Meet the 2021 Holster Scholars

The Holster Scholar Program 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 Scholar 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 15 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 the new cohort of 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.

Congratulations to the following twelve students on their selection as 2021 Holster Scholars!


Ananya Aggarwal Ananya Aggarwal, from Glastonbury, CT, is a STEM Scholar majoring in molecular and cell biology in the Special Program in Dental Medicine. She graduated from Glastonbury High School, where she was President of Key Club and Science Olympiad, Captain of Chemistry Olympiad, and involved in Model UN. She is also a National Merit Scholar Finalist, a Women of Innovation Youth Leadership and Innovation Finalist, and a two time 3rd place recipient at the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair. At UConn Ananya continues her interest in science and community service through her involvement in Honors Across State Borders, Women in STEM, the Pre-Dental society, and as a volunteer at the Mansfield Senior Center. Ananya found her interest in biochemistry research in high school and hopes to combine her academic interests with her love for patient care by researching methods to improve drug delivery. Ananya is a chronic chai lover, and spends her spare time reading and talking with friends.


Project: Synthesizing a Cisplatin Loaded Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticle for the Intraperitoneal Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Mentor: Prof. Xiuling Lu, Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences

  Jackson Ayers, from Simsbury, CT, is a physiology and neurobiology major who hopes to pursue a career in medicine. In high school, he was involved in the soccer, baseball, and tennis programs, and was the incumbent captain of the latter before COVID-19. He was a member of the National Latin Honor Society, Vice President of the National Business Honor Society, and a class representative of the National Honor Society. He was chair of the American Red Cross Committee at Simsbury High School, and hopes to further his involvement with the organization at UConn. On campus, he is a part of the volunteer committee for Camp Kesem, a member of Honors in STEM, and hopes to participate in club sports after the pandemic. In his free time, Jackson enjoys hanging out with friends, going to the Dairy Bar, and early morning gym sessions.


Project: Identification of Secretion Factors that Restructure Neural Tissue in a Model of Low Grade Glioma

Mentor: Prof. Joseph LoTurco, Dept. of Physiology & Neurobiology

  Charlotte Chen, from Weston, CT is a STEM Scholar majoring in materials science and engineering and biological sciences with a minor in chemistry. She is fascinated by the world of biomaterials and their roles in making treatments more accessible and reliable. At Weston High School, she was captain of the Science Olympiad team, Editor-in-Chief for her school newspaper, a violinist in the Symphonic and Company pit orchestras, and a member of the Robotics and Mock Trial teams. At UConn, Charlotte is an outreach coordinator for Camp Kesem, a digital producer for The Daily Campus, and is involved with Chamber Orchestra, PATH, and the Asian/Asian American Mentoring Program. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and two cats, learning embroidery, attempting to hit shuttlecocks in badminton, and jamming out to the latest Brahms and Wieniawski releases.


Project: A Novel Silk-based Antibacterial Coating for Urinary Catheters

Mentor:  Prof. Kelly Burke, Dept. of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Christian Chlebowski Christian Chlebowski, from Somers, Connecticut, is a Nutmeg Scholar majoring in accounting, with an academic and research interest in governmental representation, policy, and law. He graduated from Somers High School, where he was the President of both the Class of 2020 and the National Honor Society; he was also heavily involved in the Spartan Band, serving as a senior drum major, and Students Supporting Students, serving as a peer mentor. At UConn, he serves as the Outreach Committee Chair for TEDxUConn and is a contributing author and researcher for the Undergraduate Political Review. His interests, which lie at the intersection of business, analytics, and government, were sparked while serving as an election official in his hometown, where he assists with election facilitation and verification processes. In his free time, he enjoys reading fiction, writing poetry, walking and hiking, serving in his community, and spending time with his family and friends.


Project: The Rostrum and the Resident: Comparing the Agendas of the United States Senate and Populace

Mentor: Prof. Thomas Hayes, Dept. of Political Science

  Olivia Ferrigno, from Belle Mead, NJ, is a mechanical engineering major with interests in biomechanics, biomaterials, and modeling. At Montgomery High School she was on the board of Operation Smile, graduated in the top 10% of her class, and was a member of the National Honors Society. Through her 13 year long gymnastics career, she found a passion for mechanics in regards to the human body and is interested in finding ways to optimize recovery treatments. Witnessing her older sister’s accomplishments and passion for research has inspired Olivia to get involved and bring her dedication to the field of engineering research. Since coming to UConn, she has joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Astronomy Club, and is excited to work with Dr. Liisa Kuhn in her biomedical engineering lab. In her spare time, Olivia enjoys being outside, calligraphy, and watching movies with friends.


Project: 3D Light Sheet Microscopy of Cartilage Growth Plate Regeneration

Mentor: Prof. Liisa Kuhn, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering (UConn Health)

  Aveline Mills, from Mystic, CT, is a mechanical engineering and physics dual degree student with a minor in cognitive sciences. It was through her intense commitment to high school robotics that she discovered her affinity for the design process. She captained and drove for her twice first-ranked and nationally prominent travel team, worked as a machinist, and presented for Chairman’s and other awards won by the group. Outside of the shop, Aveline was concertmaster of Fitch High School’s orchestra for two years and spent fifteen years as a dancer. At UConn, she can be found working at the Honors Events and Programming Office or fabricating carbon fiber composite materials for Formula SAE. She aims to pursue a Ph.D. in Quantum Physics and hopes a career in research or engineering will support her lifestyle goal of raising her children on a goat farm by the sea.


Project: Creating an Adaptable Heat Sink for Small Motor Applications

Mentor: Prof. Julian Norato, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering

  Sanjana Nistala, from Avon, CT is a molecular and cell biology major on the pre-med track. She became interested in research in high school, after interning at the CT Convergence Institute, where she first learned about hydrogels and their potential applications in pain management for chronic musculoskeletal disorders. At Avon High School, she was an avid member of Model UN and was two-time captain of the Girls’ JV Tennis Team. She also volunteered at her local library, where she helped coordinate events for children and families in her community. On campus, Sanjana is the treasurer of the American Medical Women’s Association, an active member of UConn’s Genetic Engineering Team (iGEM), and a topic specialist for UNSC at UConn Model UN. In the future, she hopes to continue to pursue research through either a medical degree or PhD program.


Project: The Effect of Degree of Acetylation on Sustained Release of Curcumin from Injectable Glycol Chitosan

Mentor: Prof. Lakshmi Nair, Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery (UConn Health)

Hari Patchigolla, from Avon, Connecticut, is a STEM Scholar doing a dual degree in molecular and cell biology and computer science. He graduated from Avon High School where he was the Captain of the Cross Country and Indoor Track teams. He also volunteered as a team captain of his Relay for Life team and at the Cancer Institute in New Britain. His interest in research started when he interned at the Connecticut Convergence Institute and the Department of Molecular Biology and Biophysics at UConn Health. Hari is a RESULTS advocate and at UConn he coordinates different political events through the Political Engagement Program and helps local students learn English as a second language through the English Language Learners Family Literacy Program.


Project: Determining the Primary DNA Substrates of SHLD2’s OB-fold Domains

Mentor: Prof. Dmitry Korzhnev, Dept. of Molecular Biology and Biophysics (UConn Health)

Sameeksha Sharma, from Chelmsford, MA, is pursuing an interdisciplinary biomedical engineering major and molecular and cellular biology minor to gain a thorough understanding of expanding biomedical technologies before delving into medicine. While she aims to advocate for biomedical advancements, she intends to make the field more publicly accessible by encouraging engineers to be more proactive presenters and educators, promoting public discourse, and mentorship. Her distinct appreciation for collaborating and strategizing is a result of her constant participation in debate and cross country running during high school. She continues to utilize those skills as a member of the Society of Women Engineers and Club Running Team at UConn. Sameeksha plans to integrate art into her career since she seeks vivid expression through her artworks which have been displayed in several museums as well as solace in gifting personalized portraits to orphaned children and brightening up their day.


Project: Friend or Foe: Transpositional Activity of SST1 and its Implications on Stem Cell Reprogramming

Mentor: Prof. Rachel O’Neill, Dept. of Molecular & Cell Biology

Rylee Thomas, from East Hampton, CT, is doubling majoring in English, with a creative writing concentration, and communication. She graduated from East Hampton High School as class salutatorian. She is a U.S. Figure Skating Association Gold Medalist and All-American Athlete. In high school, she loved volunteering at her town’s public library, playing clarinet, and singing with the Voices a cappella group. On campus, Rylee is a UNIV facilitator and the Treasurer and Community Service Chair of the UConn Figure Skating Team. She enjoys writing and publishing with the Honors Humanities and Arts Collective, and gives back to the community as a member of Honors Across State Borders. She hopes to one day work in the publishing industry and write novels. She’s interested in learning about how feminism and Victorian literature interact, and how film adaptations change the way people experience the classics today. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen novels and writing fiction and poetry.


Project: The Film Adaptation as an Essay on Feminism in the Victorian Novel

Mentor: Prof. Eleni Coundouriotis, Dept. of English

Lyla White is a STEM Scholar from Newington, CT, majoring in pharmacy studies and minoring in biological sciences. In high school, she founded a debate club and writing center, and tutored students in math. She continues to enjoy playing the cello and rock climbing. She has risen from teacher’s aid to sixth grade religious school teacher at Temple Sinai in Newington and loves developing people’s passion for learning. Since coming to UConn, Lyla has been active in the STEM Scholar community and UConn Hillel, and has acquired leadership roles in Honors in STEM club and the UConn Climbing Team. She also created four videos for the UConn School of Pharmacy series informing the public about COVID-19 vaccines. After shadowing in medical practices and attending UConn’s Migrant Farmworker Clinics, she committed to a biomedical career. Her first research project was a systematic review evaluating the validity of claims about CBD topical products. She is now enamored with the prospect of 3D printing ushering in the era of personalized medicine.

Project: Can 3D Printers Create Viable Personalized Therapy in the Treatment of Diabetes?

Mentor: Prof. Bodhi Chaudhuri, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Ethan Wicko is a STEM Scholar pursuing a major in mechanical engineering at UConn. From Milford, CT, he graduated from Notre Dame High School West Haven where he was captain of his high school’s math team, band, and tennis team. Additionally, he was the founder and captain of his high school’s mountain bike team and ran a charity mountain bike race for YNHH Children’s Hospital. Currently at UConn, he is a member of the Formula SAE team, the cycling team, and the ski team. Through his college experience, Ethan hopes to further his understanding of the mechanical and physical principles present in various current modes of transportation and technology used in emerging “green” forms of transportation.

Project:  Assessing the Feasibility of a Belt Based Continuously Varied Transmission for Bicycles

Mentor:  Prof. David Pierce, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering


Congratulations to the twelve outstanding students who comprise the 11th 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