CELS students showcase scientific research to diverse audience

“Being awarded for our research was such a proud and validating moment,” reflects Steven Sipolski, one of this year’s winners in the University of Rhode Island’s Annual Undergraduate Research Celebration. “It was great to be reassured that others were able to see the value in the research that we worked so hard on.”

The research celebration, held December 13, 2016, gave students from diverse science backgrounds an opportunity to showcase their recent research to friends, family, and the University community.  The initiative, a joint collaboration between the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) and the College of Engineering, featured undergraduate research completed by students in the Coastal and Environmental Fellows, Science and Engineering Fellows, and Energy Fellows programs.

Justine Fox

First place was awarded to Justine Fox, a senior in the Environmental Science and Management major who is working in Dr. Nancy Karraker’s laboratory of wetland ecology and herpetology. Fox’s poster, “Inventory of Reptiles and Amphibians at Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia,” showcased the importance of performing an inventory of the Eastern Spadefoot toad, an extremely understudied species due to its nocturnal behavior and infrequent breeding. “I hope to continue having an impact on protecting these unique and beautiful creatures,” says Fox of her future career plans.

2nd place winner
Jessica Atutubo with mentor Scott Buchanan

Jessica Atutubo, a Wildlife and Conservation Biology major, received second place for her poster, focusing on the influence of interstate highways on the genetic structure of eastern painted turtle populations across Rhode Island. Atutubo currently works in a molecular lab with Dr. Jason Kolbe and Dr. Karraker where she investigates the genetic makeup and DNA structure of the painted turtle species.

Steven Sipolski, Lauren Zeffer, and Sara Datson (right)

The third place winners include Sara Datson, Environmental Science and Management major, Steven Sipolski, Biological Sciences major, and Lauren Zeffer, Wildlife and Conservation Biology major, for their posters describing the foraging and nesting behaviors of the Eastern Carpenter Bee, a native pollinator of Rhode Island. The three students worked under the guidance of Dr. Steven Alm in the Department of Plant Sciences and Entomology at CELS.

“This event was a great learning experience for me” says Datson, “It allowed me to become more comfortable with public speaking in general, and it also allowed me to practice presenting scientific research to a diverse audience.” In addition to creating posters, students also orally presented their work at the research celebration, summarizing key points, methods, and findings from their research.

Along with family, friends, and fellow students, there were some influential faces in the audience this year. Potential employers and alumni attended the presentation thanks to a new partnership between the Center for Career and Experiential Education, the Alumni Center, and the URI Foundation. “We are hoping this will strengthen the ties between us and our employer stakeholders as well as give students the opportunity to build their professional networks,” says Brianne Neptin, Coordinator of the Coastal and Environmental Fellowship Program.

All five winners of the 2016 competition represent the Coastal and Environmental Fellows program, which helps students apply cutting edge science to the improvement of the world’s health, agricultural, and natural resource systems.

The competition showcased the work of 57 undergraduate students from a diverse range of science departments including Marine Affairs, Biological Sciences, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Mechanical, Industrial, and Systems Engineering. As in previous years, graduate students, faculty, and staff judged the posters and selected the winners based on aesthetics, content, and clarity.

The URI community looks forward to another year of innovative research, and to continued collaboration amongst diverse science programs between the colleges in an effort to prepare students for their future science careers and research endeavors.