Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research 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 - Entrepreneurship Office of Engaged Learning – Research

The Office of Engaged Learning welcomes Kelly Chandrapal as new Program Coordinator

The Office of Engaged Learning welcomes Kelly Chandrapal as the new Program Coordinator. Kelly comes to SMU most recently from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s art museum where she worked closely with undergraduate and graduate students in her position as the Learning Resources Coordinator. Prior to working at UNC, she implemented educational programs in museums and taught elementary and high school art in Texas public schools. Kelly earned a BFA in Visual Art Studies from The University of Texas at Austin and MA in Museum Science from Texas Tech University. She is a Texas native but new to Dallas and is looking forward to becoming a part of the SMU community!

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! 


Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship

The Office of Engaged Learning welcomes Michael Kelly as Entrepreneurship Fellow

Michael Kelly is joining the Office of Engaged Learning team this semester as the first Entrepreneurship Fellow. In this role, Michael will host the E-Launch workshop series and coach winners of the Big iDeas Pitch Contest.

Michael is the Co-Founder of Resolute Future, a software company dedicated to empower the next generation of innovators, and a former VP of investments at JPMorgan Chase where he spent 12 years with a variety of responsibilities including sales, financial planning, management, & training. He held his series 7, series 66, and insurance federal and state licenses in over 20 states during his tenure there. Michael built a $120 million business before leaving to start Resolute Future. While at JPMorgan, he was recognized multiple times for his sales accolades, served on the Diversity Board, and helped increase the book of business 60x under his leadership. Michael is also a serial Entrepreneur dating back to his first venture in 2005/06 while still in high school. He currently sits on the Venture Board for the Dallas Entrepreneur Center focused on increasing venture activity in the DFW area. He donates his time to the DEC, the Capital One accelerator program, Mass Challenge’s accelerator program, and giving speeches at Universities. He was voted by his peers North Texas’ Startup Evangelist of the year for 2023. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with his business administration and management degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship

For the Big iDeas Pitch Contest this month, SMU undergraduates compete for $1,000 for their startup

Get the word out that SMU students can start their own businesses by having an idea, developing a pitch, and entering the Big iDeas Pitch Contest.

Click on the links below to lean more and RSVP!

Family Weekend – Friday, September 29: Big iDeas Pitch Contest – Win $1000 in 90 Seconds – Hughes Trigg Ballroom 

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Engaged Learning Fellowship and Big iDeas

The Office of Engaged Learning invites students to apply to their premier funding opportunities: the Engaged Learning Fellowship and the Big iDeas Pitch Contest!

The Engaged Learning Fellowship (ELF) provides up to $2500 of funding for students pursuing a capstone project in research, service, or creative inquiry. The deadline for the current cycle is September 15. Applicants submit a project proposal along with a letter of recommendation from their faculty mentor. Proposals are reviewed by a faculty panel.

The Big iDeas Pitch Contest awards up to $1000 of funding for student entrepreneurs. A brief application is due by September 27, and participants will deliver a live 90-second pitch to a panel of judges on Friday, September 29 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

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

The work life of an undergraduate researcher: chemistry edition

This article unravels the captivating journey of undergraduate researchers in the field of chemistry as they step into the vibrant world of laboratory exploration. By delving into the experiences of Jonathan Cox, Kevin Nguyen, and the guiding wisdom of Dr. David Son, we uncover the invaluable benefits and transformative impact that research has on the young minds in academia. Jonathan and Kevin worked all summer as undergraduate researchers a part of the Summer Research Intensive

So, step into the bustling realm of a university chemistry lab, where the symphony of beeping machines and the hum of scientific dialogue paint a vivid picture of discovery in progress. For Jonathan Cox, an undergraduate researcher with Dr. John Buynak, the allure of “more advanced academia” beckoned, leading him to a summer of immersion in synthetic organic chemistry research. Cox reflects on the exhilaration of interacting with researchers from around the globe at the American Society for Microbiology Conference, where ideas are exchanged, and boundaries are pushed.

Jonathan Cox, Rising Senior Researcher

Cox inherited a transformative research experience where he applied textbook theories to new hands-on experiments. He had initial apprehensions about maneuvering intricate instruments and executing precise techniques; however, the lab became a canvas where theory transformed into tangible reality using newfound skills. Cox’s exposure to pharmaceutical research, a field he hadn’t previously considered, ignited a spark of interest. Cox had “never considered the overlap between advanced synthetic organic chemistry and biology…until I was able to put my foot into the lab and research it first hand,” he said. 

Cox, and his summer research partner Kendall Stieben, won first place in the SRI Three-Minute Thesis Competition, where students in the SRI cohort had the opportunity to talk with faculty and staff partners about their research from the summer.

Kevin Nguyen, an undergraduate researcher with Dr. David Son, equally had a transformative experience in the SRI. He emphasized the collaborative nature of chemistry research, which shapes a learning environment that encourages teamwork. Nguyen’s participation in the Three-Minute Thesis and professional development workshops during the SRI highlight his commitment to making complex ideas in his lab accessible. Nguyen states, “research isn’t research unless the public can comprehend its usage.” His desire to learn to simplify his research jargon was large in part to making his work accessible to community members. 

Nguyen tied for third place in the Three-Minute Thesis Competition as well.

Kevin Nguyen, Rising Senior Researcher

Dr. Son believes that partnership and mentorship with his students, like Nguyen, allow for them to truly hone their skills. Dr. Son’s rule of thumb for aspiring researchers is clear: “express interests in research early and often… be persistent and consistent,” he stated. His advice echoes through the corridors of academic ambition, emphasizing the importance of tenacity and consistency in the pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Son ensures that his role as a mentor nurtures his students’ minds holistically and not solely through lab work. 

The impact of undergraduate research transcends the confines of the lab. Through the SRI, Cox’s exposure to global conferences with Dr. Buynak widened his perspectives on chemistry and biology. In addition, Nguyen’s emphasis on public comprehension challenges conventional perceptions of research. As we consider their insights, it becomes evident that research equips young scholars with practical skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate complex ideas to a wider audience. This foundation extends beyond academia, preparing them for diverse career paths and making them stand out in competitive landscapes.

The work life of an undergraduate researcher in chemistry emerges as a profound journey of transformation and enlightenment. As we highlight the intricate realm of research, their narratives remind us that beneath the beakers and data lies a realm of collaboration, communication, and unwavering dedication that the SRI experience exposes for these students. The legacy of these young minds extends far beyond the lab, shaping a future where scientific discovery finds its voice in the world.

Rohan Jagarlamudi is a senior at the Alcuin School and interned this summer with the Office of Engaged Learning.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Summer Research Symposium: Panel on Resilience

The Summer Research Intensive wrapped up its final session of its Summer Research Symposium last week. 

The undergraduate researchers were able to hear from a faculty panel as they discussed the navigation of their careers, life advice, and ways to be resilient in challenging times. 

Dr. Lynne Stokes, Professor of Statistical Science, encouraged the students as they think towards their post-undergraduate career to not think “that [they] picked the wrong opportunity, or picked the wrong thing. Don’t feel like you’re looking for the one thing to make you happy. There are a lot of interesting jobs out there.” 

When the panel discussed how students can bounce back from failure in a research project or graduate experience, Dr. David Son, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, affirmed the students to not “take failure or rejection personally. Be persistent and don’t take the failure personal to your character. If you don’t want to fail, don’t try.”

Dr. Sarah Kucker, Professor in the Psychology Department, added to the resiliency conversation by talking about what to look for in a graduate school or industry position. “Fit is really important. Highlight the different qualities that you have and can bring to an experience,” she stated.

Dr. Crystal Clayton, Executive Director of the Hegi Family Career Development Center, concluded the discussion and reminded the students that in their careers they “will get out what [they] put into it. If you put a lot into the experience, you will have a very rich experience. If you take the time to do something, go full on.” 

The panel discussion and Q&A was a great way for the undergraduate researchers to receive some last moments of insight and advice as they finished out the SRI.




Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Three Minute Thesis competition results from the summer 2023

The Summer Research Intensive concluded with the Three-Minute Thesis Competition on July 27th. The competition gives SRI students the opportunity to display the research they conducted with their faculty mentor throughout the summer.

The competition was judged by a panel of Faculty and Staff members who selected a first place, second place and third place winner. Judges were Jennifer Ebinger (Director, Office of Engaged Learning), Stephen Fashoro (Media Relations Manager, Marketing & Communications), Dr. Eric Godat (Team Lead, Research & Data Science Services (OIT)), Sylvia Jones (Research Librarian for Spatial & Data Literacy, SMU Libraries), and Dr. Brandon Miller (Assistant Dean, University Honors Program & Fellowships).

Faculty and staff members from across campus also gathered to watch the students compete and discuss their research methods, findings, and next steps.

Winning presenters:

1st Place Winners – (L-R) Kendall Stieben, Jonathan Cox, Dr. John Buynak lab students
2nd Place Winners – (L-R) Elliott Abel, Jacob Britt, David Brock (Data Science REU program)
3rd Place Co-winners, (L-R) Ashley Pritchard, Katie Lark, Christine Jator (Data Science REU program)
3rd Place Co-Winner – Kevin Nguyen, Dr. David Son lab student
Office of Engaged Learning Office of General Education Student Academic Engagement & Success University Advising Center

Engage Dallas launches 2-in-2 campaign to encourage more students to complete Common Curriculum graduation requirements

Engage Dallas launched a new 2-in-2 campaign with postcard mailings to all incoming first-year and transfer students this week.

The campaign encourages undergraduate students to complete their Community Engagement and Civics & Individual Ethics Common Curriculum graduation requirements through their Residential Commons during their first two years at SMU.

All incoming students were encouraged to start the Engage Dallas Canvas Course in the Campus Life Online Orientation Modules in Mustang StartUp orientation experience.

Students can sign up today to begin earning service hours through Engage Dallas by registering to participate in the following fall events–

Engage Dallas is a place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons to address community needs focusing on South and West Dallas.

For questions about Engage Dallas, please email or visit their website.