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Student Spotlight


Every semester SOURCE (Support of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors) hosts Intersections, a symposium where undergraduate students present their research and creative projects. The event is an opportunity for the CWRU community to learn about the array of academic work being done by students across campus. At the fall semester’s Intersections, Dec. 9, 2016, six student projects earned first place awards. Below, the first-place winners discuss their projects and what they learned from their research.


‌Cameron Macaskill, First Place in Humanities Poster Competition


‌Project: Ethical Diamond Extraction in Southern Africa

"Over the past few years, I've been in and out of Southern Africa as a study abroad student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and as an intern with the State Department in Gaborone, Botswana. I'm interested in the way diamonds affect politics and economics in this region, and my capstone project explores only a small aspect of this interest. In this particular project, I analyze how the history of violent diamond extraction in Southern Africa has been erased by the blood diamond campaign. I also look at the way corporations can be targeted in potential solutions to the violence that still exists today. I plan to continue with this type of research after graduation."


Nardine Taleb, First Place in Social Sciences Poster Competition

Project: Developing and Testing New Pediatric Sentence Recognition Materials

"The purpose of my project was to create sentence recognition test materials for children. These materials require a child to listen to a sentence in noise and repeat it back to the clinician. Based on the child's responses, the clinician can determine how well a child perceives speech in noise on a daily basis. My lab, under the direction of my mentor Dr. Lauren Calandruccio, put a tremendous amount of effort constructing the babyBEL, which is a corpus of 400 sentences. From this project, I learned so much about paying attention to detail, being precise, and how important teamwork is. I also learned a lot about the field of audiology and the amazing work that is being done for individuals with hearing loss. In the end, this is what our work is all about: helping people maintain and improve their quality of life."


Mahima Devarajan, First Place (tie) in Natural Sciences Poster Competition


Project: Temporal Specificity of EZH2-mediated Epigenetic Regulation in the Cranial Mesenchyme

"A long standing question in biology is how an individual cell becomes specialized into a specific cell type. The cells of the head and face comprise a complex system in which careful regulation guides cell specialization into bone, cartilage, skin, or muscle. When I joined in 2015, Dr. Radhika Atit’s lab was investigating the genetics of cell specialization during craniofacial development. My current project focuses on the temporal specificity of this genetic regulation. We aim to show that the difference in the loss of regulation by just one embryonic day can impact the entire structure of the skull and face. Understanding this process can provide us with insight into the mechanisms behind craniofacial defects and further our understanding of cell specialization."


Alexandra Faidiga, First Place (tie) in Natural Sciences Poster Competition


Project: Overproduction of Ovules Relative to Average Pollen Receipt in Trillium Grandiflorum

"I first developed my interest in pollen limitation when I wrote my final research paper on the topic for my departmental seminar. Because I wanted to explore some of the ideas I had developed in this paper further, and because my ideas were easily testable at the University Farm, I decided to conduct my capstone research project on pollen limitation in Trillium grandiflorum. While some aspects of this project didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned (for example, half of my plants being eaten by deer), being able to complete a field study to test the ideas that I developed through reading the literature made this project especially exciting for me. With this project, I have taken my first step toward understanding why certain plant populations appear to be pollen-limited, as well as how pollen limitation varies across space in such populations. I look forward to exploring both of these questions, along with additional questions about how pollinators affect reproductive success in plants, further in graduate school."


Keith Dona, First Place (tie) in Engineering Poster Competition

Project: Effect on Rat Motor Behavior of Chronic Intracortical Microelectrodes Implanted in the Motor Cortex

"Our project answers the question: Do motor-cortex-implanted micro-electrodes result in motor deficits in a rat model? We arrived at this question because while micro-electrodes have been used in clinical applications for treatment or neurological diseases, their effect on the host’s motor control has not been documented. We know an injury in the motor cortex leads to motor deficits, so it follows that the inherent injury involved in electrode implantation will cause similar motor problems. Over the course of this study, I learned how to properly execute behavioral tests on rats. I also learned how to analyze the related data to create coherent conclusions. We are encouraged by our positive results and look forward to expanding our study to solidify our results to be able to use this protocol as an animal model for the effects of micro-electrodes on motor ability."


Nicholas Hazen, Grace Foxworthy, Hanna Huss, James McGinnity, and Nathaniel Landis, First Place (tie) in Engineering Poster Competition


Project: Sensorized Cane for Fall Detection and Alert

"In response to the exponential rise in fatal falls in the elderly community, our group decided to attempt to improve the response time of first responders by creating a device which would alert family members and loved ones in the event of a fall. The device is attached to a cane just below the handle and monitors the velocity and three-dimensional orientation of the cane using a gyroscope and accelerometer. When the parameters reach certain values and the contact sensor determines if the cane is in use, the data is sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which assesses the data and determines if a fall has occurred. If a fall is registered, the app will call a list of contacts one at a time, stopping when someone answers or calling 911 if none of the contacts respond. The process of designing the device taught our group a lot about building Android apps, fabricating cases in Think[box], and the current limitations of mobility assist devices such as canes. We hope to improve on our design in the spring, and possibly register a patent through CWRU with the assistance of our professors, Dr. Colin Drummond and Dr. Matthew Williams of the biomedical engineering department."


1/18/2017, Brittany Moseley

Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program is designed to attract outstanding students into careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit to students who are sophomores or juniors during the current academic year and who have excellent academic records and demonstrated interest in and potential for careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. CWRU is only permitted to nominate up to four students for the national competition. Therefore, eligible sophomores and juniors are encouraged to apply to an on-campus selection process. Students submit a preliminary application and are interviewed by the Goldwater Campus Committee, comprised of STEM faculty and staff. Students are evaluated and selected based on their academic achievement, research activities, progress toward a career in research, and letter of recommendation. The four nominees are currently preparing their applications for the national competition.  Award winners will be announced March 31, 2017.


Benjamin Kuznets-Speck knew he wanted to study physics after taking an introductory physics course his junior year of high school. “My teacher for this class was amazing and would lead you just to the brink of an answer, but actually let you solve the problem yourself, which was very refreshing,” he said. The third-year math and physics major applied for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship as a way to put himself out there and showcase his research. “Beyond the monetary value, winning the Goldwater [Scholarship] would be validation that I'm on the right track and should keep on doing what I love to do,” Kuznets-Speck said. After college, he plans to pursue a PhD in physics and a career in academia.


Nathaniel Starkman can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be an astrophysicist (except for the summer he wanted to be an astronaut). “An early memory of mine is me standing on a table when I was 4 years old and explaining black holes to my parents’ friends,” he said. Starkman was one of CWRU’s Goldwater finalists last year. He won an honorable mention in the national competition. After he graduates the third-year math and physics major wants to attend graduate school for a PhD in physics and become a professor at a research university. “I love the two central aspects of this career,” he said, “conducting research to ask new questions that help understand the cosmos' inner working, and the joy of passing on this knowledge to inspire students to explore the universe.”


Matthew Thomspon began working toward a career in research in 2012. That was the first year he participated in summer research at CWRU, in genetics and biochemistry labs. Thompson, a second-year student double majoring in biochemistry and theater, now works in the lab of Professor Drew Adams in the Department of Genetics. “My current project is in collaboration with [Professor] Xin Qi in the Department of Biophysics to investigate the mechanism through which certain drugs can improve neural function and viability in Huntington’s disease,” he said. “Winning the Goldwater Scholarship would be tremendous validation for several years of my work in genetic and biochemical research.” After graduation, Thompson hopes to complete an MD/PhD and continue researching therapies for neurological diseases.


Benjamin Tooke said if he were to win a Goldwater Scholarship, it would be validation that he is pursuing the right field. “Beyond the monetary value, the award would represent the fact that there are professionals in the career field I'm pursuing who are confident in my skills and abilities,” the third-year biochemistry major said. “It's easy for me to say that I think I have the motivation to achieve my goals, but it means even more for established persons to say it through this scholarship.” Tooke chose biochemistry because of its well-rounded curriculum which can be applied to many fields. After graduation, Tooke, whose research interest is diabetes with a neuroendocrinology focus, plans to pursue an MD/PhD and become a physician scientist.


12/29/2016, Brittany Moseley

Student Spotlights: 2015-2016


 After an impressive performance at the American Mock Trial Association’s Regional Tournament, the undergraduate mock trial team will compete in the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) March 18-20 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The A team went 6-2 at Regionals in February and beat out 17 other teams from across the country to earn one of seven bids to ORCS. AMTA hosted 25 regional tournaments in February. The top teams from each move on to ORCS.


“These two past classes have been a chance to rebuild it, make it more competition-focused,” team president Alex Balbes said. “We put a lot of time and effort into making this team competitive.” Balbes, a fourth-year psychology major, joined the mock trial team as a freshman and is the sole senior in the group. He participated in mock trial in high school as well and said he knew he wanted to be a lawyer in middle school.


Balbes plans to attend law school after he graduates this spring and would eventually like to practice constitutional law. Surprisingly though, he’s in the minority on the mock trial team. “It’s actually fewer people who want to go to law school than you’d think,” he said. Of the 16 students on the team, only four, including Balbes, are pre-law. Sanjna Arvind, a first-year business management major, has no plans to attend law school but said the lessons and skills she’s learned in mock trial will help prepare her for her future career. “It incorporates so many elements of debate, drama, and law,” she explained. “Mock trial has a lot to offer anyone. It gives you a work ethic. You have to collaborate with a large group of people. It’s an incredible skill.” Differences in majors and career goals aside, there is one common trait in the group. “Mock trial tends to attract people who like to argue,” Balbes said, smiling.


Every academic year AMTA releases a new case, rotating between criminal and civil cases. (This year’s is a criminal bribery case.) Several times during the season, AMTA will release case changes. If they choose, teams can then break off into smaller teams. There isn’t a minimum or a maximum to how many of these ancillary teams a school can have, as long as each has at least six members and no more than 10. This season, CWRU’s mock trial team is broken into two smaller teams: A and B, but in the past they’ve had as many as four. Each team then prepares both sides of the case: the prosecution and the defense. Teams A and B each participate in four rounds, presenting both sides of the case twice. There are two judges per round, and teams are graded on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest.


If you were to attend a mock trial team practice at CWRU, you would see a handful of students practicing their part of the case while their peers observe. However, much more goes on than just running lines. Objections are made, witnesses are called, and evidence is presented. Throughout practice the team members tweak their case theories, take notes, and receive feedback from their coaches, three students from the School of Law. The team has worked on the case for seven months, but they show no signs of boredom or fatigue. Periodic case changes from AMTA, evolving case theories, and unique witnesses keep the case interesting. (Each team can create personas and backstories for their witnesses, “as long as we don’t contradict the witnesses’ statements or invent a substantial fact,” Balbes said.)


“Any theory you have is going to have holes,” said second-year biomedical engineering and political science major Ren Weeden. “Part of the fun of mock trial is developing theories to fill those holes.” Weeden has become a bit of a standout in his two years on the team. At Regionals he won an Outstanding Attorney award and was the first-place attorney on all of the A team’s defense round ballots. For each round, the judges rank the attorneys from both sides on their ballots. Each first place is worth five points or “ranks,” and Weeden received 20 ranks, which is a perfect score. He was the only attorney competing at Regionals to receive a perfect 20.


“I just really like public speaking,” said Weeden, who also does drama on campus. “I was a shy child, so I use it to drive me.” Although he joined the team to make sure a career in law was what he wanted to do, Weeden says his favorite part about mock trial is the people, both on and off his team.


“I just love being around people who are as driven as me, and not just on our team, but at competitions as well,” he said. “You meet a lot of interesting people.” It’s a sentiment Arvind shares. “I win with them; I lose with them,” she said of her teammates. “They’re my first family [on campus]. It’s created a great space for me to grow.”



Felipe Gomez del Campo

What started as a high school science fair project has led to a spot on Forbes’ ’30 Under 30’ list for Felipe Gomez del Campo. The senior aerospace and mechanical engineering major is featured in the “energy” category for the work his company FGC Plasma Solutions is doing in regards to developing a better fuel injector for jet engines.


“I was pretty excited. The list came out at 10 a.m., but I had practice from 10-12, so I was in the water during that time, and it was pretty hard to concentrate,” said Gomez del Campo, who is on the university’s men’s swim team. “I've put a lot of hard work into this so it’s great to get some validation.”


Gomez del Campo founded FGC Plasma Solutions in 2013, but the company’s origins go back even further. “It all started my junior year of high school when I really needed a science fair project,” he explained. “I had read some papers on how flames and really strong electric fields interact. This phenomenon has been studied pretty extensively, so I decided to see if I could replicate it. I ended up seeing that plasma—basically a spark which is formed when an electric field in a glass is strong enough to make it conductive so it's like a lightning bolt—could have a very beneficial effect on combustion.


“From this the project developed into, ‘Okay, so we can make flames more stable. Who cares? What can we use this for?’” he continued, “which led me to look at this to improve combustion in jet engines, my science fair [project] for my senior year. Once I got to Case, it turned into a question of, ‘This works, but what is the best way to apply plasma to jet engines?’ That turned into modifying the fuel injector, which is what the past three-and-a-half years have been devoted to.”


Last spring Gomez del Campo was recognized by President Obama at an event at the White House honoring young entrepreneurs from around the world. It also allowed him to bring FGC Plasma to a larger audience. As part of the event, Gomez del Campo pitched his startup to investors from the ABC television show “Shark Tank.”


“That was probably one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Gomez del Campo said. “I was pretty nervous, and looking back at the video, I had no idea I could talk that fast.”


After he graduates this spring, Gomez del Campo plans to attend graduate school and continue his work with FGC Plasma Solutions. “As you can imagine, there's a lot of work and testing that needs to go into developing a technology which is critical to the safe operation of an aircraft,” he said. “Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we are focused on increasingly complicated and realistic tests to simulate the conditions inside of a jet engine and make sure we optimize the performance of the technology. Part of this work is taking place at NASA Glenn Research Center. The goal is for these tests to de-risk the technology to the point where we can convince an engine manufacturer, like GE, to partner with us to develop the technology as a solution for their engines.” 


Another of Gomez del Campo’s long-term goals is to enhance opportunities for entrepreneurs in his home country of Mexico. (He and his family moved from Mexico City to Weston, Florida, when he was six. He became a U.S. citizen in 2014.) “While there is already a vibrant start-up scene in Mexico—maybe one of the best in Latin America—there is a lot of room for growth,” he explained. “I have had a lot of the resources needed to start a business/develop a technology here at Case and in the U.S. in general. It’s a long road toward launching a business, with some very large potholes scattered everywhere. It is the role of an entrepreneurship ecosystem to help fill in these traps and allow businesses to launch successfully. I think it’s critical to develop this around the world because no one has a monopoly on good ideas, so we need to make sure that wherever a good idea arises, there exist the mechanisms necessary to support entrepreneurs in developing them and bringing them to fruition.”


1/27/2016, Brittany Moseley

Shannon Smith


Senior year of college can be a stressful, busy time for many students, but Shannon Smith started her final year of college on a high note. In May she was awarded the Department of Defense's Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship. (Juniors Lauren Anderson and Diana Illingsworth also received SMART Scholarships this year.) The award offers students in STEM fields full tuition funding, stipends, summer research internships (for multi-year participants),  employment post-graduation, and more. 


As part of her award, Smith’s tuition will be covered for her final year of schooling and in June she will begin working for the Mission Engineering and Analysis branch at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. Smith, who’s majoring in mathematics and music, applied for the SMART Scholarship during her sophomore year, but wasn’t chosen. She contributes her success this year to her 2014 summer internship with the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center where she researched applications of underwater technology for Coast Guard missions.


“My internship demonstrated to the various SMART sponsoring facilities that I have the interest and skill set to support a career with the DoD,” Smith said. The internship also allowed her to work with her future employer. “I had the opportunity to collaborate with professionals at the Research and Development Center and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, to gather background information, and develop my ideas,” she explained. “I created a 19-page report for the Coast Guard to better understand the capabilities of existing underwater technology and the potential ways to incorporate that technology in its 11 statutory missions.”


Smith’s post-grad job with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center will focus primarily on mathematical analysis and problem-solving of issues brought to the Mission Engineering and Analysis branch. “Our work helps to confirm information or to raise new questions before researchers at NUWC or the Navy conduct expensive and time-consuming field testing,” she said.


Smith isn’t sure what she’ll do after her SMART Scholarship ends, but she’s weighing several options. “I am keeping an open mind about what I will do career wise after my minimum one year at NUWC. Right now, I can see myself staying there longer or possibly moving to another DoD facility,” she said. “I hope to go to grad school after working a few years and having time to discover what I am most passionate about pursuing at a higher level. I think my future studies will likely be in an ocean-related, STEM-based field.”


11/11/2015, Brittany Moseley


The following students were recognized for outstanding achievements in the SAGES Writing Portfolio. The portfolios were submitted in the academic year 2014-2015.


Maria Alilovic
Class of 2017
Major: Art Education, English

Bethany Kaufman
Class of 2014
Major: Biochemistry
Jake Anna
Class of 2016
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Brent O’Reilly
Class of 2015
Major: Psychology Studies

Sara Bogomolny
Class of 2016
Major: Theatre

Rebecca Pannone
Class of 2016
Major: Communication Sciences
Spencer Burton
Class of 2017
Major: Polymer Science and Engineering
Sarah Perlin
Class of 2018
Majors: Nutrition, Music
Alexander Calderon
Class of 2015
Major: Biochemistry
Emanuela Peshel
Class of 2015
Major: Biochemistry

Katherine Chen
Class of 2016
Majors: Biology, Psychology

Erin Reynolds
Class of 2015
Major: Chemistry
John Dulin
Class of 2015
Major: Physics
Juliana Ross
Class of 2016
Major: Biology
William Federkiel
Class of 2015
Major: Cognitive Science
Steven Roy
Class of 2015
Major: Astronomy
Ryan Finstad
Class of 2015
Major: Chemical Engineering
Timothy Sesler
Class of 2015
Major: Computer Science
Carter Heinert
Class of 2014
Major: Chemical Engineering
Shruti Shah
Class of 2016
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Tyler Hoffman
Class of 2014
Major: Anthropology
Jack Shen
Class of 2018
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Miranda Huiting
Class of 2016
Major: Nutrition
Patrick Wu
Class of 2015
Major: Biology
Ricky Jain
Class of 2015
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Meigen Yu
Class of 2016 
Major: Music, Psychology

11/26/2015, Brittany Moseley


Brittany Chung

Brittany Chung, a senior chemistry major, was recently honored by the Sustained Dialogue Institute at its second annual National Dialogue Awards, held Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. Chung, the only student recipient of the award, was one of five honorees, which also included Senator George Mitchell, a key architect of several peace agreements in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Evolve Health, an Arlington, Virginia-based company recognized for its diversity and inclusion in the workplace; Ohio State University alumna Taylor Sawyer and University of Alabama faculty member Lane McLelland, who are both part of the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network.


The mission of Sustained Dialogue is to engage people in dialogue in order to identify social issues affecting them and then develop a plan to resolve the root cause of the problem. Chung’s involvement with Sustained Dialogue at CWRU began her freshman year. "I signed up for a leadership conference and ended up following through by helping to bring the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network to CWRU and [serving] as a group moderator for one of the first undergraduate dialogue groups,” she explained.


Chung was recognized by the Sustained Dialogue Institute for her work in fostering dialogue about issues on campus and implementing solutions. She helped start the International and Multicultural Exchange and the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative. Chung said her proudest achievement in regards to Sustained Dialogue at CWRU was seeing the suggestions of the spring 2014 dialogue groups put into action.


"The dialogue groups had recommended that students, staff, and faculty receive diversity training so we can start to create an environment where all members feel valued. When Diversity 360 was rolled out this fall, I was extremely happy and proud of the changes that Sustained Dialogue helped to bring to our campus."


After she graduates in the spring, Chung plans to attend law school and would like to pursue a career in health law or international law. She said Sustained Dialogue is a lifelong tool that she will continue to use to help improve her community. "The biggest takeaway has been to find the root cause of an issue," Chung said. "I've found that the problems we see are the branches of the main issue, so I've learned that I should keep asking ‘why’ in order to better understand what's going on."


10/29/2015, Brittany Moseley