News Story

Undergraduate Research and Faculty Mentorship Celebrated Virtually at Annual Georgetown Conference

April 26, 2021 – Since 2003, the School of Nursing & Health Studies has hosted the Undergraduate Research Conference, one that has grown over time and invites student researchers from across campus and other universities.

The virtual awards ceremony for the 2021 conference, hosted on April 22

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the student planning committee and their faculty advisors conceptualized and hosted a virtual conference with poster presentations, oral presentations, a keynote address, and an awards ceremony.

“I continue to be impressed by the research projects completed by our undergraduate students,” said Dr. Jan LaRocque, associate professor of human science who advises the planning committee along with colleague Dr. Alex Theos, also an associate professor of human science. Ian Yannuzzi (C’21) and Lisa Charles (NHS’21) were student co-chairs.

“Ian and I were very excited about the opportunity to hold a virtual conference this year,” Charles said. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt it was extremely important to give students a platform to present their own biomedical research and findings. We were so delighted to see so much interest in the virtual conference, and we look forward to seeing the return to an in-person conference next year.” (Visit the conference Facebook page.)

Ian Yannuzzi (C’21) and Lisa Charles (NHS’21) were the co-chairs of the 2021 conference.

‘Amazing Work’

“What made this year’s event even more impressive was that so many students experienced a pause in their research development due to the pandemic,” LaRocque added. “Yet their resiliency, creativity, and ability to pivot prevailed, and resulted in amazing work.”

During the event, students had the opportunity to hear from keynote speaker Dr. Vera Gorbunova, a Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester and co-director of the Rochester Aging Research Center. She spoke about, “Mechanisms of Longevity and Cancer Resistance: Lessons from Long-lived Mammals.”

Award Winners

Student awardees include: Best Poster Presentation: Ian Yannuzzi (C’21) and Best Oral Presentation: Anna Gorsky (C’21).

Dr. Vera Gorbunova, a Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester and co-director of the Rochester Aging Research Center, delivered the keynote address at the conference.

Excellence in Poster Presentation: Sophia Dahmani (NHS’21), Talya Inbar (C’21), Catherine Dunn (C’21), Ethan Missigman (C’21), Andrew Tiu (NHS’21), Anna Schildmeyer (NHS’21)

Excellence in Oral Presentation: Sam Wakelin (C’21), Georgia Payne (C’21) and Rising Researcher Award: Christi Anne Ng (C’21)

Additionally, Dr. Blythe Shepard, the Dekkers Endowed Chair in Human Science and assistant professor, received an award recognizing excellence in faculty mentorship.

The best poster and oral presentation awards are named for conference founder Dr. Charles H. Evans Jr. and the faculty mentorship award for longtime professor Dr. Allan Angerio.

‘Countless Hours’

“Winning the oral presentation award this year was incredibly meaningful because it is a culmination of the countless hours I’ve spent in lab and provides recognition to the important research happening in the Coate lab,” Gorsky said. 

“My research focuses on a protein known as Semaphorin-3A in the developing auditory system,” she noted. “I hypothesize this protein plays a unique role in synaptic formation through activity modulation, and thus could be a potential therapeutic to ameliorate damage caused by noise-induced hearing loss.” 

Shepard said she was humbled to receive the mentorship award.

“It is a privilege to work with such passionate, motivated, and talented young scientists and knowing that I was nominated by so many of these undergraduate student researchers is truly the greatest honor,” she said. “This award is also a testament to the strength of the Department of Human Science, which prides itself on providing experiential and inquiry-based learning opportunities for all of our students.”

‘Enriching Scientific Discussions’

Yannuzzi said he was honored to win the best poster award. “For over three years, my research project has been my biggest passion at Georgetown,” he said, noting his work focused, using fruit flies, on the repair of DNA double-strand breaks with specific attention on CtIP, a repair protein. “This award made the long days and late nights spent on this project even more rewarding.”

“I am incredibly grateful to the URC faculty advisors and my colleagues on the student planning committee for making this virtual conference a reality,” Yannuzzi added. “We were able to capture the enriching scientific discussions at in-person conferences, allowing me to share my enthusiasm for my research with others and receive exciting new questions.”

By Bill Cessato