “excel far beyond what I thought was possible.” 

January 2023 Undergraduate Researcher of the MonthJanuary 2023: Amra Kajdic 

Amra Kajdic is a senior pursuing a biology degree and biotechnology certificate who is on track to graduate with Summa Cum Laude and Hicks Honors College honors in Spring 2023. Amra has been working with Dr. David Waddell since 2020 and has been involved in several studies. She has been instrumental in characterizing the UBR5 and Calcoco 1 genes, which code for proteins important for muscle hypertrophy and recovery from atrophy, respectively and will be included as a coauthor on the manuscripts describing those gene products when the projects are completed. Amra presented her research data in poster format at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in Washington, D.C., in December and intends to present at the 2023 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference in Miami in February. Dr. Waddell credits her as one of the more advanced, talented, and productive undergraduate students in his research program. Amra found that her undergraduate research experiences have allowed her to grow as a scientist and develop expertise in molecular-genetic techniques. She is eager to learn more and develop a broader set of techniques and hopes to be selected for a Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award at the National Institutes of Health before applying for medical school. In her time involved with research, she has learned that patience and perseverance are crucial and that there is much value gained from experiments that do not always go as planned, as one continuously learns even (especially) when things go unexpectedly. Amra is a well-rounded student who volunteers at the Muslim American Social Services (MASS) Clinic and readily trains other undergraduate students in the lab. She founded the MEDLIFE club at UNF and has served as the President for three years. Amra encourages developing scientists to not limit themselves because “with hard work and dedication anything is possible.” She also encourages them to be creative, as troubleshooting is a vital skill in research.  

Febuary 2023 Undergraduate Researchers of the MonthFebruary 2023: Lily Miller and Sydney Williams
Lily Miller is a senior Exceptional Student Education major and Sydney Williams is a senior Special Education major with a minor in Disability Services. They have been working with Dr. David Hoppey since taking his Introduction to Inquiry and Assessment course in 2021. Working as a team, they performed an assessment of their teaching internship experience. The results of their inquiry were presented in October at the Florida Council for Exceptional Children Conference and published in PANDION: The Osprey Journal of Research and Ideas, volume 3. According to Dr. Hoppey, the study was well received by special education faculty and administrators from across the state, and both students have been recruited by multiple school districts because of their work. Both Lily and Sydney found that their experience strengthened their skills in data recording and analyses and gave them an opportunity to think critically about teaching. Sydney indicated that “inquiry helps teachers make improvements to their teaching and their classroom.” Similarly, Lily noted that conversations with professionals in their field of study will ultimately “improve our practices for students.” After completing their undergraduate degrees in Spring 2023, Lily plans to pursue a graduate degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, whereas Sydney hopes to have her own classroom in a high school teaching Specific Learning or Participatory Learning, before her graduate training. Both encourage others to get involved in research because it “gives you the opportunity to dive into subjects” that interest you. Although it may be intimidating at first, “the work you put into it is so rewarding and worth it.”

March 2023 Undergraduate Researcher of the MonthMarch 2023: Thalia Lynn 

Thalia Lynn is a senior Anthropology major and Environmental Studies minor.  She has been working with Dr. Jacqueline Meier since the summer of 2021 to study sheep herding at the famous site of Mycenae in Greece.  Additionally, through an independent study, she analyzed faunal remains from Helladic Lerna, Greece, using published data from Dr. David S. Reese.  Thalia learned to transcribe published descriptions into her own dataset, separate individual animal bone specimens by attribute, and understand variation within the space of the site.  Through this, she has been able to reconstruct the role of animal ritual, dietary practices, and refuse management within that culture.  Thalia also contributed to the research of Dr. Keith Ashley by excavating archaeological sites in Jacksonville to better understand the Indigenous histories of this region and conducted an experimental archaeology project to better understand how pottery was made in the past in northeast Florida.  Dr. Meier praises Thalia for her various research activities, saying that she sets a great example for other students of how to engage in a variety of different research projects.  Thalia has presented her research findings at the annual Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Research Symposium, SOARS, and Student-Led Research Projects Presentations on campus, and at the annual meeting of the Archaeology Institute of America, in New Orleans in January and the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference held at St. Thomas University in February.  Additionally, she will present as a co-author with Dr. Meier at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology in Portland, Oregon, at the end of March.  After graduation this spring, Thalia plans to continue her education and pursue a PhD in Zooarchaeology.  She encourages others to follow their passionsadding that the type of hard work and consistency that good research requires becomes easier to maintain when you have a genuine interest in what you do. 

July 2023: Sadana Mukundan and Ziena Baker  

Photo of Ziena and Sadana standing in front of a non-descript wallZiena Baker and Sadana Mukundan are senior Psychology majors who have worked with Dr. Elizabeth Brown for the past several years. Together, they studied how language used (like that found in a mission statement) influences opinions of diversity, equality, and inclusion. The results of their study were presented in poster form at the 2023 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference in Miami Gardens, Florida, and on campus at SOARS 2023. Dr. Brown credits these developing scientists with a dedication to research and enthusiasm for coding and analyzing data. In addition to this project, Ziena also contributes to an ongoing study on elementary school students. Sadana has also worked with Dr. Brown on other projects, through which they analyzed political party stereotypes and whether goal fulfillment in STEM affects students’ interests and motivations to pursue a STEM career. Both students have a goal of attending graduate school. Ziena intends to pursue a combined Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Social Psychology. She hopes to continue research in a scientist-practitioner environment to apply social studies to clinical outcomes. Sadana intends to pursue a Master of Science degree in Clinical or Counseling Psychology. She has gained considerable experience in data analysis, which she found to be the most enjoyable part of her research experience. Ziena has enjoyed working with others to code qualitative data into quantitative data and has gained considerable leadership and organizational skills in the process. Both describe themselves as passionate about their research and encourage others to ask questions, get involved, and be patient, as the overall experience is truly rewarding.

August 2023: Haley Peters  

August 2023 Researcher of the MonthHaley Peters is a senior biochemistry major / psychology minor who has been working with Dr. John Hatle in the Department of Biology for the past year to study the metabolic effects of a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) restricted diet. Her initial study with Dr. Hatle showed that low dietary levels of one BCAA – isoleucine – increases the breakdown of other BCAAs like valine and leucine. Haley recently presented the results of that study at the 2023 Achievements in Research, Inquiry and Scholarship Exhibition (ARISE), which was held in July on the UNF campus. Using the data collected from the initial study, Haley designed a study in which she will quantify this catabolism by feeding Eastern Lubber grasshoppers custom cooked diets and then testing the breath samples from those grasshoppers using a specialized spectrophotometer. She secured an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities (U-RSCA) grant from the UNF Office of Undergraduate Research in Spring 2023 to carry out her study. Not only is Haley considered the “local expert at running the instrument,” she also leads a team of two other students, which has helped her hone her communication and organizational skills. Dr. Hatle noted that research students like Haley, who excel at reading and understanding primary literature and at the lab bench, are rare. Haley intends to graduate from UNF in Spring 2024 and will apply to medical programs at that time. She credits her research experience as the most influential experience of her undergraduate career. “Seeing a research project develop from reviewing literature to experimental design to presenting results is rewarding and has provided depth to my interest in coursework and other sectors of science.”

October Undergraduate Researcher of the Month: Hana Kabil!  

Hana wearing a red dress and standing in front of a research poster.

Hana Kabil is a senior biology major/literature minor who has been working with Dr. Amy Lane in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since the summer of 2021 to identify novel natural products from Nocardiopsis bacteria for use as new antibiotics. Hana is trained in high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and nuclear resonance mass spectroscopy (NMR), which she used to determine the structures of two novel alpha pyrones. Hana was awarded an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities (U-RSCA) grant from the UNF Office of Undergraduate Research in Fall 2022 to support her studies. She has presented her results at several venues, including the 2023 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC) held in Miami Springs, the 2023 Showcase of Osprey Achievements in Research and Scholarship (SOARS) and the 2023 Achievements in Research, Inquiry and Scholarship Exhibition (ARISE) held on the UNF campus, and at the Johnson & Johnson symposium as a Johnson & Johnson summer undergraduate research intern during the Summer 2023 semester. In addition, Hana was selected for the UNF – Mayo Clinic Undergraduate Biomedical Research Internship (U-BRI) during the 2022 – 2023 academic year, through which she investigated the role of ECT2 Isoforms in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC) transformation under the guidance of Dr. Verline Justilien. Through those studies, she was trained in various molecular biology techniques.  Hana said that “the best part of research is the immense knowledge you gain.” She encourages other students to get involved in research because “you never know your chances of success unless you try.” Hana will graduate in December and plans to pursue a combined M.D.-Ph.D. to join her love of medicine and biochemical research to combat infectious diseases.


November Undergraduate Researcher of the Month, Vic Hayes! 

November 2023 Undergraduate Researcher of the Month.jpgVic Hayes is a senior anthropology major who has been working with Dr. Keith Ashley in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work for more than a year.  This past summer, Vic served as a field assistant for the Archaeological Field Methods class, for which she received a Transformational Learning Opportunity Summer Scholarship from the College of Arts and Sciences.  During that time, she also received a Timucuan Preserve Student Research Grant, which allowed her to topographically map and then excavate two mounded shell formations at the Cedar Point North archaeological site.  She also performed an in-depth analysis of all pottery unearthed.  Vic and Dr. Ashley jointed presented the results of this study at the 2023 Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in October and she will present a paper of their findings at the 2024 Timucuan Science and History Symposium in January.  Vic indicated that she enjoyed participating in all aspects of the archaeological project, from research design to fieldwork and analysis, and finally, to reporting the findings.  Through these experiences, she enhanced her knowledge base, as well as her written communication skills.  Dr. Ashley indicated that Vic “epitomizes the new breed of American Archaeologists: bright, empirically based, theoretically informed, and empathetic to the concerns and human rights of modern-day Indigenous peoples.”  Next, Vic will begin her undergraduate honors thesis, in which she will analyze ceramic variability and site activities using pottery collected within the Mill Cove Complex archaeological site.  For students interested in participating in undergraduate research, Vic recommends that they talk to professors with similar research interests as them.  In her experience, “professors at UNF have always been more than willing to help students pursue independent research as well as assist them in achieving their career goals.” After graduation, Vic plans to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD and a career in academic archaeology