GW Student Researchers Revel in Helping to Solve Complex Problems

Student organizations have helped facilitate research opportunities among students.

September 12, 2023

A male student talks to two other students at Org Fair Friday

Student organizations with an academic and research focus were featured at Sept. 8's Org Fair Friday, the first of the academic year, at University Student Center. (Jordan Tovin/GW Today)

Despite the city’s political reputation, native and transplant Washingtonians alike are aligned on some issues, with a distaste for traffic being near the top of the list. Proof of that can be found starting around 4 p.m. every weekday on the Beltway, where the harmonious honks of the horns symbolize a unified mood among commuters.

And with the population in the metro area (which includes parts of D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) increasing at a rate of roughly 1% per year, coupled with more employers going back to in-person or hybrid work setups, the capital region will have no choice but to continue figuring out ways to accommodate traffic.  

There’s been a significant investment, as D.C. is expected to receive approximately $1.3 billion over five years in federal funding for highways and bridges to improve existing transportation framework, and George Washington University students will be directly involved in the problem-solving process.

Studying at a global comprehensive research institution and Association of American Universities (AAU) member in the heart of the nation’s capital, GW students have a unique opportunity to carry out cutting-edge research to investigate complex challenges, such as traffic. In addition to faculty members, student organizations can help facilitate these opportunities, and GW offers a multitude student organizations with an academic focus.

Take junior civil engineering major Sara Kenney, for instance.  Through the American Society of Civil Engineers student organization, she met its faculty adviser, School of Engineering and Applied Science Associate Professor Samer Hamdar. Thanks to her involvement and enthusiasm within the organization (where she is now president), Hamdar invited Kenney to be a part of his team that will look at urban transportation patters in D.C.

Kenney is one of two undergraduates, along with six Ph.D. students, who will be helping with the research project that will place cameras at intersections all throughout the city to observe patterns of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians to better improve conditions.

While steel bridge building—the enthusiasm on her face when describing the organization’s success at steel bridge building conferences is palpable—and train transportation is more her thing, she is eager to work on the solution while learning at the same time.

“This is kind of something new for me,” Kenney said. “I don’t know too much about traffic, but I’m really excited to learn about it.”

Junior biology major Yasaman Arefpour, who is on a research team with GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences Assistant Professor Brett Shook looking at molecular medicine as it pertains to healing diabetic wounds, particularly ulcers, said that being challenged to think innovatively while creating new knowledge is an incredibly exciting venture.

“The research activity almost makes you an inventor,” Arefpour said. “It helps you figure out a way to tackle complex issues and think about them in a sort of a futuristic way.”

Arefpour is a part of the Global Surgery Student Alliance organization at GW, as is senior neuroscience major Maria Naveed.  Naveed, whose research at Children’s National Hospital focuses on behavior aspects of kids with type-1 diabetes, appreciates the collaboration aspect of being a part of a student organization with fellow student researchers. 

“It’s actually really great because we're able to compare research with each other,” Naveed said. “It’s really cool to be a part of something like this and be able to compare ideas.” 

Junior mechanical engineering major Miya Liu of the Society of Women Engineers student organization has appreciated using her research opportunity (she is a research assistant working on a nanofabrication project for biomedical applications with GW Engineering Assistant Professor Luyao Lu) to network with fellow women engineers. That has helped her generate ideas both for her career interests and for the organization, whose mission is to promote opportunities for women in engineering by means of professional development and outreach.

In general, student organizations provide GW students with some of the best ways to get involved. The Division for Student Affairs offers more than 500 organizations assembled under an array of causes, identities and interestsThe division’s Student Involvement team is hosting two more Org Fair Fridays to introduce new and returning students a diverse community of organizations and student leaders.

The Sept. 15 event will feature political, service, advocacy and recreational organizations. The Sept. 22 one will be the 19th annual MSSC Block Party, a campus tradition that showcases multicultural, LGBTQIA and religious/faith-based student organizations and performance groups. Both events will start at 4 p.m. at University Yard, with the third floor of the University Student Center being the severe weather location.