About 60 student teams submit projects for undergraduate research symposium.
By Menachem Wecker
When Leo Chalupa, vice president for research, finished drilling freshmen Gaurav Dhiman and Mark Mallozzi about their poster on detecting sources of bacterial contamination in the Anacostia River, he told them they should run for mayor.
About an hour later, on behalf of himself, Provost Steven Lerman and Vanessa Northington Gamble, university professor of medical humanities – the three judges of the GW Undergraduate Research Symposium – Dr. Chalupa awarded Mr. Dhiman and Mr. Mallozzi the $1,000 first prize.
The second prize ($800) winner was sophomore Yasmin Kamal, who studied embryonic specification, and the third prize ($600) went to Catalina Franco, who is in the math certificate program and researched Latin American immigration in the U.S.
“My excitement about becoming an academic largely derived from an undergraduate student experience,” said Dr. Lerman during the award ceremony, which took place in the Jack Morton Auditorium on Monday.
As an undergraduate, Dr. Lerman served for three years as a research assistant to a professor and then became one of that professor’s doctoral students. “It was a pivotal experience in my life,” he said. “I will be investing more money in undergraduate research. This is just the beginning. The most exciting things are about to come.”
Dr. Chalupa told the students, who had submitted about 60 posters for the symposium, that they were “pioneers,” and that in coming years, he hoped that students participating in the program would be filling the aisles.
“The difference between a research university – which GW is – and a non-research university is that undergraduates have a chance to participate in graduate-level courses and in research with faculty,” he said.
Dr. Chalupa said he probably saw more posters that day than he had in the past three or four years. “I was extremely impressed by the quality and the diversity of the work, and how well people presented,” he said. “It really blew me away.”
In an interview before the ceremony, just after Dr. Chalupa had suggested they launch a mayoral campaign, Mr. Dhiman and Mr. Mallozzi said they had first learned about the symposium from David Morris, associate professor of biology, who taught the Columbian College dean’s seminar that they took last fall.
Mr. Dhiman, a political science major from Utah who is planning to transfer to an international affairs major with a concentration in global health, said he and Mr. Mallozzi met in Dr. Morris’ class.
“This is a really great opportunity,” he said. “We both feel confident in our research, so it’s nice to have a forum where we can present our research to people.”
A Philadelphia native who plans on studying biology and emergency health sciences, Mr. Mallozzi clarified that the two did not actually jump into the Anacostia to capture samples. Instead, they relied on samples provided by Dr. Morris and doctoral students.
“It’s a good opportunity to make a difference in the area,” he said of the research.
In an interview after the ceremony, Dr. Morris, who will be presenting on the project at two universities over the next couple of weeks, said the goal is the “remediation of the Anacostia River.”
Asked how impressed he was with Mr. Dhiman and Mr. Mallozzi, Dr. Morris was all praise.
“The pair of these guys, they just pursued this,” he said. “I tend to be a little bit laid back, being British, so I tend to let the undergraduates pursue their own course in this. In that respect they certainly exceeded my expectations.”
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