UNCP undergraduates show off diverse, interesting research


Janae Aiken was thrilled to be participating in her first Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) Symposium on April 2.

“I’m having a great time. This is really interesting,” she said, looking around the gym that displayed more than 100 research projects of all kinds. “I’m definitely going to do this again next year.”

An English education major and a member of the soccer team, Aiken’s research project was on literature. Her poster was a labor of love that showed off her artistic and graphic design skills, and it won first place in the Education, Humanities and Mass Communication category.

Janae Aiken with her research project

Janae Aiken with her research project

PURC 2014 was sponsored by Duke Energy, which also sponsors student research in the schools at the Region IV Science and Technology Fair. From hard science to art, from the Lumbee history to outer space, the eighth annual PURC Symposium showed off work that was inspired, meaningful, diverse and surprising.

Joan Blackwell, an art major, had three large murals on display. Later in the day, they were moved to the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club, where their depictions of American Indian life and history will hang to inspire children for years to come.

“This panel is the future,” Blackwell said. “It’s a tree of life with the children’s thumb prints on the trunk. When they are older, they will walk by this and remember they are part of the future.”

Like many students in the room, Blackwell had received a PURC grant to help finance the project. PURC Director Dr. Tim Ritter was pleased with the turnout.

“With 100 posters and presentations, this has been a very good day for undergraduate research at UNCP,” Dr. Ritter said. “I’d like to thank the faculty mentors who are essential to this process and our sponsor Duke Energy for their generous support of research.”

“As our speaker, Dr. Courtney Thornton points out, there is much to be learned from research,” he said. “My faculty colleagues agree wholeheartedly on the value of undergraduate research because so many of us began our careers this way.”

Oral presentations were punctuated by the keynote address from Dr. Thornton, associate vice president for Research and Graduate Education for UNC General Administration. The topic of her talk was “Things You Might Not Know That Your Research Experience is Teaching You.”

UNC brings in $1.2 billion in research grants annually, Dr. Thornton said, and there are 44,000 graduate students doing research across the 16 UNC universities. She said the lessons learned during research are many.

“I learned that success requires more than good research skills; it requires good people skills too,” Dr. Thornton said. “I learned that, at the end of the day, your choices have to make sense to you.”

Art student Joan Blackwell explains one of three mural panels that will hang in the local Boys and Girls Club of the Lumbee Tribe.

Art student Joan Blackwell explains one of three mural panels that will hang in the local Boys and Girls Club of the Lumbee Tribe.

That made sense to Constance Faulk, who participated in the making of the documentary film “Voices of the Lumbee,” which premiered on April 10 during the Lumbee Independent Film Festival. She learned how to use new hardware and software, but “my favorite part was meeting the Lumbee people, who are amazing.”

“If you had asked me two years ago what I’ve learned in college, I would have had no answer,” she said. “I want to be a director, and this experience showed me how.”

Nursing student Justin Smith’s project was a grant proposal to study diversity and the training of nurses, in this case LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) nurse candidates. Dr. Dena Evans, a nursing faculty member, was one of Smith’s faculty advisors.

“There are no studies like this, so it is potentially important research of a minority group in the nursing pipeline,” Dr. Evans said. “Building a diverse core of nurses is important for the future of healthcare.”

Nearly a third of the research posters were STEM related. These studies varied, some came out of labs and some out of the natural world.

One unique laboratory was located in zero gravity. As part of her oral presentation, Molly Musselwhite showed photos of herself doing a somersault in mid-air while weightless inside a NASA aircraft.

“We were accepted into the program because our experiment was really outstanding, and this summer I will fly with NASA again to continue it,” Musslewhite said. “You may have heard of us. We are the Weightless Lumbees.”

The team’s experiment indicated that the recovery time for astronauts exercising vigorously in zero gravity may be 30 percent slower than on earth. “This was the best experience, and I’m thrilled to be able to do it again,” Musslewhite said.

Catheryn Wilson stayed closer to the ground, trekking through longleaf pine forests of Weymouth Woods to track box turtles to solve a mystery.

“We are not sure yet how turtles survive fire,” Wilson said. “There is a mortality rate of 21.6 percent. We’re not sure if the fires are more intense in some parts of the forest or if some turtles are able to dig deep enough to avoid the heat.”

Lan Yao is an international student who worked in the university’s Biotechnology Research and Training Center with chemistry professor Dr. Len Holmes and two international scientists. Dr. Holmes offered Yao the opportunity after she proved to be an outstanding student in class.

“I am looking for a natural way to preserve food freshness,” Yao said. “We are trying to maximize production of nisin in the lab.”

Faculty judges circulated during morning and afternoon sessions interviewing presenters. Winners included:



1st place ($75): Kayla Seedig, “Cost-Effective, Positive-Resist Photolithographic Processes for the University Printmaking Studio,” Brandon Sanderson, faculty mentor

2nd place ($50): Daniela Jimenez, Printmaking, Sculpture and Fashion Design; Brandon Sanderson, faculty mentor

3rd place ($25): Rebecca Spruill, Polystyrene Print; Brandon Sanderson, faculty mentor

Honorable mention: Lateesha Caswill, Digital Positive Plate Lithographic Bookbinding; Brandon Sanderson, faculty mentor



1st place ($75): Denstinee Lewis: “The Multiple Faces of Facebook,” Dr. Shilpa Regan, faculty mentor

2nd place ($50): Nicholas Palmer: “Monetary Polices of Three Central Banks,” Dr. Lydia Gan, faculty mentor

3rd place ($25): Justin Smith: “Examining Best Practices for Success Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Pre-licensure Nursing Students,” Dr. Dena Evans and Dr. Brigman Lee, faculty mentors

Honorable mention: Donte West: “Robeson County Teen Court: A Program Overview,” Dr. Renee Lamphere, faculty mentor



1st place ($75): Janae Aiken: “Silence Speaks Volumes,” Dr. Susan Cannata, faculty mentor

2nd place ($50): Samantha Langley: “Silence is Power: A Literary Analysis of the Novel ‘Speak,’” Dr. Susan Cannata, faculty mentor

3rd place ($25): Courtney Lamb: “James Joyce’s “The Dead’: Life as We Know it,” Dr. Susan Cannata, faculty mentor

Honorable mention: Ethan Sanford: “Darwinian Evolution in Robert Louis Stephenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’” Dr. Susan Cannata, faculty mentor



1st place ($75): Tammy Hoang and Jared Chavis: “The Impact of Grape Flavoring on the Stability of Omerprazole,” Dr. Meredith Storms, faculty mentor

2nd place ($50): Morgan Pait, Sarah Ruiz, Karen Farizatto and Michael Bullock: “First Oral Dosing Study with a Lysosomal Modulatory Compound Being Developed for Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias,” Heather Romine and Dr. Ben Bahr, faculty mentors

3rd place ($25): Carlisha Hall: “How Deep are Eastern Box Turtles Burying to Escape Severe Winter Conditions,” Dr. John Roe, faculty mentor

Honorable mention: Catheryn Wilson: “Anticipating Hibernation Emergence of Eastern Box Turtles in Southeastern Fire Managed Systems,” Dr. John Roe, faculty mentor



1st place ($75): Molly Musselwhite, Tiffany Scott, Candace Langston and Alejandra Mitchell: “The Effects of Gravity on the Cori Cycle,” Dr. Siva Mandjiny and Dr. Tim Ritter, faculty mentors

2nd place ($50): Marsalis Smith: “Optimizing Whole Animal Auditory Measurements,” Dr. Anthony Ricci, faculty mentor

3rd place ($25): Edgar Guzman: “Five Nations and Define Quality Healthcare,” Dr. Lydia Gan, faculty mentor

Honorable mention: Zachary Lunn, Mari Deruntz, Haley Bean, Kelli Jacobs and Kenley Patanella: “Group Papers in the Writing Venter: Where Theory and Practice Collide,” Dr. Teagan Decker, faculty mentor