Faculty News

2019 Holster Scholars Announced

2019 Holster Scholars, with mentors (May 3, 2019)

Introducing the 2019 Holster Scholars

The Holster Scholars Program is a 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 12-15 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.  Most years, the cohort is approximately 7-10 students.  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.

Arman Chowdhury, from West Hartford, CT is an undecided major. His interest in South Asian heritage linguistics is informed by his own background as a heritage speaker of Bengali. He graduated from Hall High School, where he was an arts writer for the school newspaper and a member of the chamber choir.  At UConn, he is a member of Collegium Musicum (an early chamber music ensemble), Concert Choir, and Husky Hungama, a South Asian-Western fusion a capella group.

Project: Focus and Intonation in Heritage Hindi Speakers

Mentor: Prof. Diane Lillo-Martin, Dept. of Linguistics

  Stella Kozloski, from New Fairfield, CT is an artist and student pursuing a BFA with a concentration in printmaking. In HS, she discovered a strong interest in print media after working as a graphic designer and editor for her school newspaper. Her work in cartooning has received recognition from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Stella is curious about “low-tech” forms of mass-media like the woodblock print, the unconscious processes that inform the development of an artwork, and art’s ever-changing role and purpose in a post-modern world. She enjoys gardening and hiking.

Project: Art as a Craft: The Interaction Between the Immaterial and the Material

Mentor: Prof. Ray DiCapua, Dept. of Art & Art History

  Hollianne Lao, from Wallingford, CT is a political science major in the Special Program in Law. At Lyman Hall High School, she was two time captain of the Girls’ Swim and Dive Team, Student Council President, and a member of the National Honor Society. At UConn, Hollianne serves as Chief of Staff to the Office of the Speaker and as a residential Senator for the Undergraduate Student Government, and a Student Coordinator for the Honors Initiative for Prospective Students. You can also catch her articles in the Life section of The Daily Campus. This past year, she has worked with Professor Virginia Hettinger as a Bennett and SHARE Award Research Assistant. In her free time, she likes watching the women’s basketball team, spying Jonathan the Husky by Mirror Lake, and spending time with her friends.

Project: The Use of Social Media to Propel Women and Minority Political Candidates and the Engagement of their Voting Constituencies

Mentor: Prof. Virginia Hettinger, Dept. of Political Science

Sai Manasani, from South Windsor, CT is a Mathematics-Actuarial Science-Finance major who is interested in the ideas of big data analytics and public healthcare policies. She graduated from South Windsor HS where she was the Secretary-General of Model UN, Vice President of the National Honor Society, a member of the Science Olympiad Team, and a member of the Math Team. In her free time, she loves to play her viola and has attended numerous music festivals across New England. Currently, on campus, she is the Director of Alumni Relations of Gamma Iota Sigma, a passionate member of the Mock Wall Street Club, and a violist for the University Symphony Orchestra.

Project: A Cost-Benefit Analysis in the use of Technology in Life Insurance Underwriting

Mentor: Prof. Jeyaraj Vadiveloo, Dept. of Mathematics

  Roshni Mehta is a STEM Scholar from Scarsdale, NY double majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and French. She grew fascinated with research in high school, where she studied prevention and detection techniques for oral cancer and lung cancer, respectively. Throughout high school, she volunteered at local elementary schools and hospitals and played the flute for her high school’s wind ensemble. On campus, she is the current Vice President for the Undergraduate Organization for Molecular and Cell Biology, and she enjoys doing community service through the STEM Scholar community and the Pre-Medical Society.  She loves traveling, painting, and reading.

Project: Who Let the DoGs Out? An Analysis of RNA Transcription Readthrough and Termination

Mentor: Prof. Leighton Core, Dept. of Molecular & Cell Biology

  Amisha Paul, from Southington, CT is a STEM Scholar majoring in Physiology & Neurobiology and Economics with a minor in Global Health. Passionate about social entrepreneurship, she started a non-profit that aids in the development of rural areas in India through the development of sustainable development initiatives. Currently, Amisha is an active member of UConn’s Global Health Symposium Organizing Committee, encouraging campus-wide dialogue surrounding global health. She is also a member of and dancer on UConn Sanskriti, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Indian Classical Arts. Amisha hopes to combine her passions for medicine, public service, and business to increase access to affordable and quality healthcare all around the globe.

Project: Ventricular and Proximal Structure Configuration in Patients with Hydrocephalus

Mentor: Dr. Joanne Conover, Dept. of Physiology and Neurobiology

  Pooja Prasad , from Westford, MA, is a Molecular and Cell Biology major and STEM Scholar in the Special Program in Medicine. She first forayed into research as a HS intern under Dr. Faherty at the MGH Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center, where she investigated the Shigella pathogen genome. In HS, she was a member of the Speech and Debate Team and co-founded a STEM advocacy club. She also sings Carnatic Classical Music, presenting a concert in 2017 with the support of a NH State Council on the Arts grant. On campus, she is a member of the CLAS Student Leadership Board and an undergraduate student researcher at Dr. Thanh Nguyen’s lab. Her interest in engineering-based medicine drew her to investigate tissue engineering with piezoelectric materials. In her free time, you can catch her running on campus or fangirling over all things Marvel.

Project: A Novel Biodegradable Piezoelectric Scaffold for Muscular Tissue Regeneration

Mentor: Prof. Thanh Nguyen, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering

Xavier Rouleau, from West Hartford, CT, is a Linguistic/Philosophy major who plans to pursue a career in postsecondary education. He graduated from Hall High where he led a comedy improv troupe named The Answer and was heavily involved in theatre. In his free time, Xavier enjoys playing guitar and making others laugh. He began investigating American discourse surrounding sexual assault due to its underrepresentation in scientific research. He hopes to contribute to a discourse on how Americans can discuss sexual assault in a more constructive manner.

Project: Writing About Rape: Use of Passive Voice as an Expression of Perceived Responsibility of the Victim

Mentors: Prof. Marie Coppola, Dept. of Psychological Sciences and Prof. William Snyder, Dept. of Linguistics

Aditi Sirsikar, from Acton, MA, is a STEM Scholar majoring in Physiology and Neurobiology. She graduated from Acton-Boxborough HS where she served as the Captain of the varsity swim and dive team. Aditi’s first research experience was a summer internship at Brain Power LLC., a technology startup that develops neuroscience-based software for individuals on the autism spectrum. Through moving conversations and additional research, Aditi became interested in understanding how to improve mental health services for individuals with autism. She hopes to continue research in this field by pursuing a medical degree or through a PhD. On campus, Aditi is involved through Community Outreach and is the Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator for the Peer Allies through Honors program.

Project: Self and Informant Reports of Depression and Autism Questionnaires in Young Adults

Mentor: Prof. Inge-Marie Eigsti, Dept. of Psychological Sciences

Liam Smego, from Greenwich, CT, is a Mechanical Engineering major and English minor with aspirations to pursue a career in flight control systems. He graduated from Regis High School in Manhattan, and as Captain led the cross-country team to its first state championship meet in fifteen years. He also published poetry and fiction in the school literary journal and served as a mentor for middle school students preparing for high school admissions. At UConn, Liam is a member of the club running team, Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Liam enjoys discovering music in a large range of genres, from indie rock to jazz to experimental folk.

Project: Implementing a Problem-Based Game to Promote Student Learning: Lunar Landing

Mentor: Prof. Scott Brown, Dept. of Educational Psychology


Shreya Sreenivas, from Coppell, TX, is a STEM Scholar majoring in computer science and physiology and neurobiology. She graduated from West Windsor Plainsboro HS South in NJ, but spent most of her high school years at Coppell HS, where she was involved on the Solar Car Racing Team, robotics, and was captain of her swim and volleyball teams. Since coming to UConn, she has joined Dr. Fumiko Hoeft’s BrainLENS lab, where she is exploring developmental cognitive neuroscience research with the goal of maximizing children’s potential in the academic domain. On campus, Shreya is involved with UConn’s Genetic Engineering Team (iGEM), Kids and UConn Bridging Education, and the CLAS Leadership Board.

Project: Genetic Variability and Reading Abilities in Dyslexia

Mentor: Prof. Fumiko Hoeft, Dept. of Psychological Sciences


Congratulations to the eleven outstanding students who comprise the 9th 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

Rowe Researcher: Rat Models and Human Hearing

Rat Models and Human Hearing: The Categorical Perception of Species-Specific Rate Vocalization

Spring 2018

Principle Investigator: Heather Read

Contributors: Sharon Cherian, Caitlyn Cody, Mackenzie Zapata, Timothy Nolan, Peter Satonick

Several studies have shown that humans and rats are able to differentiate timing cues in sound sequences. The importance of timing cues for speech and word recognition in normal hearing of adults has been recognized by Shannon (1995) and Souza (2015) who outlined the significance of timing cues for speech recognition among the aging human population, that commonly encounter tone frequency hearing loss. Rats are able to communicate and recognize non-speech vocalizations, as do humans.

We will use the two-alternative forced choice (2AFC) task to train rats to discriminate vocalizations (Gaese et al., 2006; Zarillow and Zador, 2014).  The rats will be placed in a sound proof training booth that have nose poke ports on the inside. In the first stage (early stage) of the task, the rats will be receiving a “direct reward” for learning to associate one vocalization with sound delivery with a reward from a port located on the right, and another with sound delivery and reward from a port on the left. First rats are trained incrementally to hold in the Central Nose Port for 150-600 milliseconds to initiate their trial. After holding and hearing the sound play for this duration, the rat needs to navigate to the correct port to receive their reward. The reward is in the form of strawberry or chocolate Ensure protein solution. Once the performance criterion reaches 70-100% for discriminating, the rats will be switched to the “Indirect” phase for the 2AFC paradigm. The sounds in this stage will all be delivered from a central speaker, removing the location cue indicating where the reward might be. Once the rats reach 70-100% correct for the “indirect phase,” they can now be tested in the 2AFC task for discrimination of sound sequences that vary in: timing cues only or timing plus tonal cues combined together.

My research project is essential to understanding more about the auditory system through the examination of interactions between tonal and timing perceptual cues. The results from this research project will allow us to have a more in-depth understanding about not only the auditory system, but how humans perceive specific vocalization sequences and discrimination abilities. Using these results, this will be able to provide valuable insight about human hearing and aging. Hearing aids are widely used by the elderly population, so the results will allow us to optimize hearing aids, as humans do rely heavily on temporal cues to speech. Thus, these results will not only add more to our general understanding about the auditory system, but also allow for improvement for hearing aid devices and other related advancements in clinical settings.


Winners: 2018 Honors Core Course Grant Competition

Congratulations to the following faculty members, who will be receiving funds to develop new courses for the Honors Core.

  • Alexis Boylan (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies): “Gender, Sexuality, and the Power of Looking”
  • Annamaria Csizmadia (Human Development & Family Studies) and Matthew Worwood (Digital Media and Design): “Growing up in a Digital Culture: Children, Parents, and Technology”
  • Barbara Gurr (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies): “Imagining America: Race, Gender, Sexuality and Identity through Speculative Fiction”
  • James Magnuson (Psychological Sciences): “Science of Learning and the Art of Communication”
  • Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet (Anthropology): “Culture and Conservation”
  • Alexia Smith (Anthropology): “Applied Research in Archaeobotany”
  • Jennifer Sterling-Folker (Political Science): “Excavating the International in Everyday Practices”

These seven courses are expected to span all four general education content areas as well as the W designation and the upcoming environmental literacy requirements. We look forward to seeing the results of our faculty’s creativity, expertise, and hard work!

Rowe Researcher: The Effects of Cranberry Consumption on Lipid and Lipoprotein Metabolism

The Effects of Cranberry Consumption on Lipid and Lipoprotein Metabolism in Human Apolipoprotein A-I Transgenic Mice Fed a High Fat and High Cholesterol Diet

May 2017

Investigators: Christian Caceres, Dr. Ji-Young Lee, Dr. Young-Ki Park

The development of pathological conditions including cardiovascular disease are well documented to manifest from an obese state due to high lipid burden at adipose tissue and consequent low-grade inflammation. We hypothesized that anthocyanin-rich whole cranberry powder would prevent inflammation while simultaneously modifying high- density lipoprotein (HDL) metabolism to confer cardioprotection in C57BL/6J mice expressing human apolipoprotein A-I transgene (hApoAITg). Male hApoAITg C57BL/6J mice were fed a modified AIN-93M high fat/high cholesterol diet (HF/HC; 15% fat, 0.25% cholesterol by weight) with only the treatment group receiving 5% whole cranberry powder by weight for 8 weeks. Our results suggest that CR supplementation decreases obesity-induced inflammation in adipose tissue at least in part, by modulating energy metabolism in skeletal muscle. However, additional investigations are required to conclusively determine the effect of cranberry consumption on serum lipids and HDL metabolism.

Rowe Researcher: Tyrosine Phosphorylation of the Bacterial Stress Factor BipA

Akua Owusu at Frontiers in Undergraduate Research

Tyrosine Phosphorylation of the Bacterial Stress Factor BipA aids in Adaptation and Pathogenicity

Summer 2016

Investigators: Akua Owusu and Jui Chaugule

Faculty Advisors: Dr Victoria Robinson and Dr David Benson

BipA is a multi-domain prokaryotic GTPase universally conserved in pathogenic bacteria.  It regulates a number of virulence events including pedestal formation, flagella mediated motility and expression of virulence genes. Most importantly, BipA null mutants are avirulent, suggesting it is a prime target for antimicrobial development.  Central to the function of BipA are its GTPase activity and its association with the ribosome. An examination of the ribosome binding properties of the protein revealed that BipA has two ribosome binding modes. Under normal growth conditions, GTP-bound BipA associates with 70S ribosomes. However, under conditions of stress, ppGpp-bound BipA associates with 30S ribosomes. A study by the O’Connor group at the University of Southampton (UK) demonstrated that BipA undergoes phosphorylation on one of its tyrosine residues and perhaps this modification may play a role in its ability to regulate virulence processes. Therefore, the purpose of my project was to identify the tyrosine phosphorylation sites in EHEC BipA and then determine how this modification affects its biochemical properties particularly its GTPase activity.

Rowe Researcher: Perceived Discrimination Affecting Muslim Health

Perceived Discrimination Affecting Muslim Health


Investigators: Sara Hasan, Michelle Morris

Faculty Advisor: Rick Gibbons

In the past decade, Muslim discrimination has increased to an all-time high. Multiple research journals have identified that discrimination can have adverse health effects on people of certain races. While studies have predominantly been researched towards African-Americans and Hispanics, I questioned how discrimination affects Muslims around the United States. My project aimed to understand the effects discrimination against Muslims has on their overall mental and physical health. Using an online survey website, the first study took place approximately one week after the 2016 United States Presidential election to see if there were adverse health effects present in Muslims, due to the election results. With the same participants for the second study, four months after the election, we will be maintaining contact to see if more health issues, if any, have arisen or if the previous ones have continued on since then. Along with the Muslim participants, we included a significant subsample of non-Muslims to compare their health behaviors during both waves of the study. This project analyzes the issues of Muslim discrimination and how it affects the health of Muslims in the United States.

Rowe Researcher: Regulation of Animal Vascular Tissue

Samana Zaidi at Frontiers in Undergraduate Research
Samana Zaidi at Frontiers in Undergraduate Research

Regulation of Animal Vascular Tissue in a Brainstem Respiratory Center

Spring 2015-Fall 2016

Investigators: Dr. Daniel Mulkey (Associate Professor), Virginia Hawkins (Post doc fellow), and Samana Zaidi

I have worked in Dr. Daniel Mulkey’s lab investigating the processes involving regulation of animal vascular tissue in the brainstem respiratory center. We have been using mammalian models to conduct our research, therefore, rats and mice were utilized. Our research has been focused on chemoreception which is the mechanism by which breathing is regulated as levels of CO2 and H+ increase or decrease in tissues. An important region of interest of ours is the retrotrapezoid nucleus known as the RTN. Within the RTN there are neurons that control breathing. An important channel is contained within the RTN region known as the KCNQ channel. We focused on multiple KCNQ channels primarily KCNQ2 and KCNQ3. These channels are potassium channels that are critical for brain function. We investigated the effects of loss of function and gain of function on KCNQ channel variants and what the response leads to be. In addition, the research was further applied to how we can use KCNQ2 channels to target patients with encephalopathy.

Rowe Researcher: Understanding the Role of SR-B1

Understanding the Role of SR-B1 in Lipid Metabolism and Inflammation

Summer 2016

Investigators: Christopher Blesso, Christina Jiang

SR-B1 is an HDL receptor that has a role in cholesterol exchange and the initiation of intracellular signaling cascades involved in lipid metabolism. SR-B1 is highly expressed in the liver, but its function has not been fully determined in adipocytes, which is the aim of this project. Cholesterol imbalance can result in disease states such as atherosclerosis, so the study of this HDL receptor can be implicated in disease prevention.

The aim of the research was to perform successful knockdown in 3T3-L1 adipocytes by using siRNA (scramble, cyclophilin, SR-B1); determine gene expression of SR-B1 and cyclophilin to confirm knockdown; determine inflammatory response of adipose by introducing LPS or macrophage-conditioned media to cells. After treating the cells with the appropriate reagents, RNA was isolated, cDNA was synthesized, and PCR was conducted to confirm knockdown. There was a 40% knockdown in cyclophilin when treated with cyclophilin siRNA and insignificant knockdown with SR-B1 knockdown. There is about a 60-70% knockdown of SR-B1 in adipocytes treated with SR-B1 siRNA, indicating that the knockdown was successful. In the presence of macrophages, there is about a 40% knockdown of SR-B1. In the presence of LPS, there is also about a 40% knockdown of SR-B1. These successful gene knockdowns provide evidence to continue on with the experiment.

Rowe Researcher: Drug Treatment for Depression

Shanicka Reynolds
Shanicka Reynolds presenting her research at Frontiers in Undergraduate Research


Drug Treatment for Depression: Deprenyl’s Effect on Motivation, Effort and Behavior


Investigator: Shanicka Reynolds

Depression is more than a feeling of sadness. It can progress into a disabling disease that degrades mental, physical, and social health. One of the most debilitating symptoms of depression is a decrease in motivational behavior. Motivational symptoms such as fatigue and anergia are difficult to treat and many of the existing antidepressants do not effectively treat motivational symptoms. This project will focus on the MAO-B inhibitor drug, deprenyl. The goal is to provide a more detailed characterization of the motivational effects of deprenyl through experimentation. Successful increase of motivational behavior using deprenyl will not only benefit patients suffering from depression, but will help patients of various disorders such as Parkinson’s where depression can be a side effect of their disease.