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Wyoming Research Scholars Program Offers Undergraduates Opportunities

October 22, 2018

Olivia Glassock’s entire family attended the University of Wyoming, but she has enjoyed opportunities that didn’t exist for her parents, including taking part in funded research starting her first semester.

Glassock, a junior from Buffalo, was part of one of the first freshman classes invited to apply for the Wyoming Research Scholars Program (WRSP).

Part of UW’s Science Initiative, the WRSP pairs undergraduate students with faculty mentors to participate in research throughout their undergraduate careers, starting as early as their freshman year. It aims to attract top high school students, retain those students in the sciences, and teach science writing and presentation skills. The program includes a student salary for their research time, funding for research support and supplies, and money for travel to meetings and conferences. Additional funding from the School of Energy Resources helped the program grow to a record 40 scholars this year.

Students in the program come from a wide variety of majors. Glassock, a junior majoring in kinesiology with a minor in physiology, hopes to become a physician assistant.

“Physician assistant schools want you to be a widely versed student and involved in things,” she says. “I thought research was a great way to get involved and see things that normal students don’t get to see.”

Glassock works in School of Pharmacy Assistant Professor Guanglong He’s lab studying the effects of obesity on the cardiovascular system. She says the research makes everything she’s learning in the classroom come to life.

“It’s one thing to be told what your liver and spleen are, and it’s another to go into the lab and open up a mouse and take out its liver and spleen and understand why you need them,” she says. “It makes everything real world.”

“One of our visions with the Science Initiative, including the Research Scholars Program, is to create a research culture at UW, where students value research and have every opportunity to engage in hands-on discovery though a research project,” WRSP Director Jamie Crait says. “Coursework is obviously a vital part of an undergraduate education but, for students to really separate themselves from their peers when they graduate, they need to experience what it’s like to actually do research rather than just read about it or hear about it in a lecture course.”

The WRSP includes many community college transfer students, including Rachel Tenney, who recently transferred from Casper College.

“I have absolutely loved doing this program so far,” says the physics and chemistry major. “It’s been an incredibly encouraging experience.”

Tenney hopes to one day earn her Ph.D. in chemistry. At UW, she works in chemistry Assistant Professor Elliott Hulley’s lab on a project involving organometallic complexes used in studying carbon-hydrogen activation, which involves the removing of a proton from a carbon.

“You have to learn so much in order to be able to do the research, so it’s a really good experience,” she says. “You also make a lot of connections because there are other undergraduates doing research, and you get to meet a lot of graduate students doing research and find out what it would be like to be a grad student.”

Tatiana Rice, also from Casper, is in her second year of the program. She’s majoring in physiology and hopes to become a doctor. Rice is working with zoology and physiology Associate Professor Kara Pratt.

“We work with the Xenopus tadpole,” Rice says. “We’re studying their visual and neurological development. We set up different situations and environments for them, and we see how they react to different visual stimuli. We study whether or not there are biological reasons for their behavior.”

All the scholars participate in outreach events.

“Last year, I went to Gillette with another researcher, and we were able to talk to different high school students and Rotary clubs about the Science Initiative and the research we’re doing,” Rice says. “We were able to answer a lot of incoming freshmen’s questions about undergraduate research, which was really cool. We do a lot of outreach.”

Rice also appreciates the other professional growth opportunities of the program.

“We have a lot of programs to help students grow in their research and see different directions for after our undergraduate experience,” Rice says. This includes meeting with alumni and other professionals in the science fields as part of innovative “speed mentoring” events.

“I’ve learned skills from this program that I wouldn’t have been able to learn any other way,” she says.
woman demonstrating something to two teenage boys
Tatiana Rice, a Wyoming Research Scholar from Casper, explains her research with tadpoles to students from Steamboat Springs (Colo.) High School. (UW Photo)

“The state of Wyoming has done an amazing job supporting us,” Glassock says. “Keep promoting undergraduates doing research. It opens our minds to a whole new world we never would have gotten to see otherwise.”

Listed below are new and returning WRSP students and their hometowns, along with their research topics and faculty mentors.

New scholars:

Boulder, Colo. -- Paul Mathews, agroecology, “Using molecular techniques to investigate metabolite and microbiology profiles of kimchi,” Bledar Bisha and Jill Keith.

Casper -- Reid Olson, zoology, “Potential role of hybridization in the adaptive evolution of cichlids in Lake Kivu,” Catherine Wagner; and Rachel Tenney, chemistry/physics, “Organometallic complexes used in studying heterolytic C-H activation,” Elliott Hulley.

Fort Collins, Colo. -- Frederick Slane, astronomy/astrophysics/physics, “Inside out galaxy formation,” Daniel Dale.

Gillette -- Bradon Bryngelson, biology/astronomy/astrophysics, research project and faculty mentor TBD; and Rosemary Hopson, zoology/botany, “Neighborhood effects on frugivory rates in a novel ecosystem,” Corey Tarwater.

Lakewood, Colo. -- Sarah Fanning, geology, “Climatic and paleoecological analysis of the Eocene Thermal Maximum 2,” Ellen Currano.

Las Cruces, N.M. -- Sydnie Fossberg, biology, research project and faculty mentor TBD.

Lawrence, Kan. -- Emma Dixon, environmental systems science/outdoor recreation and tourism management, research project and faculty mentor TBD.

Newtown, Pa. -- Grace Hartman, environmental systems science, “Black carbon particulate analysis in the Dinwoody Cirque,” David Williams.

Palmer, Alaska -- Alexa Milbradt, psychology, “Navigating virtual spaces: do brain-based correlates of personality predict performance,” Meredith Minear.

Parker, Colo. -- Ryan Jardee, petroleum engineering, research project and faculty mentor TBD.

Powell -- Sarah Rich, chemistry, “Rare-earth element doped quantum dots with enhanced optical and magnetic properties,” Brian Leonard.

Rawlins -- Bryant Jerome, physics, “Calculating the interface energetics between uranium nitride and uranium dioxide,” Dilpuneet Aidhy.

Rock Springs -- Hanna Ahuja, physiology, “Regulatory role of TRP ion channels in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative, neuromuscular, metabolic disease, and pain,” Baskaran Thyagarajan.

Sheridan -- Aeriana Roth, electrical engineering, research project and faculty mentor TBD.

Thornton, Colo. -- Josephine Tagestad, biology, “Vocal identity, recognition, and variance in Ceratopipra mentalis,” Corey Tarwater.

Waukonda, Ill. -- Daniel Stanley, biology/environment and natural resources, “Using electroencephalogram (EEG) recording to understand mechanisms underlying sudden unexpected death from epilepsy (SUDEP),” Qian-Quan Sun.

Wheatland -- Avery Hanks, physiology, research project TBD, Kara Pratt.

Worland -- Nathan Barrus, zoology, “Identifying appropriate taxa as baselines for stable isotope ecology in aquatic ecosystems,” Frank Rahel.

Returning scholars:

Buffalo -- Olivia Glassock, kinesiology and health promotion, “Physiological effects of obesity in mice,” Guanglong He.

Buford -- Amanda Christensen, chemical engineering, “Role of membrane progesterone receptor on regulation of IGFBP1 gene expression,” Amy Navratil.

Casper -- Tatiana Rice, physiology, “Visual neurological development in Xenopus tadpoles,” Kara Pratt.

Centennial -- Jacob Williams, chemistry/mathematics/statistics, “Discrete tomography techniques on novel grid systems and with multisets,” Bryan Shader.

Douglas -- Heather Townsend, biology, “Role of TRP proteins in metabolism, exercise and energy expenditure,” Baskaran Thyagarajan; and Joshua Walmsley, chemistry, “Using measurements at individual nanoparticles to screen electrocatalysts for hydrazine oxidation,” Caleb Hill.

East Wenatchee, Wash. -- Zachary Parsons, zoology, “Energetic costs of flying at altitudinal extremes,” Michael Dillon.

Greybull -- Anna Savage, environmental systems science, “Monitoring vegetation phenology using MODIS time-series satellite data,” Ramesh Sivanpillai.

Harrisburg, Neb. -- Rebecca Brenner, molecular biology/physiology, “Function of N-Acetylgalactosamine in colony development of Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” Zhaojie Zhang.

Huntsville, Ala. -- Aylin McGough, astronomy/astrophysics, “Construction of FHiRE, a high-velocity-precision spectrograph, at the Wyoming Infrared Observatory,” Chip Kobulnicky.

Laramie -- Delta Burchi, physiology, “Examining synaptic plasticity in response to rewarding stimuli to better understand diseases of reward dysfunction,” Travis Brown; Ella DeWolf, molecular biology/microbiology, “Microbial community characterization in water lilies and alpine lakes of the Snowy Range,” Cynthia Weinig; Isabel Noyes, molecular biology, “Investigation of viral infection in swallow nests at high elevation,” Myrna Miller; and Kianna Olson, astronomy/astrophysics/physics, “A very large array survey of polar BAL quasar candidates,” Michael Brotherton.

Littleton, Colo. -- Ryan Parziale, astronomy/astrophysics, “Star clusters in nearby galaxies,” Daniel Dale.

Liverpool, N.Y. -- Logan Eicholzer, environmental systems science/environment and natural resources, “Mapping WY water bodies using satellite images,” Ramesh Sivanpillai.

Newcastle -- Madison Crawford, botany, “Investigating potential effects of wind turbine color on attracting pollinating insects,” Lusha Tronstad.

Sheridan -- Tyler Myers, chemistry, “The development of organic synthetic reactions for studying biological processes and building molecular complexity from feedstock chemicals,” Michael Taylor.

Sundance -- Olivia Croft, secondary education/biology/earth science, “The effect of climate change on snail-parasite relationships,” Amy Krist.

Worland -- Narisse Trippel, mechanical engineering/energy systems engineering, “Survey and experimental assessment of agricultural crops and waste for biofuel production,” Erica Belmont.

To learn more, visit www.uwyo.edu/wrsp.

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