Annual Undergraduate Research Conference Showcases the Diversity of the Scientific Community at Georgetown
(April 29, 2022) — Over the past two decades, the School of Nursing & Health Studies’ Undergraduate Research Conference has grown into an annual event that showcases the variety of undergraduate research conducted at Georgetown, with faculty and students participating from departments such as biology, chemistry, nursing and human science. After being held virtually in 2021, the conference returned to an in-person format April 21 at the Healey Family Student Center.
“This year there was such great energy with the conference being in-person,” said Jan LaRocque, PhD, associate professor of human science and conference co-advisor. “You could feel the energy in the room from the students and from the faculty.
“Not only does the conference showcase Georgetown research and foster community pride, it is a student-run conference,” LaRocque added.
A Student-Run Conference
When the conference debuted in 2002, human science faculty organizers intended to create an event “to provide undergraduate students educational opportunities to learn research conference design, management and participation.”
Julia Lo Cascio (NHS’22) and Elizabeth Graham (NHS’23), both human science majors, served as student co-chairs for this year’s conference, which they started planning last summer. “The conference really shows our Jesuit values of community and diversity — the scientific community at Georgetown really comes together and thrives on the numerous projects presented,” Lo Cascio said.
Included in the student co-chairs’ duties is the selection of the keynote speaker. The two started by creating a Google Doc to share interesting research they came across from faculty outside of Georgetown. After agreeing on a potential speaker, the students reached out directly to Eve De Rosa, PhD, associate professor of psychology and dean of faculty at Cornell University. She delivered her address to attendees on the “Connections to the Heart and Mind in Healthy Aging.”
Honoring Excellence in Undergraduate Research
In addition to the keynote, the conference consisted of two poster sessions and a student oral presentation session. Five out of the 60 projects submitted were awarded “Excellence in Poster Presentation”:
- Elena Evans (NHS’22), human science major in the Theos Lab in the School of Nursing & Health Studies
- Annalisa Ginocchi (NHS’22), human science major in the Conley Lab in Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
- Elizabeth “Lizzie” Graham (NHS’23), human science major in the LaRocque lab in the School of Nursing & Health Studies
- Finn Thompson (C’22), biology and computer science major in the Rolfes lab in Georgetown University College of Arts and Sciences
- Candice Powers (C’22), environmental biology major in the Mann Lab in Georgetown University College of Arts and Science
A jury of 24 faculty members also selected Aleksandra Swiatek (NHS’23), a human science major in the Evans lab at GUMC, for the Overall Best Poster Presentation and Chloe Kekedjian (C’22), a chemistry major, for the Overall Best Oral Presentation Award.
“The oral presentations provide students with the opportunity to practice the critical skill of presenting their work in a manner that a general audience, and those unfamiliar with their field, will be able to understand their research,” LaRocque said.
Celebrating Faculty Mentorship
Student conference participants return the attentiveness and dedication that the faculty express toward the students by selecting the winner of the Angerio Faculty Mentorship Award, which recognizes a professor who goes “above and beyond his or her duties as an advisor and truly inspires their students in a personal manner.”
Students chose Debbie Barrington, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Human Science, as this year’s recipient. Read about a class Barrington developed on the social determinants of COVID-19.
“This year’s winner really stood out because her students mentioned Dr. Barrington going above and beyond to meet with them and make contacts to help out their research, in one case reaching out to the CDC,” Graham said.
Supporting Students ‘in a Transformative Stage of Learning’
Ultimately, the Undergraduate Research Conference demonstrates the unique aspects of the Department of Human Science, whose faculty initially organized and continue to host the event.
The dedication of the human science faculty members to their students is shown not only in the quality of research displayed at the conference but also in the quality of the program’s graduates, who regularly are admitted to medical school and other graduate research programs. The success of human science students can be credited to the skill both LaRocque and Graham mentioned were honed through undergraduate research projects — the ability to think critically, including how to analyze data and make your own conclusions.
“Human science faculty are dedicated to undergraduate research,” LaRocque said. “Our department recruits faculty who want to work with undergraduates and provide mentoring when these students are in a transformative stage of learning.”