Meet the 2018 Holster Scholars

Introducing the 2018 Holster Scholars

The Holster Scholars First Year Project is a highly selective enrichment opportunity for curious first-year Honors students that supports a small number of motivated students interested in independent research the summer following their first year. Holster projects are in-depth, individualized learning experiences.  Beyond some basic requirements, projects are self-designed.  The Holster Scholars Program is made possible by a generous gift from Robert (’68) and Carlotta (’68) Holster.

Applications, due in early November, are reviewed by an interdisciplinary committee of faculty and staff who then invite about a dozen students to enroll in a one-credit proposal development seminar in the spring.  Finalists spend the first half of the spring semester refining their proposals before submitting them mid-semester.  At that point, the committee reviews the proposals and interviews the finalists before naming 6-8 Holster Scholars.  Scholars conduct their research over the summer under the guidance of a faculty mentor and then present their research to the university community at the Holster Scholars Research Symposium in September.


Berk Alpay, from Storrs, CT, is a STEM Scholar computer science major pursuing machine learning and big data analytics. He is particularly interested in the power of mathematics and statistics to describe complex systems. At South Windsor High School, he was a Model UN country president and state competition chair, an attorney for the Mock Trial team, and principal viola in his school orchestra. He was also recognized as a National Merit Scholar. Since coming to UConn, he has joined Prof. Emmanouil Anagnostou’s Outage Prediction Model (OPM) group in the Eversource Energy Center, where he is developing machine learning approaches to storm impact prediction. He still loves music and plays jazz piano in his free time.


Project: Thunderstorm Outage Prediction Using Deep Learning

Mentor: Prof. Emmanouil Anagnostou, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering

  James He, from Woodbridge, CT, is a STEM Scholar majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology. Throughout high school, he interned at Haskins Laboratories at Yale University as a part of his school’s Science Research Program, and participated in various science competitions presenting his research on the reading development of young children. He was also a member of the school’s math team, soccer team, and newspaper editor board. Accompanying his interest in medicine, he is a passionate violinist, and has participated in many orchestras throughout Connecticut. At UConn, James is a member of the Chamber Orchestra Club, Math Club, and Kidney Disease Screening Awareness and Prevention Program. Aside from his academic pursuits, he is a huge basketball fan, and loves to compete in the intramural basketball leagues.     


Project: Developmental Biology of Cancer Stem Cells in a Novel Model of Pediatric Brain Tumors

Mentor: Prof. Joseph Loturco, Dept. of Physiology and Neurobiology

  Mateen Karimi, from Cheshire, Connecticut, is an undeclared Business Management major and International Relations Minor and a member of the Special Program in Law. His passion for immigration economics has culminated as result of his experiences as a second generation Iranian-American, along with his interest in better understanding the impact of U.S. immigration from the Middle Eastern North African region. He is also a member of the UConn Men’s Club Ice Hockey Team, plays piano and the alto saxophone, and is currently secretary of the Iranian Association of UConn (IAU). In high school, he was a student representative for the Cheshire Public Schools Board of Education, a class senator, and heavily involved in Model United Nations and other politically-affiliated organizations.


Project: A Comparative Study: The Socioeconomic Integration of Second Generation MENA Immigrants

Mentor: Prof. Delia Furtado, Dept. of Economics

  Edward McManus, from West Hartford, Connecticut, is a Physics-Math double major planning on going into a career in research physics. Since the beginning of his time at UConn, he has been doing research with Physics Professor Carlos Trallero, doing both simulation and, more recently, experimental work in ultra-fast optics. Before coming to college, Edward designed and built a proof of concept desalination system that ran without the use of any external electricity. In addition to his academic and research endeavors, Edward is also a competitive ballroom dancer, competing with the UConn Ballroom team.


Project:  Fourier Optics Simulations of Compression of Bessel-like Femtosecond Pulses in Optical Fibers.

Mentor:  Prof. Carlos Trallero, Dept. of Physics

  Simran Sehgal, from Westford, MA, is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in human rights. She graduated from Westford Academy where she was involved with Heath Occupations for Students of America and in her school’s National Honors Society chapter. She also helped organize Red Cross Blood Drives at her school. Over the summers, she volunteered at the local Veteran’s Hospital, researching Parkinson’s disease. Currently, Simran is a dedicated member of Act in Miracles and their executive board, and enjoys volunteering for various fundraisers to raise money for children with Leukemia. Simran’s passion for service has encouraged her interest in innovative medical technologies.


Project: Paper-Based Point-of-Care Devices for Low-Cost Medical Diagnosis

Mentor: Prof. Savas Tasoglu, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering


  Vanessa Vlaun, from Salem, CT, is a Molecular and Cell Biology major in the Special Program in Dental Medicine. She graduated from East Lyme High School, where she served as Captain of both the varsity swim and crew teams. She was also involved in various honor societies, and served as a Lab Assistant for her Advanced Placement science teachers. She is an active member of her church, where she volunteers and has coordinated various events. On campus, Vanessa is a part of the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society and Pre-Dental Society. She is also a mentor in the Peer Allies through Honors program and volunteers with Honors Initiative for Prospective Students.


Project Title: Investigating the Roles of Actin Nucleation Factors in Apoptosis

Faculty Mentor: Prof. Kenneth Campellone, Dept. of Molecular and Cell Biology

  Michael Zhu, from Woodbridge, CT, is a molecular and cell biology and economics double major with aspirations to attend medical school. Michael has interests in medicine, research, and health policy. Michael’s first research experience was in his honors core course “Microbe Hunting: Crowdsourcing the Discovery of Antibiotics,” where students learned how to culture soil bacteria in the hopes of finding novel antibiotics. Michael graduated from Hopkins School in New Haven, CT, where he was the captain of both the swimming and water polo teams. He is currently a member of the club water polo team at UConn and is also a cofounder of a group dedicated to bringing a public bicycle share system onto campus.


Project: The Microbiome’s Effect on the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Mentor: Prof. Nichole Broderick, Dept. Molecular and Cell Biology


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Congratulations to the seven outstanding students who comprise the 8th cohort of Holster Scholars!


To learn more about the Holster Scholars Program, contact


Vincent G. Moscardelli, PhD

Director, Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships

Coordinator, Holster Scholars Program