2018 Undergraduate Research Scholars Symposium


LAUNCH-undergraduate research

LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) Symposium
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
9:00 AM-4:30 PM
Memorial Student Center (MSC) at Texas A&M University (TAMU)

The Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas (AURAT)

Event Overview

On February 28, 2018, LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research held its first ever Undergraduate Research Scholars Symposium in the Memorial Student Center on the campus of Texas A&M University. This Symposium showcased undergraduate researchers in the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) thesis program. The Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) thesis program provides undergraduates with a graduate student experience by allowing them to participate in research, produce a professional document, and communicate their findings as principal authors to the University’s scholarly community.

120 students from Texas A&M University presented their undergraduate research projects:

  • 56 students presented in oral format
  • 64 students presented in poster format
  • 2 of the students from the TAMU Qatar Campus presented
  • 1 student from the TAMU Galveston Campus presented
  • 9 team presentations
  • 91 faculty advisors involved in the mentorship of the URS students presenting at the Symposium
  • The 120 students from the TAMU College Station Campus represented nearly all colleges on campus.

More Stats:

  • 116 students from LAUNCH: Learning Communities attended oral and poster sessions as audience members.
  • Over 300 students from LAUNCH: Honors attended oral and poster sessions as audience members.
  • 7 Aggie Research Program doctoral and postdocs volunteered as moderators for panels
  • 2 English Graduate students volunteered as moderators for panels
  • 41 faculty members and postdocs volunteered as active listeners for oral and poster presentations by undergraduate students.
  • 22 members from the LAUNCH office and the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors program volunteered to help run the event.

Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas

LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research at Texas A&M University, College Station, aims to strengthen the visibility of undergraduate research in Texas with our counterparts at The University of Texas at Austin. The new Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas—a community of elite student researchers at our two flagship universities—provides these exceptional students with networking opportunities, the chance to hone their professional skills, and a venue to discuss the importance of undergraduate research and the impact it has on their lives.

  • 6 student members from Texas A&M University presented research posters
  • 5 students from the University of Texas at Austin presented research posters


Event Schedule

The LAUNCH URS Symposium is free and open to the public. Undergraduate students from all disciplines are encouraged to attend the LAUNCH URS Symposium to learn more about how to get involved in research at Texas A&M University.

LAUNCH URS Symposium also fulfills the URS thesis program requirement for students to do a public presentation and also offers them a chance to receive constructive feedback on their research projects and presentation skills. The LAUNCH URS Symposium features both poster and oral presentations by undergraduate researchers in a variety of disciplines.

Both oral and poster presentations were attended by faculty, staff, post-docs, and graduate students invited to attend as active listeners and provide feedback on research projects and presentation skills. Undergraduate students in LAUNCH: Honors and LAUNCH: Learning Communities programs will visit presentations and will be assigned reflection activities to help them discover their own research interests and develop their communication skills. Volunteers for the LAUNCH URS Symposium will include the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors, Learning Communities’ Peer Mentors, and LAUNCH staff members.

Morning Sessions:

  • Oral Presentations | 9:00-10:00 AM | MSC 2500-2503
  • Poster Presentations | 10:00-11:00 AM | MSC Bethancourt Ballroom (MSC 2300 A-B)
  • Oral Presentations | 10:15-11:15 AM | MSC 2500-2503

Afternoon Sessions:

  • Oral Presentations | 1:00-2:00 PM | MSC 2500-2503
  • Oral Presentations | 2:15-3:15 PM | MSC 2500-2503
  • Poster Presentations | 3:00-4:00 PM | MSC Bethancourt Ballroom (MSC 2300 A-B)
  • Oral Presentations | 3:30-4:30 PM | MSC 2500-2503

Speaker Schedule: http://tx.ag/URSSymposium2018Schedule

Abstract Book: http://tx.ag/URSSymposium2018AbstractBook


(official) 2018_AURAT_Logo

AURAT Schedule

The inaugural meeting of the Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas coincided with the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) Symposium.

Campus Tour
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 2403 (meeting location), Memorial Student Center
A personal tour for our guests from the University of Texas at Austin, hosted by the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors.

12:00 PM-2:00 PM
Room 2403, Memorial Student Center
Included a special presentation on National Fellowships presented by Benjamin Simington, Program Assistant for National Fellowships, LAUNCH.

Attend Presentations at the URS Symposium
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
Rooms 2500-2503, Memorial Student Center

AURAT Presentations at the URS Symposium
3:00 PM-4:00 PM
Room 2300 A-B (Bethancourt Ballroom), Memorial Student Center

Attend Presentations at the URS Symposium
4:00 PM-4:45 PM
Rooms 2500-2503, Memorial Student Center

AURAT Photo Op
4:45 PM-5:00 PM
Room 2403 (meeting location), Memorial Student Center

Mix & Mingle
5:00 PM-6:00 PM
Forsyth Gallery, Memorial Student Center
LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research provided an opportunity to meet with an elite group of undergraduate researchers from Texas A&M’s College Station, Qatar, and Galveston campuses, as well as students from The University of Texas at Austin. Students learned about the cutting-edge research being conducted at the two flagship institutions in Texas.

Media Information

Event Coordinators:

  • Dr. Sarah M. Misemer, Associate Professor and Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH
  • Ms. Annabelle G. Aymond, Program Coordinator for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH
  • Ms. M. Caroline Sonnier, Program Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH



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Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas, 2018

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Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas Inaugural Meeting, 2018

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Academy of Undergraduate Researchers Across Texas Inaugural Meeting, 2018

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Taif Mohamed (left) and Shaika Al-Qahtani (right) presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018. Taif and Shaika are students from Texas A&M University, Qatar campus.


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Claye Epperson presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018. 
Claye is the first student piloting a collaboration among LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research, the Department of History, and the TAMU School of Law.


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Cora Drozd presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018.
Cora is the first student piloting a collaboration between LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research and Philosophy for Children Texas.

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Angie Cisneros presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Yumei Li presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Dario Avendano presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Cameron Criswell presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Zachary Ratliff presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Jialu Zhao presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018

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Sneha Santani and Leslie Escalante-Trevino presenting at the URS Symposium, 2018


Undergraduate Research Expo 2017


Student & Faculty Networking Panel, Undergraduate Research Expo, October 4, 2017

On 4 October 2017, LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research held its first ever all-day Undergraduate Research Expo in the Memorial Student Center on the campus of Texas A&M University. This Expo expanded on the two-hour resource fair held in years past. The event showcased opportunities for faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students to find ways to get involved in undergraduate research. Morning panels targeted administrators, faculty, staff, and graduate students with discussions on “Research Cultures and Mentoring Models” and the topic “Successful Integration of Undergraduates into Your Research Community.”  In the afternoon, multiple spaces in the MSC were used to house concurrent events for undergraduate students that included: a two-hour Resource Fair, the Aggie Research Program’s Aggie Research Scholars’ research poster presentations, and three break-out sessions led by faculty, staff, and graduate students (LAUNCH: UGR’s Getting Started in Research, Team v. Individual Research, and Research Opportunities and Resources). Volunteers for the Expo included LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors, Learning Communities’ Peer Mentors, and LAUNCH staff members. The day culminated with a Speed Networking Panel, in which 44 faculty from across campus presented 60-second blurbs on their research and opportunities for undergraduates, followed by a Networking Social that provided a time for students and faculty to visit informally about opportunities and involvement.

Undergraduate Research supports Texas A&M’s commitment to high-impact practices and learning outcomes identified in its Quality Enhancement Program by engaging students in experiences that allow them to take learning beyond the classroom as they master depth of knowledge in their fields as well as critical thinking skills.  Undergraduate Research is also one of the ways that faculty, staff, and graduate students at Texas A&M can create transformational learning through discovery of new knowledge and innovative approaches to real-world challenges.  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently dedicated a special report on 8 October 2017, to the topic of undergraduate research and its importance. We have long known that undergraduate research can help increase retention and diversity, boost student placement in post-baccalaureate degrees, and provide a strong foundation for lifelong learning.  The LAUNCH: UGR office now hopes to shine a spotlight on our resources and create even more opportunities for students to become members of the community of scholars at this tier-one research institution. Planning has already begun for next year’s Expo in October 2018.


Kelsey Morgan ‘17: A Journey to a Career in the Humanities


“I love my job because it’s a daily reminder to me that in a world dominated by technology, the humanities still have a role and I get to help ensure that.”
– Kelsey Morgan ’17


Ms. Kelsey Morgan is from Montgomery, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University in May 2017 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both philosophy and English, and a minor in religious studies. Kelsey is now the Visual Communications Coordinator for Humanities Texas, a nonprofit, educational organization based in Austin, Texas. Kelsey serves the organization by managing communications through newsletters, the organization’s website, and their social media presence.

Kelsey’s Journey with the Humanities

Kelsey’s current position at Humanities Texas is the result of a winding journey through changing career goals and coming to terms with her love for the humanities. Originally convinced that she wanted to be a biology major and work in a lab, Kelsey arrived at Texas A&M and decided to pursue a degree in the humanities in the hopes of becoming a pastor. She describes her relationship with the humanities saying, “I have always excelled at math and science, but have also loved literature. It captivated me in a way that science never could. I struggled with the humanities because they required me to voice my own opinions.” Influenced by her philosophy and English curricula, Kelsey began seriously considering a career in academia. She says that it was this change in her career goals that led her to participate in the Glasscock Summer Scholars Program and the Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) Program, opportunities available through a collaboration between the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research (GCHR) and LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research, during her junior year.

How Undergraduate Research Changed Kelsey’s Career Goals

As part of the Glasscock Summer Scholars Program, Kelsey enrolled in a two-week seminar led by Dr. Nandra Perry, which focused on secular and religious conversion narratives. Kelsey’s Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) thesis was a case study of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015, the subsequent confederate flag debate, and the ways that the media portrayal of the shooter, Dylann Roof, hindered arguments against his actions. The experiences Kelsey gained through undergraduate research provided her with connections to the Glasscock Center, where she was invited to work as an undergraduate apprentice. Kelsey says this apprenticeship “helped [her] gain confidence in [her] own thoughts and willingness to speak [her] mind.”

Kelsey’s time as an undergraduate researcher also sparked an interest in editing, as well as a desire to work in communications. “While writing my thesis, I saw a way that I could help implement the changes I was arguing for. I decided that I wanted a job in communication but still was unsure what that meant for me,” Kelsey says. Kelsey started working at the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research (GCHR), where she was given the opportunity to explore copy editing and graphic design in the context of a communications position. Like many humanities majors, Kelsey believed that she needed to go to graduate school in order to get a job with her degrees. However, looking back, Kelsey says, “My time as an Undergraduate [Research] Scholar and undergraduate apprentice [at the Glasscock Center] made me realize that graduate school was no longer a necessity for me.” It was also during her time at the Glasscock Center that she connected with her current supervisor at Humanities Texas during a professional event hosted by the Glasscock Center.

Kelsey’s Continuing Journey

Kelsey’s love for the humanities shines through when she talks about her job at Humanities Texas:

“I have found a way through communications, especially graphic design, to combine my love of art and aesthetics, with technology to promote the humanities. I feel I have found a career that combines my knack for technology and eye for precision with the fun challenges of the humanities.”

In the future, Kelsey plans to continue work for a few years and then go back to school to pursue a master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication.

Kelsey’s Advice for Freshmen and Graduating Seniors

Reflecting on her own experience, Kelsey offers some retrospective advice for freshmen and for graduating seniors:

For freshmen: “I struggled with being a liberal arts major at a school known for engineering. Everyone coming into college is uncertain about their futures, no matter how sure they may seem. The important thing is to find what you love and study that. Not what you think you should be studying, or what others tell you to study. Take every opportunity that comes your way even if it doesn’t make sense. I didn’t need to write a thesis but because I decided to, basically on a whim, my life has drastically changed for the better. I found confidence I didn’t know I had and a passion that I never would have dreamed of.”

For graduating seniors: “Keep in touch with people. Connections are one of the best resources you have. Also, don’t take a job just because it’s offered. It’s better to find a job you’re passionate about and build connections than to be working for a company you don’t believe in. Turning down a job offer is the scariest thing to a recent graduate but it’s the best thing I ever did. Saying no is okay, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, as cliché as that sounds.”

Learn More

Written by M. Caroline Sonnier ’16, Program Assistant for LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research

Staff Spotlight: Matthew Bizzell ’14, Thesis Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH

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Matthew Bizzell ’14

LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research is delighted to welcome back Matthew Bizzell ’14, Thesis Assistant for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program at LAUNCH. Matthew is returning to reprise his role as the Thesis Assistant for LAUNCH’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Last year he aided in the review process of nearly three hundred scholar theses while also holding office hours for current scholars. This year, he will funnel all of his research experience—both within the Scholars Program and without—to best serve incoming scholars of all disciplines.

Outside of the Undergraduate Research Scholars program, Bizzell will be teaching Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition and Technical Writing at San Jacinto College in South Houston where he currently resides with his wife and their cat. When he finds himself outside the clutches of academia, Bizzell writes award-winning horror fiction that has appeared in Acidic Fiction and the Sagebrush Review. He is currently working on a novel that will knock your socks right off. When forced to put down a pen and stop clacking away at a keyboard, Bizzell co-hosts and produces the upcoming podcast, There Will Be Spoilers, a look at AFI’s top 100 films list that dedicates an episode to each film and its themes, reception, and overall contribution to American culture as we know it.

Matthew Bizzell grew up in San Antonio, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University with a dual BA in English-Creative Writing and Philosophy in 2014 and again in 2016 with an MA in American Literature. In his Masters thesis Ghosts in the Gloom: Encountering the Specter of Memory in Heinemann, Ninh, and O’Brien, Bizzell explores trauma in the Vietnam War and describes how narrative provides an avenue for relief. Ghosts in the Gloom will be published in 2018 through the Texas A&M Libraries OAKTrust Repository.

No one can truly explain the inner-workings of Matt Bizzell’s headspace, but our best guess is that they were a result of a childhood spent in a library for hours on end, exploring different worlds and different planes of existence. That, and he didn’t eat his vegetables—like, ever.

During his undergraduate career at Texas A&M, Bizzell acted as a contributing editor to the undergraduate philosophy journal, Aletheia, where he sifted through a variety of philosophical essays and articles with the intent to publish the very best the university had to offer. No stranger to research, Bizzell spent a year in Cushing Memorial Library digging up records on the Bryan Army Air Field (now Riverside Campus) under the Pioneer Grant. After a year of work, his findings were compiled, narrativized, and submitted to become a plaque that will eventually be placed on the site of the old base by the Brazos Valley Historical Committee.

In the summer of 2015, Bizzell joined After Combat: the Veteran Voices Project, a digital space led by Dr. Marian Eide in the Department of English that provides a place for combat veterans to anonymously tell their stories free from outside control, participate in a community of individuals with similar experiences, and seek out resources. He is now the project manager of After Combat and busily conducts interviews, writes “Echoes” (responses to interviews or resources that are meant to provide perspective or generate ideas among veterans), and continues to build the website when no one is looking.

Matthew Bizzell can only be reached by smoke signal, carrier pigeon, and ugr@tamu.edu.

Written by Matthew Bizzell ’14, Thesis Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH
Edited by Annabelle Aymond ’14, Administrative Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Awards

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is one of the most prestigious awards to support graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Nearly 17,000 applications were submitted for the 2016 NSF Fellowship competition, resulting in 2,000 award offers. This spring, 14 current and former Texas A&M University students were selected as 2016 NSF Graduate Fellows, while 21 were named Honorable Mention. Several of these students participated in LAUNCH programs at Texas A&M, including 5 who completed an undergraduate research thesis as an Undergraduate Research Scholar, 4 who participated in the University Honors program, one Undergraduate Research Ambassador, and two authors for Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal.

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Alexandria Payne ’16, Bioenvironmental Sciences and Wildlife & Fisheries

2016 NSF Graduate Fellow Alexandria Payne recently graduated from Texas A&M, where she double-majored in bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences. Alex began her research experience in the labs of Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof and Dr. Herman Scholthof in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Alex will continue at A&M for a PhD in entomology, studying with Dr. Juliana Rangel in the Honey Bee Lab, where Alex will investigate the interactions of honey bees and the invasive Tawny crazy ant. Alex, a University Scholar and Undergraduate Research Scholar, was previously nominated for the Udall Scholarship recognizing commitment to environmental issues. She graduated cum laude with the Honors Fellows and Honors in Bioenvironmental Sciences distinctions. Alex has an upcoming publication, “Do More Promiscuous Honey Bee Queens Produce Healthier Hives?” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.

In addition to the GRFP, Alex’s graduate study will be supported by Texas A&M’s Diversity Fellowship. She also received the Senior Merit award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Reflecting on the benefits of the GRFP, Alex says, “This fellowship has given me the gift of being able to choose research topics I find interesting and wish to delve into. I wish to advise everyone to apply for or reach for the seemingly impossible as you may surprise yourself with the results.”

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Ana Chang-Gonzalez ‘16, Biomedical Engineering

Ana Chang-Gonzalez, another 2016 NSF Graduate Fellow, recently graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and the Engineering Honors distinction. As an undergraduate, she volunteered in the Molecular Biomechanics Lab and conducted protein simulation in an AggiE-Challenge. She also began working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories to develop software for biological purposes. With NSF support, Ana will continue that project in her graduate studies, expanding a software that builds computational models of biological images and analyzes them for quantitative information. Ana is a former resident of the Honors Housing Community and a member of Alpha Eta Mu Beta, the Biomedical Engineering Honor Society, and Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society. She has an upcoming publication, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Numbers,” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.

A three-time recipient of the Dean’s Honor Roll, Ana says that, through her NSF application, she “learned how to neatly craft all [her] experiences into a concise form, how to formulate a research proposal, and the value of having faculty mentors that truly care about [her] success.” This fellowship will allow her “to focus more on conducting high-impact research and making a true difference in the field.”

LAUNCH would like to congratulate the Aggie 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows and Honorable Mentions and acknowledge their valuable contributions to our programs!

National Science Foundation 2016 Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees:

  • Shelby Bieritz, biomedical engineering. 2014 Fulbright Scholar.
  • Timothy Brown, physics of materials research.
  • Stacy Cereceres, biomedical engineering.
  • Ana Chang Gonzalez, bioengineering. Engineering Honors, Explorations
  • Chace Holzheuser, evolutionary biology.
  • Ethan Kamphaus, materials engineering. Engineering Honors.
  • Shannon Murray, materials engineering.
  • David Parobek, macromolecular, supramolecular, & nanochemistry.
  • Alexandria Payne, entomology. University Honors Program, Honors in Bioenvironmental Sciences, Undergraduate Research Scholar, University Scholar, Udall Scholarship nominee, Explorations
  • John Peters, neurosciences. University Honors Program, Undergraduate Research Scholar.
  • Karis Tang-Quan, bioengineering.
  • Taneidra Walker, biomedical engineering.
  • Jessica Wang, paleoclimate geosciences. Undergraduate Research Scholar.
  • Sarah Ward, macromolecular, supramolecular, & nanochemistry.

Honorable Mention:

  • Kristine Arvola, tissue engineering.
  • Alyssa Bennett, ocean engineering. University Honors Program, Honors Housing Community Sophomore & Junior Advisor.
  • Megan Brooks, materials engineering.
  • Erin Buchholtz, ecology.
  • Prachi Dhavalikar, biomedical engineering.
  • Garrett Edwards, biochemistry.
  • Grace Fletcher, biomedical engineering.
  • Thomas Fowler, aeronautical & aerospace engineering.
  • Julie Hammett, systems engineering.
  • Joshua Herrington, aeronautical & aerospace engineering.
  • Chris Holland, organismal biology.
  • Rania Labib, mechanical engineering.
  • Pierre Lau, environmental biology.
  • James Moore, chemical synthesis. Undergraduate Research Scholar.
  • Anish Patel, chemical engineering.
  • Zachary Popkin-Hall, evolutionary biology.
  • Ryan Priest, environmental engineering.
  • Mayra Ramirez, developmental psychology.
  • Elise Voltura, environmental biology.
  • Elizabeth Walsh, physiology.
  • Randy White, particle physics. Undergraduate Research Scholar, Undergraduate Research Ambassador.


Written by Adelia Humme ’15, Program Coordinator for National Fellowships, LAUNCH

Edited by Annabelle Aymond ’14, Administrative Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH

2016 Outstanding Thesis Award Winners

Undergraduate Research Scholars is a prestigious graduation distinction enabling students to explore new avenues for discovery in their field of study. The two-semester program allows undergraduates to experience life as a graduate student by conducting research under the supervision of a Texas A&M faculty mentor faculty mentor that culminates in the publishing of a structured undergraduate thesis. It is LAUNCH’s longest-standing and largest capstone program, with 227 Scholars completing the distinction this year.

Students who undertake this program must submit a research proposal to LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research detailing their plans and research goals for the project. Once accepted into the program, Research Scholars must attend workshops, meet draft deadlines and submit progress reports that help to improve the quality of their thesis and promote a professional research environment. Through individual meetings with their faculty advisor, peer-reviewers, and LAUNCH staff, undergraduates produce a succinct, consistently formatted thesis conveying the importance and extent of their research. To better replicate the graduate-experience, students are required to present their findings at a public symposium or conference (such as Texas A&M’s Student Research Week), reinforcing the importance of verbally communicating one’s research to a diverse audience. Upon completing the program, Research Scholars will receive a graduation distinction, have the opportunity to publish their completed thesis according to their preferences, and gain an exceptional undergraduate experience of developing a product of their hard work, determination, and curiosity.

It takes dedication to complete the Undergraduate Research Scholars program, and LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research is proud to recognize individuals who excelled at the challenge. Each spring, two Scholars are honored with the Outstanding Thesis Award, which is offered in two categories: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences.  These students conducted extensive research, showed attentiveness to detail, met all deadlines and requirements with quality work, and produced an exceptional thesis that captures the value of Aggie undergraduate research.

David LaCroix

Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, David LaCroix ’16, Dr. Dilma Da Silva (left to right)
Photo Credit: Dillon Jones ‘18

The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics is David LaCroix ’16, an Engineering Honors student and Computer Science major. In his thesis titled “Data Services for Internet of Things”, LaCroix explains the challenges of managing data architecture for Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and provides advice to future developers on dealing with security efficiency and accessibility concerns. LaCroix concludes that neither the research nor industry communities have sufficient guidelines for handling data in applications on IoT devices and identifies the most critical factors to be considered in moving forward with IoT data storage. LaCroix undertook this study with the support of his research advisor, Dr. Dilma Da Silva in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

John Davis

Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, John Davis ’16, Dr. Dinah Hannaford
(left to right)
Photo Credit: Bailey Woods ‘17

The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences is John T. Davis ’16, an Honors Fellows student and double major in International Studies and French. Working with his research advisor, Dr. Dinah Hannaford in the Department of International Studies, Davis explored the question Does helping hurt? by examining the connections between Christian mission work and international development in his thesis titled “The Historical Impact of Christian Missions on International Development and its Effects on Contemporary Practices”. Through studying the shift from traditional faith-based aid to a more global and modern approach to social change, Davis sought to address questions regarding the role of faith in motivating positive change. He explains that a deeper understanding of these issues will help institutions make decisions regarding international development, religious or not, and will provide a clearer understanding of how their motivations and objectives affect the progress and quality of international development. LaCroix and Davis’s achievements were recognized at the LAUNCH Recognition Ceremony on May 12, 2016, in the Bethancourt Ballroom in the MSC.

All UGR Scholars receive a medallion to wear at graduation, and the Undergraduate Research Scholars distinction is indicated in their graduation programs and on their transcripts. The 2015-2016 cohort of Undergraduate Research Scholars was the largest ever. Students interested in participating in next year’s Undergraduate Research Scholars program should contact ugr@tamu.edu. Eligibility requirements include a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above and 60 hours of undergraduate coursework, 24 of which must be completed at TAMU. Applications and program requirements are available at ugr.tamu.edu.

Written by Bailey Woods ’17, English and Classics
Edited by Annabelle Aymond ’14, Administrative Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH and Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH

Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers as a Graduate Student

As a high impact educational practice, undergraduate research provides students an opportunity to expand their knowledge beyond classroom learning.  Through its Quality Enhancement and Strategic Plans Texas A&M University has committed to expanding opportunities for undergraduate research as a means to promote deep, integrative learning.  Numerous studies have shown that these benefits are greatly influenced by the quality of mentoring undergraduate students receive during the course of their research experience.  Whereas all undergraduate researchers have an opportunity to work with faculty mentors, at a Tier 1 research institution such as Texas A&M the reality is that much research mentoring is achieved by graduate students.  Graduate students often assume primary responsibility for instructing undergraduates in basic research techniques, means of effective research communication, and critical thinking skills.  The quality of this research mentoring experience can have a major impact on a research student’s learning, confidence, and career decisions.

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Graduate students discuss common mentoring problems with
Jory Denny, Computer Science & Engineering
Photo Credit: Annabelle Aymond ‘14

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Andrea Gerberding ’16, Biochemistry and Genetics,
Undergraduate Research Ambassador, contributes to the discussion.
Photo Credit: Annabelle Aymond ‘14

To help graduate students function more effectively as undergraduate research mentors, twice each year LAUNCH presents a two hour workshop titled “Mentoring Undergraduates in Research: A Workshop for Graduate Students”. The objective of this interactive workshop is to bring together graduate students with varied experiences to share best practices and discuss common problems in undergraduate research mentoring. A panel of 6-8 experienced graduate student mentors from diverse disciplines leads the discussion. Most of the workshop is devoted to small group discussions of case studies representing common mentoring concerns encountered in undergraduate research. Six to eight tables comprising novice mentors, experienced mentors, research faculty, and successful undergraduate researchers discuss these mentoring scenarios in depth, providing participants with a diversity of solutions from which to choose.

Jory Denny, Computer Science & Engineering, a graduate student panelist for the workshop since 2011, shares a few thoughts about his experience:

Plutarch said, “the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” This is the foundation of every great mentor, the idea that mentoring is an approach to inspire another to learn. Unfortunately, in mentoring over 40 students in research, including undergraduate researchers, high school researchers, and international interns, I know it is more difficult that it looks. The intrinsic difficulty in mentoring, in my opinion, is that each person responds differently to mentoring practices. For example, one student may thrive under full independence with only minor directional changes to keep them on track, while another requires daily feedback and attention. BUT, this is what makes me so excited about mentoring — it is seldom the same mundane technical procedure!

As a mentor for LAUNCH’s mentoring workshop, I have immensely enjoyed hearing different opinions and experiences from other mentors, mentees, and participants. In order to hone my mentoring skills, I always shared my experience with others and tried to learn as much from them as I could. The most significant benefit of the workshop in my mind is the diversity of fields and experiences. We all mentor different personalities on vastly different subjects, which leads to great discussion and tips. As an example, I picked up the benefit of requiring undergraduates to maintain a rigorous laboratory notebook (not all too common in my field/research lab) from a chemist.

Implementing new mentoring practices has greatly enhanced the mentoring experience for both me and my undergraduates. I maintain renewed vigor and passion for mentoring, which gets the undergraduates excited about research; I lead students to an answer, which lets undergraduates learn to find their own answers and start questioning their knowledge of a subject; and I have developed strong and lasting friendships, which has provided my mentees with a source for career advice and professional development. These are but a few of the powerful benefits from mentoring undergraduates in research and tidbits I have gained from others, and I cannot wait to see what my future in mentoring has in store!

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Jory Denny, Computer Science & Engineering, introduces himself to the May 2015 workshop. Panelists from left to right: Chris Sandoval, Wildlife & Fisheries, Allen Lunsford, Chemistry, Jory Denny, Computer Science & Engineering, Rachel Jordan, Biochemistry and Biophysics, Pratik Darvekar, Chemical Engineering, Nandita Kohli, Chemical Engineering, Bryan Clossen, Neuroscience.
Photo Credit: Annabelle Aymond ‘14

Following the group discussions, the graduate student panel reconvenes to summarize their discussions and address any questions left unresolved. Each workshop results in a summary of the most important insights gained from the group discussions which is shared with all participants. In May of 2016 this summary included approaches for ensuring preparation, developing effective communication, promoting teamwork, seeing the big picture, and nurturing independence. Through this workshop graduate students have the opportunity to reflect on their own research experiences, identify common mentoring problems, consider how to balance their own and their faculty advisor’s expectations, and then decide on a mentoring style they are most comfortable with. The workshop welcomes any graduate student who is anticipating mentoring undergraduate researchers, regardless of discipline or experience. The next workshop will be held in September 2016. Registration will be available through ers.tamu.edu.

Written by Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH
Edited by Annabelle Aymond ’14, Administrative Assistant for Undergraduate Research, LAUNCH