Congratulations to our Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awardees for 2015

Each year, the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program accepts nominations from students for our “Outstanding Faculty Mentor” Awards. Undergraduate researchers are asked to identify a professor or faculty mentor who regularly goes above and beyond to create and engage students in research opportunities.

Students provide a written statement that describes why the chosen nominee deserves an outstanding mentorship award, including specific examples that detail their nominee’s contribution to undergraduate research at VCU.  The main criteria for these nominations include; how the faculty member has enhanced the skills related to undergraduate research in their discipline, how the nominee has expanded the knowledge base of student researchers, the ways in which the mentor has assisted undergraduates in their engagement with research, the lasting impression the mentor has made on students’ future academic and professional plans.

Please join us in recognizing our 2015 Outstanding Faculty Mentors!


Dr. Daniel Conway is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Conway was nominated by undergraduate researcher and previous UROP Summer Research Fellow, Natalie Noll, who had this to say about her mentor’s guidance: “During my time working in Dr. Conway’s lab, he has constantly assisted me in my acquisition of knowledge in my field of research. By providing me with personal hands on learning, he made sure from day one that I was following procedure correctly, and performing every technique flawlessly.  After participating in the UROP program, and having such a positive experience in Dr. Conway’s lab, I have changed my career path to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering so that I can do research for a living. Through Dr. Conway’s passion for his research and his willingness to employ students to do their own research projects in his lab I have come to love research.”


Dr. Andrew K. Ottens is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the School of Medicine, with affiliate positions in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Psychology.  Dr. Ottens was nominated by undergraduate researcher and Biology major, Pallavi Pilaka.  Pallavi included the following statement regarding Dr. Ottens’ mentorship in his nomination: “This semester Dr. Ottens has me leading a grant on the effect of childhood secondhand smoke on the relapse to alcoholism in adulthood. The knowledge I have acquired from Dr. Ottens has given me the opportunity to train another undergraduate student and a graduate student in conducting and analyzing behavioral assays and biofluid processing for mass spectrometric analysis on this grant. As an undergraduate, leading a grant is an incredible opportunity to demonstrate responsibility and acquire real world knowledge and experience of what it would take to become a research graduate student.  During my year in Dr. Ottens’s lab, my experience inspired me to pursue a career in Neuroscience; I will be applying to graduate programs this fall.”


Dr. Manoj Thomas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Systems with the VCU School of Business.  Dr. Thomas was nominated by undergraduate researcher and previous UROP Summer Research Fellow, Siobhan Gray, who detailed the unique global service component of her mentor’s area of research: “The work I have done with Dr. Thomas as part of my Fellowship is why I am in the field I am. Helping others obtain access to technology is a great step forward for Haiti. Being able to be a part of the research solutions for those students was a great honor. My hope for my future is that I will be able to help others in the same way that I have helped the Haitian youth through my project. Working with Dr. Thomas truly opened my eyes to the challenges faced by many in the world. I hope to help others the wayhe has and to devise solutions for all those in need.”

School of Nursing_Angela Starkweather

Dr. Angela Starkweather is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems in the VCU School of Nursing.  Dr. Starkweather was nominated by undergraduate research and previous UROP Summer Research Fellow, Jeff Petraco, who had this to say about his research mentor: “Dr. Starkweather’s engaging and supportive approach makes working through even the most challenging issues an intellectually enjoyable experience.  By skillfully assessing students upon their expression of interest in research, Dr. Starkweather’s approach builds on their strengths to enable them to develop research skills commensurate with their abilities and background. Her joy for research and her dedication to and compassion for her students encourage them to give serious consideration to pursing a graduate degree in nursing research.”

If you are interested in recognizing your faculty mentor for the outstanding guidance they provide to you and other undergraduate engaged in research and scholarship at VCU, please recognize them by nominating the for future Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards here:

Questions or concerns?  Contact your UROP Director, Herb Hill at

VCU Research Weeks 2015 Wrap-Up!

Research Weeks 2015

From art to science and everything in between, VCU students dig deeper on research projects in every discipline

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University provost Gail Hackett, Ph.D., knows that research isn’t just for faculty members and doctoral candidates.

Addressing students April 22 at the VCU Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, Hackett recalled how early forays into research helped determine her career path.

“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate,” she said. “That independent research did have a huge impact on me. It enriched my academic program as a psychology major and influenced my career choice as a researcher and faculty member.”

Organized by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the symposium allowed undergraduates to share their investigations into everything from 3-D printing to how chemically profiling mixtures with pool chlorine and brake fluid can help authorities solve crimes of arson.

What I see here is not just a room full of posters. What I see is the tangible evidence of what we mean when we talk about student success and academic rigor at VCU.

“What I see here is not just a room full of posters,” Hackett said. “What I see is the tangible evidence of what we mean when we talk about student success and academic rigor at VCU.”

The symposium was one of several events taking place at VCU’s two campuses during Student Research Weeks in April. The annual celebration is a chance for students to present their research, creative and scholarly projects to their peers and the community.

While students have always been active in the university’s research endeavors, Research Weeks has brought to the forefront the sheer amount and diversity of projects being carried out, said Frank Macrina, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation.

Initially just a week of events, the celebration now stretches across an entire month.

“What we have done is awakened a sleeping giant,” Macrina said.

What follows is a snapshot of some of the projects presented by students this year.

Psychology: Body by avatar

Freshman Usha Raman presents her research at the Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity. Raman studied the impact of video game avatars on body image in adolescent boys. Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing.

For decades, researchers have studied the impact that magazines and television have on female body image. Usha Raman, a freshmen majoring in biology and psychology, flipped that scenario around by looking at the effect of video game avatars on adolescent boys.

The characters in games today move and look like real humans. They can even be personalized to more closely resemble the tastes and desires of the player.

Raman looked at various avatars. Some were so unnaturally muscular they didn’t seem to have much of an impact. Others, such as Nathan Drake from the Unchartered video game series, did.

“The ones that are a little more realistic, the boys start comparing their own bodies to them,” said Raman, who presented her findings at the Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity. “Their realistic and athletic movements caused boys to mimic them. All of this can lead to negative body image and depression and anxiety.”

Raman compared the influence of video games on boys to the effect of other mass media images on adult males. She found that the images of avatars could make boys change their eating and exercise habits, similar to the way other mass media images cause changes in the habits of adult males.

Raman wants to continue her research by looking at how boys react to earlier video games, in which characters were not as muscular and the movements not as realistic.

Read the rest of this story at the VCU News site: