Congratulations to our Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awardees for 2016!

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 2016 Outstanding Faculty Mentors!
Mary Boyes

Professor Mary Boyes joined The Honors College in August of 2013 as an Assistant Professor for the Honors Writing Program and serves a co-coordinator of VCU Launch and an advisor to “Auctus: The Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creativity at VCU.”  Mary was nominated by student researchers Alexander Ip and Christian Ruiz, who shared these comments on her mentorship, “I had an interest in social and economic stagnation of the middle class in the People’s Republic of China. Prof. Boyes helped me organize my research by designing assignments, such as source analyses and research reviews, which provided a scaffold for building my final research paper. By the end of the course, I had presented my research at the 19th annual VCU School of World Studies research conference. I was also accepted to present at the 2014 National Conference for Undergraduate Research. Through Professor Boyes’s encouragement and recommendation, I successfully became managing editor for Auctus, the VCU journal of undergraduate research and creative scholarship. Later,  I found a research position in the stem cell engineering research lab of Dr. Raj Rao. Since taking Professor Boyes’s advice and joining Dr. Rao’s lab, I’ve received a UROP 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

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Dr. Lesley Bulluck, PhD., is an Assistant professor with the Center for Environmental Studies and Department of Biology at VCU whose central research interests are population ecology and behavior of birds, and are most often motivated by the ability to influence conservation and management.  Dr. Bulluck has provided research mentorship to numerous undergraduate students at VCU, including recent Undergraduate Research Fellow, Denney Turner, “Working this past year with Dr. Bulluck has been nothing short of extraordinary. She opened my eyes to many different aspects of research. I have learned so much from Dr. Bulluck, the hands on experience alone was rewarding enough but working one on one with a professor that is so knowledgeable and passionate in their field was unbelievable.  Working with Dr. Bulluck, I have broadened my knowledge of everything that goes into research. One can learn a lot in classroom-based education but working out in the field or lab, immersed in the subject can alter your thinking and conception. Overall, Dr. Bulluck helped me find my true passion this past summer. It has been a life changing experience that I am so thankful to have had with such a wonderful professor.”

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Kristin Caskey is an artist, Associate Professor and Assistant Chair with the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising in the VCU School of Arts.  She has received multiple grants including the VCU Quest Innovation Fund and recently provided mentorship to VCU Global Education Undergraduate Research Fellow, Cassie Sun who expressed her gratitude with the following words “Kristin’s great connections and her experience working with creative communities was a key element in the Reviving Panxiu Project that I pursued for my summer research fellowship. Being a young student, new to the field and to community collaboration, I looked to her for leadership and experience. Kristin taught me all about her own experiences with art curation and how to promote events and shows.  Kristin is a wonderful mentor who has given me so much advice.  Her mentorship maximized my hands-on experience with the  project.”


Dr. Rebecca Martin, Ph.D., is currently an IRACDA Research Fellow with the VCU School of Medicine. Dr. Martin’s current research focuses on an innate-like subset of B cells called B1 cells. Follicular B cells, or B2 cells, are the major source of allergy inducing IgE antibody.  Dr. Martin served as a mentor to VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow, Matthew Zellner, who had this to say about his mentor’s guidance: “Dr. Martin has been my mentor since the fall of 2014 when she guided me through my independent study, which then led me to the UROP program. During my time researching under Dr. Martin, she has vastly expanded my knowledge in the field of research, specifically in the field of immunology. She has not only assisted me in my immediate needs as an undergraduate researcher, but has also advised me about my future in research which has inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology. Her incredible thirst for knowledge has inspired me to be the best researcher that I can be.”

Dr. Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Science.  Dr. Ehrhardt’s main interests are in the areas of forensic biology, microbiology, and trace evidence analysis. He currently maintains a microbial culturing facility that he uses to investigate the chemical and biological signatures associated with the production process of illicitly-grown bacteria (e.g., Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis). Dr. Ehrhardt’s lab also works on developing new methods for analyzing complex cell mixtures that are recovered as evidence from a crime scene and mentored VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow, Eva Childrey, “Dr. Ehrhardt has an excellent quality of allowing his students the freedom to troubleshoot and logically analyze experimental issues, while still providing direction towards the solution.  I have personally gained more technical and mechanical knowledge of equipment and instrumentation within his lab than within any of my teaching lab experiences, including Instrumental Analysis.  I have been able to list my experiences with specific instrumentation troubleshooting on my resume, and discuss them with employers with positive outcomes.  Dr. Ehrhardt’s persistence in his own research has influenced me to think very favorably of pursuing a career in research for myself.  Through his support, I was successful in my applications and am currently preparing for a summer internship in a local Richmond laboratory.”

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Dr. Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at VCU and manages the Kliewer Prevention Research Lab which is part of the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development in the Department of Psychology at VCU.  She has mentored countless students on campus and most recently guided Jerry Mize, VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow on his summer project.  Jerry had this to say about his mentor, “Dr. Kliewer’s research lab is designed to give students a diverse variety of experiences. She has designed a research internship for course credit that takes undergraduates through the entire research process; many students have come out this experience with multiple publications and presentation credits.  Dr. Kliewer has also enhanced my skills in leadership by promoting me to serve as a supervisor in her research lab, she truly cares about my progress and how I am learning.  I do not think any mentor could have brought me anywhere near this far or better prepared me for my future in academia.”

Please join us in congratulating our outstanding faculty mentors, and all faculty who provide guidance to our students at VCU.  Undergraduate research at VCU would not happen without the commitment and contributions of our mentors!

Two VCU School of Engineering students awarded NSF student fellowships!

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Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering students have received prestigious fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade and Patrick Link will receive three-year, $34,000 annual stipends and $12,000 education allowances, along with international research and professional development opportunities.

This program is the most prestigious award for graduate students that the NSF supports.

“This program is the most prestigious award for graduate students that the NSF supports,” said Gregory Triplett, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate studies at the School of Engineering. “We are hopeful that we will have many more success stories. Faculty, staff and administration share in the success of these students.”

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, founded in 1951. It has supported more than 50,000 fellowships aimed at students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in the sciences.

As a high school student drawn to research, Andrade connected with Ümit Özgür, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical engineering.

“I went to Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, and we had a mentorship program. We were able to go out in the community and pick anyone we wanted to work with,” Andrade said. That early bond led to years of experiments in Özgür’s lab working with light-emitting diodes and vertical cavity lasers.

Andrade, a member of the Honors College, will graduate in May and continue his education in a joint master’s-Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to study high-efficiency transistors and light-switching technologies. He is also earning a degree in physics from the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Andrade is a 2014 recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, applying for both opportunities with support from VCU’s National Scholarship Office, which is available to assist students from all schools and majors.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.
Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Link credits his wife, his son and his mentor, Rebecca Heise, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, for his success in the lab.

“I really had a strong connection with her when I first came up and visited, and that’s been absolutely the key to everything,” he said.

In VCU’s biomedical engineering doctoral program, Link is focused on nanoparticle research, breaking down and rebuilding proteins into forms that could carry future medications.

“I think biomedical engineering really takes key components from all other sorts of biology, and takes a different approach to it,” he said.

The grant will allow Link to focus on research in the coming years.

A native of Reno, Nevada, and a 2011 graduate of Western Carolina University, Link served six-and-a-half years in North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan, as an Army Special Forces medic.

Triplett said VCU’s focus on undergraduate research opportunities bolsters students applying for national awards and funding.

“This is a really good time for VCU. The two winners this year are an indication of greater things to come,” he said. “They are doing research that matters.”

Read the full article on the VCU News site!

VCU Undergraduates Talk Research! This is REAL!

Three pairs of VCU undergraduates chat about their research projects, which cover a range of topics from oral hygiene education to a disappearing Chinese embroidery technique. Despite their differing interests, one thing ties them all together: for these students, research is about more than cracking a book or turning in a final paper – it’s about making a difference and connecting with people.  Come see our undergraduates present their research at the annual VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity on Wed. April 20th, second floor of the Student Commons!

The VCU Summer Research Fellows conduct student scholarship each summer with funding support from VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Center for Clinical and Translational Research, the Division of Community Engagement, the Office of Inclusive Excellence and the Global Education Office.

Sincere thanks to VCU News for profiling last summer’s Undergraduate Research Fellows.  Undergraduate Research transforms our students, our students transform the world!  Click the links below to read their stories!

You are invited!! VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity!

We are very excited to invite you all to visit our undergraduates as they present their research and scholarly endeavors at our 8th(!) Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity taking place on Wed. April 20th from 11am-2pm in the Commonwealth Ballrooms and Richmond Salons of the Student Commons.  Our students have put together some fantastic posters profiling their work from the past academic year, and nothing would mean more to them than to be able to share it with our community!  We have nearly 300 students eager to answer your questions and tell you about their research.

At 12:30pm we will host remarks from Vice President for Research and Innovation, Dr. Frank Macrina, and will be awarding our outstanding faculty members for their mentorship of our undergraduates.  We will also announce our annual VCU Launch awards for first-year and second-year students who have produced research posters that exhibit remarkable rigor and vision.

We thank you for your continuing support of undergraduate research at VCU and hope that you will join us at this special event, part of VCU Student Research Weeks!

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Biology researchers connect elementary school students with climate change, wetlands

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You don’t expect to hear the crisp sounds of the wetlands in the basement of a school – even at Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, Virginia’s first and only charter elementary school, situated near Reedy Creek and the James River Park System. But one afternoon in March, students were crafting models of food webs and examining slides under microscopes as a video of marshland animals looped nearby.

A group of professors, post-docs and students from the Department of Biology, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, led a four-day workshop for elementary schoolers on the basics of how climate change is impacting wetlands.

“We’re funded by the National Science Foundation to look at how wetlands will respond to climate change,” said Rima Franklin, Ph.D., associate professor of biology. “Today we are working in different groups with the kids in the key aspects that go into that research.”

The school’s location, nestled next to Forest Hill Park on Richmond’s Southside, was conducive to breaking down the complexities of climate change.

“Patrick Henry is sitting right here on James River Park, and on Reedy Creek. We’ve taken them outside and taken them to the creek,” said Bonnie Brown, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of biology. Franklin, Brown and Scott Neubauer, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, are principal investigators on the grant, “Climate Change Effects on Coastal Wetlands – Linking Microbial Community Composition and Ecosystem Responses.”

The grant includes a community education component on environmental science. In each small group at Patrick Henry, VCU teams began with basic concepts that students already understood and tied them into the larger research goals.

“We started out with the idea of germs. All the kids know what germs are. But the world is also full of all these microbes that do good stuff for us,” Franklin said. “The first day they actually went on a microbe hunt. We gave them some petri dishes, and we sent them outside and in different areas of the school to get samples and grow them.”

Afterwards, students inspected their petri dishes and talked about the hypotheses they had about samples from different parts of the school.

We’re trying to break down the complicated phenomena into little parcels that they can then understand.

In another room, students watch a digital readout as different items are placed into a big plastic box. A device measures how much carbon dioxide is being produced, so students can visualize the difference between a cup full of worms and a cup full of dirt, for instance.

“We’re trying to break down the complicated phenomena into little parcels that they can then understand. They’ll be hopefully excited about measuring something, and drawing that thing that we’re measuring,” Brown said.

A group of students followed Brown through the school’s large garden and lawn, collecting flowers, buds, gumballs and other objects to draw. The students then took the items inside for an up-close look under a microscope.

“Every time we do one of these small activities, relate it to the fact that they are lucky to be here in the city, but have a park and a wetland and a creek and water,” Brown said, “and how then they can think about all this to take care of those resources.”

Assisting with the workshop were:
Joseph Battistelli, Ph.D. – instructor, Department of Biology
George Giannopoulos, Ph.D., Daniel (Dong) Lee, Ph.D. and Katherine Hartop, Ph.D. – postdoctoral researchers, Department of Biology
Gabriella Balasa and Olivia De Meo – technicians, Department of Biology

Joseph Morina, Chansotheary Dang, and Enjolie Levengood – graduate students, Department of Biology

Ben Stone, Diana Carey and Shira Lanyi – undergraduate students, Department of Biology
Biology graduate student Enjolie Levengood examines petri dishes with workshop participants.
Biology graduate student Enjolie Levengood examines petri dishes with workshop participants.

Cutting-edge, ambitious work marks sixth annual Student Research Weeks!


Freshman Usha Raman presents her research last year at the Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity. Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing
Virginia Commonwealth University’s Student Research Weeks, an annual event celebrating student research and creative and scholarly projects across a range of disciplines, will be held from April 13 to 28 on VCU’s Monroe Park and MCV campuses.Over two weeks, undergraduate and graduate students will present their projects, theses and dissertations, demonstrating and discussing their work through a series of events and activities, which are free and open to the public.

Some of the highlights from Research Weeks include:

Wednesday, April 13

VCU Venture Creation Competition
8:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
Snead Hall, 301 W. Main St., Room B3189
Students learn about entrepreneurship through the development of a concept or business venture and present to a panel of judges. Finalists will compete for cash prizes that can be used to further the commercialization of their venture. (Reception at 4:30 p.m. in the School of Business Atrium; awards ceremony at 5 p.m.)

For more information, visit the da Vinci Center website.

Thursday, April 14

School of Dentistry Research and Clinic Day
8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Perkinson Building, 1101 E. Leigh St. (talks)  Jonah L. Larrick Student Center, 900 Turpin St., Court End Ballroom (posters)
Dental and dental-hygiene students, research students and residents will present their research findings and contributions to advance oral health. Judges will award prizes for the best poster presentation in four categories.

For more information, contact Oonagh Loughran at

Friday, April 15

VCU Political Science 10th Annual Student Research Conference
8:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave.

Undergraduate and junior graduates from VCU and other universities will present research projects and facilitate roundtable discussions. Topics include public policy, international relations, and political theory and research methods. For more information, contact Christopher Saladino at

Tuesday, April 19

19th Annual Graduate Research Symposium and Exhibit
11 a.m.–1 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. (Commonwealth Ballroom)
VCU graduate students from all disciplines and departments will present their work to faculty, staff, students and community members.

For more information, visit the Graduate Research Symposium website.

Wednesday, April 20

10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity
11 a.m.–2 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. (Commonwealth Ballroom, James River Terrace, Richmond Salons)
Undergraduate students will present their research projects from a wide variety of academic disciplines. The event is organized by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

For more information, contact Herb Hill at

Graduate Recruitment Fair
11 a.m.–2 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. (Virginia Rooms)
Undergraduates from all disciplines are invited to attend to get information about opportunities in graduate education at VCU and beyond. Recruiters from a number of universities will attend. Hosted by VCU Office of Admissions.

For more information, contact Joy Rush at

Thursday, April 21

School of World Studies Senior Research Poster Exposition
11 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. (Richmond Salons)
Seniors showcase their best work, including research from Senior Seminar, internship experience, service-learning work and other academic research.

For more information, contact Kelsey Steenburgh at

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Information Session 12:30-2pm. MPC Student Commons, Forum Room. As part of Research Week, the VCU National Scholarship Office will be hosting an information session for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Mr. Jeff Wing, Director of the National Scholarship Office, will share information about the NSF GRF application process at 12:30pm on Thursday April 21st, in the VCU Commons Forum Room. Juniors and seniors who are planning to pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields are encouraged to attend, as are first-year graduate students. The deadlines for the 2017 NSF GRF are expected to be in late October/early November. Interested candidates are encouraged to start talking with the NSO and their research mentors this spring and developing their research proposals during the summer. For further information please

Fulbright Scholarship Information Session 2pm-3pm MPC Student Commons, Forum Room. The VCU National Scholarship Office is hosting an information session for students interested in the Fulbright Student Scholarship program, which provides funding to study, conduct research or teach English in more than 140 nations around the globe. Fulbright grantees come from a range of diverse fields and undertake projects that prepare them to play an influential role in today’s global society. They also contribute to mutual understanding among cultures and nations. The Fulbright Student Scholarship offers invaluable leadership development experiences along with opportunities for intellectual, professional and artistic growth. For further information please contact

Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Information Session 3:30pm National Scholarship Office, VCU Honors College, 701 West Grace Street. The VCU National Scholarship Office is hosting an information session for students interested in the Goldwater Scholarship. The purpose of this scholarship is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these STEM fields. For this scholarship, eligible sophomores and juniors are expected to write a research proposal in the discipline of their choice. Four nominees from each participating university are then chosen to compete nationally for a chance to become a Goldwater Scholar. This scholarship pays full tuition, as well as fees, up to $7,500. For further information please contact

Tuesday, April 22

School of Social Work Research Symposium
10 a.m.–1 p.m.
University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. (Commonwealth Ballroom)
Graduate and undergraduate students will present their research and scholarly projects through a poster exhibition and oral presentations.

For more information, contact Leanne Marshall at

Wednesday, April 27

12th Annual Women’s Health Research Day
1 p.m.–4:30 p.m.
Jonah L. Larrick Student Center, 900 Turpin St.
Faculty and students will present their research at a plenary symposium and poster exhibition. There will be several awards, including best overall poster by a junior investigator and best poster demonstrating an interdisciplinary investigator collaboration.

For more information, visit or contact Benoit Meyrieux at

Thursday, April 28

School of Engineering Senior Design Expo
9 a.m.–3 p.m.
Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St.
Senior design teams share their capstone projects, including providing demonstrations of their prototypes. The event is meant to increase awareness of the engineering profession among middle and high school students. For more information, visit the Capstone Design Expo website.

Research Weeks are sponsored by the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the VCU Graduate Student Association, the VCU Office of Research and the VCU Office of the Provost.  For more information and a complete schedule of events and activities, including information sessions for national scholarships, contact Herb Hill at or 804-828-4450, or visit

people looking at research posters