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ODU Hosts Undergraduate Research Symposium

By: Sherry DiBari

Kayla Scott, a student at Piedmont Virginia Community College, overcame her fears by immersing herself in a project about fruit flies.

"I don't like bugs at all," she said. "This research got me out of my comfort zone."

Scott, who studied fruit flies' adaptation to temperature change, was a participant in the 13th annual Virginia-North Carolina Alliance Undergraduate Research Symposium held virtually at Old Dominion University on April 1.

This is the first time that ODU has hosted the event since joining the Alliance in 2017. Each year, the twelve partner institutions rotate hosting the symposium, alternating between the Virginia and North Carolina member schools.

The Virginia-North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) is a National Science Foundation-funded project founded in 2007 with the goal of diversifying the STEM workforce and to "increase the number of underrepresented minority students earning baccalaureate degrees and matriculating to graduate school."

Partner institutions include community colleges, HBCU's and larger state universities as well as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia.

During the half-day event, participating Alliance students presented their research for five minutes and then held a five-minute question and answer session.

This year's research included studies on menthol flavoring and nicotine dependence, the effect of antioxidants on RT4 cells, and the impact of antioxidants on apoptosis, the death of cells.

ODU student, Amadu Koroma, gave a presentation on "The Summit," a successful minority STEM mentoring group at the University.

"This symposium is a great example of how we can support minority students in STEM and to invest in diversifying the STEM workforce of the future," said Khan Iftekharrudin, interim dean of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Stacie Ringleb, professor in ODU's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the College of Engineering's director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives, was the event's keynote speaker.

Ringleb, whose work focuses on biomechanics, rehabilitation and kinematics, discussed her personal journey as a student and a professional.

She emphasized the importance of "finding your people," whether professors, coworkers or peers. "It is truly important to find people who will weather the storm with you," she said.

Student breakout sessions included panels on professional development, graduate school and industry. Another session on microaggressions was held for faculty and staff.

"We appreciate Dr. Ringleb's participation in this event and all the hard work Dr. Landaeta and his team has put in to make this so successful," Iftekharrudin said.

Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Old Dominion University, who also serves as a member of the VA-NC Alliance Governing Board, delivered the closing remarks.

After thanking the Alliance and coordinators of the symposium, Agho remarked that he did not envy the judges. "It is not easy to judge when you have students who have worked so hard and done such amazing work," he said.

He spoke about the challenges faced in academia of having a diverse faculty and thanked the Alliance for their part in increasing the number of minority students entering STEM fields.

"That is a win-win for all of us," he said.

There are over forty LSAMP programs, named after Louis Stokes, the first African American congressman from Ohio, throughout the United States.

Participating institutions offer internships, peer/faculty mentoring, Summer Bridge programs, tutoring, workshops and paid summer research experiences.

At ODU, LSAMP projects include the Early Engineering Experience (E3), a three-day program for underrepresented high school students in the Hampton Roads area.

The Alliance includes 11 participating colleges and an observatory:

Bennett College in Greensboro, NC

Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, NC

George Mason University in Fairfax, VA

Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC

National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, VA

Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA

Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, VA

St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, NC

Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, VA

University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA

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