Nearly 100 NSM Students Present at 2020 Undergraduate Research Day

In Total, 280 UH Students Participated in Virtual Event

The 15th annual University of Houston Undergraduate Research Day was fully virtual in 2020, but that did not stop students from proudly presenting their faculty-mentored research projects.

Ninety-seven College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics students participated this year out of 280 total participants. The event launched on Tuesday, September 29, with poster viewing and online discussions occurring throughout the week. The posters remain online for viewing throughout the fall semester.

NSM student posters showcase the research they have conducted under the supervision of their mentor, usually a UH faculty member. The students also often work closely with graduate students, learning how to balance research projects with coursework. Undergraduate research gives students the opportunity to sharpen problem solving, critical thinking and communications skills. They also gain exposure to cutting-edge research in their major.

Overcoming Hurdles in Research

Biochemistry major Rosemarie Le is a UH Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow who learned about co-immunoprecipitation and western blotting procedures while working on the interaction of two proteins in the human body: the liver X receptor and estrogen receptor. She worked with her research mentor, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry Michihisa Umetani, and graduate students in his lab.

“I learned that the protocol for any procedure can be modified, depending on the nature of the experiment, to yield the best result,” said Le. “Then I learned how to work effectively in a team when we have to do multiple collaborations, whether that’s between me and a graduate student or a professor from another lab.”

Le said Umetani was an exceptional mentor who went above and beyond when the project was not running smoothly as he guided her and others on various experimental procedures in the lab.

“Sometimes he stayed up with us until midnight,” Le said.

Michael Allison, a junior biology major, worked closely with a Rice University graduate student, where he participated in the Frontiers in Science program, a collaboration between UH and Rice that provides UH and Houston Community College students with summer research experiences. His UH mentor was assistant professor of physics Greg Morrison.

“There was a lot of information, but my mentor was really patient with me,” Allison said. “It took a while, but once I got some of the computer programming down, we were able to get through it."

Although working remotely was challenging for Allison due to the lag that can come from online communications, he was able to gain computational skills and conduct his research project on modeling gene sequences.

Facing Failure and Exploring the Status Quo

The undergraduate research experience not only taught students like computer science major Aisha Farooque specialized knowledge, but also how to face failure.

“I learned that it is equally important to know how not to do something as it is to understand how to do something,” Farooque said, “especially in computer science.”

In her project related to computer science education, she used the K-nearest neighbor algorithm to classify undergraduate female self-efficacy in computer science, under the guidance of computer science instructional professor and director of undergraduate studies Nouhad Rizk.

Farooque found female students’ self-efficacy was lower compared to their male counterparts. She concluded educators at all levels must take immediate steps to engage and increase female involvement in computer science, given the booming interest in the field.

She decided to study this topic because it was apparent how male students outnumbered female students in her computer science classes, saying, “one time, I was one of only three female students between approximately 35 male students.”

The results of the study will be used to investigate and improve areas of concern for female undergraduates. Her suggestions for the future include providing role models and hands-on experience inside the classroom.

Undergraduate Research Mentoring Awards

Two NSM faculty members won this year’s Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, Tom Teets, associate professor of chemistry, and Donald Kouri, professor of physics. Only three UH faculty members received the award.

Undergraduate Research Day was organized by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards at the Honors College.

- Rebeca Trejo, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics