2017 McNair Fellows Present Research Projects in Senior Talks

The Senior McNair Fellows who spoke on April 18 are part of the cohort of 10 who are presenting their undergraduate research projects this year. From left to right: Nicholas Morgan ’17 (majoring in economics), Stacy Uchendu (majoring in chemistry), Hanna Morales Hernandez (majoring in chemistry) , and Cindy Flores (majoring in earth and environmental science).

The Senior McNair Fellows who spoke on April 18 are part of the cohort of 10 who are presenting their undergraduate research projects this year. From left to right: Nicholas Morgan ’17 (majoring in economics), Stacy Uchendu (majoring in chemistry), Hanna Morales Hernandez (majoring in chemistry) , and Cindy Flores (majoring in earth and environmental science).

This spring, the 10 McNair Fellows of the Wesleyan Class of  2017 are presenting their undergraduate research projects at Senior Talks on Thursdays at noon from April 18 through May 4, in Allbritton 311. The presentations describe the research that students have conducted with Wesleyan faculty mentors. Many of these projects also are the subject of student theses or final papers presented for the Wesleyan BA requirements.

The Wesleyan University Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, established in 2007, assists students from underrepresented groups with preparing for, entering, and progressing successfully through postgraduate education by providing guidance, research opportunities, and academic and financial support to students planning to pursue PhDs. Junior and Senior Fellows do research with faculty mentors and participate in program activities with the McNair cohort—and since its inception, 138 students have been served by this program. Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Suzanne O’Connell serves as the faculty director; Ronnie Hendrix is the associate director.

The directors note that two members of this year’s cohort are prize winners, with Selena Gonzalez ’17 awarded Butterfield Prize, and Hanna Morales Hernandez ’17  awarded Philip B. Hawk Prize. Additionally, Joanna Korpany ’18 received the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award for Organic Chemistry.  The directors report that many of the senior McNair fellows will be attending graduate school programs next fall, at universities like Stonybrook, Iowa, UCLA, Columbia, and Yale.

Reflecting on this year’s fellows, O’Connell says, “For Ronnie and me, what was most impressive about this group was how well they worked together and supported each other through their research projects and the graduate school application process, They were a pleasure to work with.”

Illustrating their range of interests and academic pursuits, as well as the professors who served as mentors, the students and their research paper titles are listed below:

On April 18, four students gave their presentations:  Nicholas Morgan ’17 spoke on “Incentivized to Incarcerate? The Political Economy of Private Prisons.” His mentor was Assistant Professor of Government Yamil Velez. Hanna Morales Hernandez ’17 had researched “Syntheses of Fluorinated Trehalose Derivatives to Test Their Impact on Protein Stability,” working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. Cindy Flores ’17 gave a talk on “Fish Genetics: Understanding Population Structure Using Mitochondrial Gene ND2 in Eastern Blacknose Dace of the Connecticut River Basin,” a project for which Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, served as her mentor. Stacy Uchendu presented results on “Characterizing Protocatechuate Dioxygenase Superfamily Members: Exploring DesB Inhibition,” which she explored working with mentor Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor.

On April 27, Deja Knight ’17 spoke on “Soul Food: The Plight of African American Food Sovereignty, Food Insecurity, and Resistance,” a project in which she was mentored by Assistant Professor of Science in Society Anthony Hatch. Sarah Knight ’17 presented her project, “Differential Effects of Audiovisual Integration in Congenital Amusia”; Assistant Professor Psyche Loui, of the Psychology and the Neuroscience & Behavior departments served as her mentor. Luz Mendez ’17 spoke on “Developing New Substrates for a Single-Molecule DNA Cleavage Assay,” a project she worked on with Assistant Professor Candice Etson of the Physics Department.

On May 4, Tatianna Pryce ’17 will present “A Strategy to Purify and Express the Restriction Endonuclease BcnI; Assistant Professor of Physics Candice Etson served as her mentor on the project. Trinity Russell ’17 will speak on “Effects of Nicotine Exposure and Anxiety on Motivation for Gambling-like Cues.” She worked with mentor Assistant Professor Mike Robinson in the Psychology and Neuroscience and Behavior departments. Selena Gonzalez ’17 will discuss her work, “Structural Plasticity of New Neurons in the Adult Brain and the Impact of Neural Stem-Cell Transplantation,” which was mentored by Professor of Neuroscience and Behavior Janice Naegele.