Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

NCUR 2024: Let’s Hear from the Participants!

Congrats to (L-R in group picture) Anish Senthilkumar, Karen Lin, Elisabeth Hood, Anna Su, Sadikshya Sitaula, Kevin Nguyen, Jonathan Thomas, Vivian Thai on presenting at NCUR 2024!

These eight SMU students had the incredible opportunity to present their research and creative work at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research 2024. They traveled to California State University, where they were able to interact with students and faculty from universities across the country for an exciting conference.

Here is more from a few of the students about their thoughts on the experience:

Preparing for the Conference:

Ellie Hood ’24: The best way I found to prepare for the conference was to attend the Undergraduate Poster Session! Being able to practice poster presentations on a smaller scale gave me confidence in myself and my research going into a much bigger poster session like NCUR!

Kevin Nguyen ’24: I prepared for the conference by making my poster. I made it early because I had the American Chemical Society conference a few weeks before. Thus, I had enough practice presenting my poster after that initial conference.

Vivian Thai ’25: I have been working on my project for almost 2 years prior to the conference, but to prepare specifically for NCUR, I scheduled a meeting with my PI and went over the data that I wanted to present. After that, I submitted an abstract and continued collecting leftover data until I was ready to make my poster. I had several meetings with my professor to draft my poster and I also presented at SMU’s Research & Innovation Week to prepare.

The NCUR Experience:

Ellie: To put it simply, NCUR was an intellectual feast. Not only was it fun and encouraging to share my own research, I also had the best time hearing about everyone else’s research! Every single poster and presentation that I came across was so interesting, and it’s so inspiring to me that so many undergraduates are dedicated to academia.

Kevin: My experience with the conference was incredibly rewarding. I only presented on one day, but for the other days, I went to see other SMU students’ presentations. Even then, I visited fellow chemistry undergraduates and saw their work. When I had time, I enjoyed the beach, hung out with friends, and relaxed in the hotel.

Vivian: My experience at the conference was amazing! I had the opportunity to do a poster presentation, but attendees were also able to watch other poster presentations and oral presentations. One of my favorite things about NCUR is that it’s a huge conference, so there is a large variety of topics. I listened to presentations with focuses ranging from Formula One to programming robots in agriculture. In addition, there was plenty of free time to explore the city. NCUR 2024 was hosted in Long Beach, CA and it was so much fun exploring the area and going to the beach.

Advice for Future NCUR Presenters:

Ellie: For future NCUR presenters, I say have fun with it! Don’t get in your head about whether or not your research is good enough to be at NCUR. If you’re at NCUR, you have something great to offer! Take time to see as many posters and presentations as you can, spend time with the other SMU presenters, and really soak it all in. Also, there are lots of grad schools tabling at NCUR. If you’re unsure about your post-grad plans but know that you want to pursue graduate education, definitely take the time to talk to the schools!

Kevin: For future presenters of NCUR, I recommend “selling” your presentations well. For poster presentations specifically, eye-catching titles and enthusiastic demeanors help to grab people’s attention and allow you to network with them. Also, please take some time to see other people’s work, as they could enlighten you on where you might go next in your research!

Vivian: Try to start your presentation in advance in case anything comes up. If you’re doing a poster, practice your spiel in the days leading up so you feel confident on the day of your presentation. Also, NCUR is a great opportunity for students who have never presented their research before. The environment is very welcoming and everyone is eager to hear about your research, so don’t stress too much about it!


Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Poster Session 2024: Let’s Hear from the Winners!

SMU’s Undergraduate Poster Session for 2024 has concluded with some incredible posters and winners! The winners Elisabeth Hood, Veronica Khoury Seeling, and Gabriel Mongaras have shared with us some information about their respective posters. Read on to learn more about them! 

Can you give us a layman’s terms explanation of your project? 

Headshot of Ellie Hood
Elizabeth Hood, Factors Affecting Romantic Partner Preferences Majors: Psychology, Sociology

Elisabeth:My study investigated factors that influenced people’s attitudes and behaviors towards romantic interethnic relationships. Through surveys and interviews, we concluded that people would rather have a partner who shares their beliefs and values than have a partner who belongs to specific racial/ethnic group. This aligns with an emerging theory of interracial relationships known as dyadic cultural affinity, which places less focus on differences in the partners’ physical appearances and more focus on the compatibility of the partners’ beliefs, values, and practices.”


Veronica Khoury Seeling, The Relationship Between Executive Functioning and Immediate Memory

Veronica: “Based on researchers like Arain, we know that frontal lobe related executive function may not be fully developed until around age 25 and although the relationship between executive functioning and memory abilities has often been researched in child and older-adult populations, little research has looked to examine that relationship in college age/young adult populations. Thus, this study sought to examine the relationship between executive function and long-term episodic memory. Executive function refers to any higher order processes such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, or inhibitory control while long term episodic memory refers to the recollection of personal experiences or events. It was hypothesized that when controlling for variables like ADHD status, anxiety or depression level, age, and hours of sleep that executive function would still predict long-term episodic memory performance. After a 1 hour in lab session in which about 95 participants’ baseline executive function and long-term episodic memory performance were assessed, we took the data and ran a multiple regression controlling for those variables previously mentioned. It was found that executive function did indeed significantly predict long term episodic memory performance, suggesting that executive function is very important for general memory abilities in college age students, and future research should look towards intervention methods for those with executive dysfunction who may be struggling in school (like those with ADHD).” 

Headshot of Gabriel Mongaras
Gabriel Mongaras, Linear Transformers With Cosine Attention Majors: Computer Science, Math, Statistics

Gabriel: “ChatGPT and related GPT style models have a major problem. After every word GPT generates, it has to store that word so it can reference it later. This is a problem as each word added increases the memory quadratically in term of the sequence length – that is every word increases the memory by every other word, not just itself! This becomes intractable to handle for any reasonable conversation or sequence. This problem comes from the attention mechanism, the heart of GPT models. We fix this problem by converting the softmax function to a cosine function and stabilizing the new attention mechanism, giving linear complexity while retaining the accuracy of the old softmax attention.” 

How long have you worked on this project 

Elisabeth:This project began in Fall 2022!”  

Veronica: “The data used for this project was taken from a larger 3-day study organized by a doctoral candidate in the MAPL lab, Diane Moon. I’ve been working on that larger project since October 2023. This particular project has been something Diane Moon and I have worked on since January/February of this year.” 

Gabriel: “I have been working on this project since September of last year.” 

How did you prepare, design, and print your poster? 

Elisabeth:To prepare and design my poster, I used a template provided by the Office of Engaged Learning. You can easily find these templates on the Engaged Learning website! The Engaged Learning website also has PDFs of the previous year’s winning posters, so I also used those as a guide. To print my poster, I used the FedEx on Hillcrest.” 

Veronica: “This poster was prepared after countless meetings with Diane Moon and was designed with previous posters done by Diane and Dr. Bowen in mind. After I initially created the poster, Diane and Dr. Bowen looked over it two separate times before it was finally printed by the Psychology department.” 

Gabriel: “Since we’ve been writing a paper, most of the information and charts came from there. However, the language had to be changed to be a little less technical. Most of the information was written around the results, algorithm and charts, which made it a lot earlier to write in less technical language, but also written like a narrative: what’s the problem, how is it fixed, what’s the results. Additionally, I tried to supply as much background information on the attention mechanism as possible with the little space I could do it in.” 

What was your favorite part about presenting your poster? 

Elisabeth:My favorite part about presenting the poster was answering people’s questions! The sociology of interethnic relationships is something I’m very passionate about, and so receiving questions and being able to answer them was really inspiring; it gave me hope that this is a topic other people care about as well!” 

Veronica: “Hearing how students with ADHD or other learning disabilities felt that accommodations and future interventions were very important for their success in college and that this research validated those experiences. This made me realize that this research, although small, was still important.” 

Gabriel: “Meeting all the cool people with amazing projects and who were super passionate about them!” 

Any tips for future presenters? 

Elisabeth:Future presenters: have confidence in yourself! Imposter syndrome is very common, especially for first-time presenters, but you know more than you think you know about your research topic. Posters are a huge feat for undergrads, so just remember that you worked so hard and you deserve to feel proud of yourself! For more practical advice, definitely get a second pair of eyes on your poster before you get it printed. Furthermore, don’t wait until the last minute to print.” 

Gabriel: “Don’t be nervous about the poster presentation. It’s a lot of fun to talk about the work you’ve been doing over the past months or year(s) and most people just want to see the cool stuff you’ve been working on! Though one piece of advice is to try to think of possible loopholes or limitations in your approach as people may ask about those.” 

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success University Honors Program

Interview with Paige Edwards, Engaged Learning Fellow

One year ago, Paige Edwards, a student studying Film and Human Rights, was able to travel to Hawai’i because of a scholarship awarded by the Human Rights and Honors Program where students learned about social justice issues. Paige connected to one of the bus drivers, Leina Fisher on this trip. Fisher is a Native Hawaiian woman working in the hospitality industry but who dreamed of starting her own business. Paige and her fellow students decided to help her out to make Makali’i – Fisher’s educational tour business catering to people interested in Hawaiians culture and history. This experience inspired her project Re-Imagine Paradise: The Impacts of the Illegal Annexation of Hawai’i and Tourism on Native Hawaiians. The project focuses on “how tourism is a consequence and a complicity of colonial and illegal annexation of Hawai’i.” 

A significant aspect of this project was that Paige had to collaborate with other students and professors. Last summer, Paige was in McNair Scholars Program SRI course which provided her with a good foundation to write research papers. Paige also leaned on other research students by running ideas by them to help improve her paper and she often contacted her faculty mentor Brad Klein when needing help. 

This project is not only a passion for Paige now but impacts her long-term goals of going to law school where she wants to focus on serving underrepresented communities. Her “interests in human rights and law have not only shaped [her] research, but also the kind of work [she] likes to produce.” For right now though, Paige is producing a documentary film called Kanaka Driven Tours which “focuses on the impacts of tourism on Native Hawaiians and will educate viewers on ethical traveling.” Make sure to keep an eye out for it to learn more about the tourism industry in Hawai’i and how there is so much more to it than what meets the eye! 

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

New Issue of SMU JoUR Out Now!

One of the greatest opportunities that SMU has to offer its students is undergraduate research. Through programs like Big iDeas, Engaged Learning Fellowship, and others, students are encouraged and supported in the exploration of their academic passions. The Office of Engaged Learning and SMU Libraries have collaborated in creating SMU Journal of Undergraduate Research (JoUR): an evolving double-blind, peer-reviewed journal that serves as a testament to the university’s commitment to undergraduate research. 

The Journal provides a platform for students to share the products of their diverse research topics to the SMU community and the academic world.  SMU JoUR emphasizes intra- and interdisciplinary partnerships and celebrates the accomplishments of undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors. Joshua Ange, JoUR’s Editor-in-Chief, “hopes that JoUR is able to encourage those not currently pursuing research to explore this path, and those already involved in research to share their interesting work.” 

The latest release of the SMU JoUR is Issue 1 of Volume 8, and it is out now with a variety of topics including: 

Radon Plate-out and the Effects of Airflow and Electric Charge for Dark Matter Experiments by Faith Fang (Dr. Robert Calkins, faculty mentor)

Cognitive Reappraisal is Associated with Lower Dysphoria Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Nadia Armstrong, Diane Moon, and Dr. Holly Bowen

Identifying Barriers to Mental Health Services Utilization for Black Youth in the United States: A Qualitative Study by Emily Stein, Matthew Hutnyan, and Dr. Neely Myers

Thriving in College: International, First-Generation, and Transfer Students by Hannah Webb, Nikita Kulkarni, and Dr. Dustin Grabsch

For students that are interested in having their work included or want to pursue a research project, Joshua encourages them to reach out! As for anyone interested in reading and learning more, be sure to explore the SMU Journal of Undergraduate Research and immerse yourself in the significant work of these emerging scholars as they contribute to their respective fields! 

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with LectureLogger Founder Jude Lugo

For many students at SMU and across the country, classroom attendance is a battle but also it is the first step to ensure their success in university. Knowing this, SMU has really pushed for different ways to support student retention through the commons system, classrooms, and other support systems. Jude Lugo, a junior majoring in Management with a specialization in Entrepreneurship, has contributed to this goal incredibly through his Big iDeas project LectureLogger – and app that tracks attendance and student wellness for colleges and universities. 

Jude was inspired by his own student experiences and by his peers. He noticed that it was difficult for him to “track [his] own absences and which ones were or were not excused. [He] also became aware that classmates who weren’t held accountable for missing classes were falling behind.” Jude believed that tracking attendance would be a beneficial way to help professor and students by helping “professors and administrators identify students who are at risk and enables them to reach out to avert an academic crisis that could have negative ripple effects on a student’s overall well-being.” 

In order to realize his idea, Jude consulted several professors to understand what kind of product would be helpful for attendance tracking. Jude also worked closely with a contract developer to develop the project. Most importantly, Jude worked with his fellow students to ensure that “the product is easy to use and supportive of student learning.” This background work paid off as a recent survey revealed that 84% of students are more likely to attend classes that utilize LectureLogger! 

LectureLogger has been a remarkable success, but Jude is not just done yet. With three semesters left at SMU, Jude hopes to “make LectureLogger a staple in classrooms at SMU and across the country.” In addition, through Big iDeas Jude has also been able to launch another project called CommerceNavigator, a software that helps online sellers with their bookkeeping. It is evident through his projects that Jude is committed to innovating and addressing the evolving needs of his community. Be sure to look into CommerceNavigator and LectureLogger and check out Poets and Quants to read more about Jude’s work! 


Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with Engaged Learning Fellow Ella Dabney

Vocal disorders are a significant health problem that have an impact on how a person’s voice sounds, and it requires very specific care. Ella Dabney, a senior studying vocal performance and health and society with minors in health sciences and biological sciences, is researching vocal disorders among professional singers and personality as an Engaged Learning Fellow 

Ella learned about the Office of Engaged Learning because of her interest in interdisciplinary research. Through this she has not only been able to conduct her own research but also attend research conferences and gain scholarships like the Bea Medicine Award by presenting herself at a conference. Ella’s project Vocal Disorders and Personality delves into vocal therapy that “repair the effects of vocal disorders such as, phono trauma or overuse.” Ella is also studying the importance of clinician-patient relationships that “can be influential in the success of vocal therapy, as it impacts patient motivation and comfort in practicing the necessary voice therapies.” 

The inspiration for this project came from Ella’s own experience. Because of a cold, she had lost her voice for three weeks and got treatment for it at UT Southwestern’s Voice Center which helped to recover her singing voice. Ella was impressed by the “quality of care provided for singer’s specifically” which inspired her to learn more about the “relationships between voice disorders, singers, and personality.” Treatment and attention to vocal health is incredibly important when people’s professions rely heavily on their voices. 

The research process was a learning experience for Ella because of the different challenges she faced. One challenge was “efficiency of patient recruitment” since her patient pool had very specific requirements – professional and amateur singers and voice users that were experiencing vocal disorder. She also had to navigate handling situations that were out of her hands like working with businesses and their specific patient flow. These experiences helped her to learn how to interview in a convenient and efficient manner and how to organize appointments. Additionally, Ella had to work with UT Southwestern professor Dr. Carolyn Smith-Morris as well as a vocal specialist Dr. Laura Toles, which helped her develop professional skills related to motivation and organization.  

The skills and knowledge Ella has gained from this research opportunity play into her post-graduate plans as well. Ella intends to pursue a career in health care specializing in otolaryngology in healthcare for professional singers. Having prior research experience has given her the foundation to achieve these dreams! You can learn more about Ella and her project at the Fall Research Symposium on November 1st where she will be presenting her discoveries. 


Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with Summer Research Fellow Kevin Nguyen

One of the greatest issues our world is facing today is the human relationship and impact on the environment. Kevin Nguyen is a senior majoring in chemistry with a minor in art and he is attacking an aspect of this issue through his project: Synthesis of HEMI and Biodegradable Polymers. 

Kevin is one of Engaged Learning’s Summer Research Fellows and he is working with Dr. David Son as well as other undergraduates, and graduate students in their lab. Alongside his research, Kevin also has trained incoming lab students on everything from cleaning glassware to synthesizing HEMI.  

In this project, Kevin is working to create biodegradable polymers, or plastics, to find a way to “synthesize plastics that are both environmentally safe and are cheap on the market.” The current compound his is working is called HEMI and is the key component to his project. Unfortunately, many companies currently shy away from the compound since “five grams of it, which is about the mass of a penny, sells for about nine hundred fifty-five dollars.”   

The process of created different HEMI reactions has required a lot of trial and error. Kevins biggest lesson throughout this process last summer is that “you will probably always fail.” It took many reactions to try get a pure “white and powdery” reactions that he wanted which was discouraging for him at times. But when times were tough, he would remind himself of his goals and how his work is for “the betterment of the world.” 

Kevin is continuing his research as he was recently awarded the Engaged Learning Fellowship. The opportunity has also helped Kevin with his grad school and PhD plans. He wants to use this polymer chemistry experience to help him get more experience with others polymer scientists. Most importantly, Kevin wants everyone to know that while this issue of improving the synthesis of plastics is a significant problem, it is being worked on!  

Read more about Kevin’s summer research experience


Honors and Scholars Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research President’s Scholars Rotunda Scholars Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with Engaged Learning Fellow Brianna Freshwater

The education system today is quite complex, with so many different options of Advancement Placement (AP) classes, International Baccalaureate (IB), honors programs, etc. Not only are there many options but different districts around the country offer different things and some do not offer any advanced courses at all. This can be incredibly stressful to students applying to college who might be wondering if their class load is impressive enough for their top university choices. Brianna Freshwater, a junior studying sociology and anthropology with a minor in religious studies, is tackling this issue and more in her research project: In the Schools but Not the Classrooms: Advanced Placement Test-Taking in Schools Serving Predominately Students of Color.  

Brianna began her journey with Rotunda Scholars, an SMU program for first year students from underrepresented communities and the Honor Sophomore Seminar. She chose this topic because of her own experiences growing up in a rural, predominantly white school district that did not have a single AP course. Brianna wanted to know how that experience impacted her and her fellow classmates since AP classes “felt like a big deal everywhere else.”  

Through her research, Brianna discovered that it does not matter what is offered at your school, rather it matters how much students take advantage of the opportunities that are available in their schools because “schools look at you in context.” Her research goes into this further seeing how AP course taking matters and how they vary across race and socioeconomic status in urban schools. Brianna is looking specifically at DISD campuses and seeing what courses are offered, how many seats are offered, etc. She wants to understand what campuses are “performing at expected rates” by looking at PSAT scores to determine if students are prepared to take AP courses. She is also talking to faculty members about policies and how they approach the topic of higher education with their students.  

This project is doubling as Brianna’s Engaged Learning Fellowship as well as her distinction project for her sociology major. She has had research experience in the past as well with the Cooper-McElvaney Fellowship as well as McNair Scholars. All these experiences have helped her with thinking about the world in different ways. They have also helped her long-term goal of wanting to go into a PhD program and have pushed her to be unafraid to pursue research.  

Most importantly, Brianna wants this project to be able to give schools specific information about how they can make AP programs at their respective campuses more equitable. She hopes to be able to literally hand information to schools to make plans for the better. Brianna does not want research to feel like it is “stuck in universities” with little to no real-world application. By bridging the gap between academic literature and real-world application, Brianna believes in the ability to make change. 


Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Rotunda Scholars Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with 2023 Engaged Learning Starter Award Winners

Please join me to congratulate the 2023 Engaged Learning Starter Award (ELSA) Winners: Alina, Alexis, and Ryenne! The award is given to first year students who had come up with their own research projects to explore throughout the year. These three winners will be presenting their findings at the Fall Research Symposium on November 1st! Until then, let’s get to know more about each of the awardees and their projects. 

Alexis Schroeder

Alexis Schroeder is a second-year transfer student majoring in Psychology and Health and Society with a minor in Sociology. Alexis knew that she wanted to gain experience in research and through the help of SMU professor Dr. Nia Parson, she was connected to Engaged Learning to pursue her passion project: Medical Ableism: Neoliberal Stigmatization of Holistic Medicine in the Biomedical System. 

Photo of Alexis Schroder, Engaged Learning Starter Award Winner
Alexis Schroder

Alexis’s research discusses the “intersection between neoliberalism and the biomedical healthcare system and how that perpetuates systematic medical ableism.” This topic is incredibly close to Alexis’s heart as she is disabled and is very active in the disabled community on SMU’s campus. Alexis wants to advocate for “representation by the represented” and promote the voices of disabled people in academic literature. Additionally, Alexis discusses how to balance ancient medical practices with biomedicine to create a more integrative approach to healthcare. This research project also plays a larger role in Alexis’s long-term goals because she wants to go into therapy and to manage her practice in an integrative way. 

Alina Munoz

Alina Munoz is a second-year student majoring in Health and Society and minoring in Neuroscience and Spanish. Alina was introduced to the fellowship through Rotunda Scholars, an SMU program for first year students from underrepresented communities, that introduced her to the Office of Engaged Learning. Alina’s project is called Saludstria: Opening the Gates to Healthcare. 

Photo of Alina Munoz, Engaged Learning Starter Award Winner
Alina Munoz

Saludstria is an important key word for this project as it is a combination of the Spanish word for health, Salud, and Alina’s grandmother’s name Salustria. Her grandmother deals with diabetes and high cholesterol and Alina would accompany her grandmother to the doctor’s office to help translate information. It was there she saw firsthand all “the barriers that individuals have with healthcare,” especially minorities. Alina works directly with her local community at the Agape Clinic and is planning on using the data she collected from surveys from the clinic in her research on how “minorities are blocked from receiving the proper care they need.” At the Fall Symposium you can learn more about this research project and see the real impact Alina has made on her community in Dallas! 

Ryenne Reiter

Finally, we have Ryenne Reiter, a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Human Rights with minors inNeuroscience and Law and Legal Reasoning. Her journey began with Rotunda Scholars as well. 

Photo of Ryenne Reiter, Engaged Learning Starter Award Winner
Ryenne Reiter

In October, Ryenne will be presenting her project: The Role of Gender Expectations and Stereotypes in Eating Disorders. This will be a literature review along with her own qualitative study of comments found on TikTok videos by famous fitness influencers. She chose this topic because of how social media can “teach young women and young girls to think about femininity, beauty, what it means to look feminine, and how that develops into eating disorders later on.” Her passion for this research project comes from a combination of her own experiences during high school and classes she has taken here at SMU like psychopathology with Dr. Alicia Meuret. The knowledge she gained through her classes has helped her understand her own experiences better. This inspired Ryenne to create this project because she “knew that people don’t like to talk about the hard things, but [she] feels like they need to be addressed.”   

All three of the ELSA winners have worked incredibly hard this past year to create high quality projects inspired by their own stories and passions. Keep an eye out for them and the symposium to learn more!