Student Research Shines at CCAS Showcase

Undergraduate and graduate students across the sciences, social sciences and humanities displayed their scholarly work at the CCAS Research Showcase.

April 25, 2024

Several cork boards with student project posters lining the ballroom of the university student center.

Undergraduate and graduate students displayed poster presentations of their scholarly work at the annual CCAS Research Showcase. (Photos: William Atkins/GW Today)

From the impact of online discrimination on Latino youth to climate change consequences in the Black Sea to the use of light and color in Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp,” an array of graduate and undergraduate student research was on display at the annual Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) Research Showcase on April 16 at the George Washington University Student Center.

About 160 students presented posters from research projects across 25 CCAS disciplines—covering a gamut of topics including understanding swallowing disorders in lung transplant patients, investigating genetic links to prostate cancer and explaining why literary classics like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and William Faulkner’s “Light In August” top the list of banned books in American schools.

More than 300 visitors were in attendance, including CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck, faculty research mentors and fellow classmates.

“The students participating in this research showcase are poised to join the ranks of the next generation of scientists and scholars, armed with fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to confront the challenges of our time,” Wahlbeck said. “Fortified by an education grounded in analysis, creativity and effective communication, they are the architects of our future.”

4 people in front of a cork board with a student poster at the university student center, including (from left) CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck in a dark suit, student Kyle Layman (tall man with classes) & student Ella Kuehnert ( in white dress with blue blazer) & a grey haired man with his back to the camera in a blue dress shirt.
CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck was among the showcase visitors as Kyle Layman and Ella Kuehnert, both senior interior architecture majors, discussed their study of light and color in “Lady and the Tramp.”

Professor of Physics Evangeline J. Downie, CCAS associate dean of research and strategic initiatives, highlighted the diversity of research at the showcase and applauded the CCAS community for supporting student scholars.

“Research experiences are a core aspect of the engaged liberal arts,” she said, “and the ability to communicate that research to a broader audience is crucial to our students’ future impact on the world.”

For students, the showcase represented the culmination of months—even years—of data collection and analysis. Forecasting the future of climate change in the Black Sea, first-year data science master’s student Raghav Agarwal combed through troves of sources—including news accounts, social media, government publications and massive datasets—to focus on a single environmental snapshot.

“Climate change is a vast subject,” he noted. “If I talk about climate change in my region and you talk about climate change in your region, we are talking about very different things. I wanted to narrow the focus.”

Even as he continues his research, Agarwal noted that the scale of his project will grow larger and harder to master. Just two months of geographical studies on the Black Sea involved a terabyte of data—and he plans to increase his research scope to five years.

Senior political communication major Yvonne Liccione tracked Britney Spears conspiracy theory communities across social media platforms to chart how digital fandom influences culture and politics. Working with her faculty mentor Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs Kimberly Gross, Liccione said she learned to organize and analyze caches of information along scientific protocols. “The Research Showcase forced me to think about how I approach my project and make my data understandable not just to me but to other people,” she said. “And it’s helped me gain confidence as a researcher—and a presenter.”

On and off campus

Some students focused their presentations on their GW experiences and their off-campus opportunities. Anisah Daniel, a junior neuroscience major, built on her internship at the National Institutes of Health for a project measuring the health effects of adults switching from highly processed Western diets to Mediterranean-like dishes incorporating fruits, vegetables and fish.

By examining volunteers’ food logs and lifestyle surveys over more than a year, Daniel found a sharp decline in cholesterol levels among those who stuck with the Mediterranean diet. She also noted that that many maintained healthier habits like regular exercise.

“Seeing how doable a lifestyle change was for these participants and the great impact it showed on their health made me feel so positive about this work and how GW made [her NIH internship] possible,” she said.

Junior biology major Jacob Washton in a blue shirt and tan slacks shows a poster project on a cork board to President’s Spouse Sonya Rankin in a blue flowered blouse and black pants.
Junior biology major Jacob Washton shared his research with President Granberg’s spouse Sonya Rankin.

Organizational sciences majors Sydney Hammer and Maliah Stevens stayed on campus to survey 500 GW-affiliated student groups on the influence of leadership styles. Their data revealed links between student leaders’ perceived popularity and their groups’ membership success and goal-achievements. Both students are active in campus organizations—Hammer, a senior, is involved with the GW chapter of Camp Kesem, a summer camp for children who have parents with cancer; Stevens, a junior, is executive producer of the GW Shakespeare Company—and designed their research to aid fellow students.

“As [organizational sciences] majors, we see how organizations operate and how leaders can be effective,” Hammer said. “We wanted to translate that to the student realm and inspire more positive leaders who can foster change on campus.”

Hands-on projects

Many of the projects involved students working closely with people throughout the community.

Bianca Batar, a second-year art therapy master’s student, spent 10 months visiting a 99-year-old woman with late-stage dementia. Guiding her through weekly art sessions, Batar watched her create ever-more detailed drawings of the mountainous region of Japan where she grew up. As she became closer to the woman and her family—even attending her husband’s funeral—she noticed steady improvement in the woman’s short-term memory.

“Art therapy is about building a rapport, a connection with people—like the connection I have with this woman,” she said.

Art therapy student Bianca Bater in a black dress with black hair & glasses in front of her poster that shows drawings of mountains in Japan.
For her art therapy project, Bianca Batar worked with an elderly woman with dementia as she sketched drawings of mountains in her native Japan.

For her study of the relationship between attention and social learning in 18 to 30-month-olds, Brooke Stallman, a senior majoring in biological anthropology and psychological and brain sciences, worked with young people at the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C. She guided them through exercises testing their visual and spatial skills—while trying to keep them focused on their tasks. “That was the most challenging part,” laughed Stallman, who works with the interdisciplinary Social Cognition Lab within the CCAS Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology. “But it was awesome to see how many parents truly cared about the research we were doing.”

Many students noted that, in addition to presenting their own research, the highlight of the event was comparing notes with classmates from different disciplines.

As first-year political science major Anna Ree presented her poster on the connection between the term “Third World” and support for humanitarian aid, she struck up a conversation with her showcase neighbor David Lombardi, a senior German major and physics minor. His project examined the letters between Albert Einstein and “father of quantum physics” Max Born on scientific ethics. “This event helped me discover all the remarkable research that my peers are doing,” Ree noted.

Indeed, junior neuroscience major Daniel said the passion of her fellow presenters has inspired her own work. “Seeing all these posters in all these different disciplines and how they all intersect has really motivated me,” she said. “And it’s shown the greater impact of what we do here at GW.”