Current Scholars

2015 Cohort

Aaron Argall
Aaron Argall -
Biomedical Sciences
Characterizing the Role of Mutationally Activated Rac1 in Cancer Using C. Elegans
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jamie Alan
Cancer is uncontrolled cellular growth and can spread throughout the body through a process called metastasis. Rho proteins are key players in cell migration. Recently, Rac1 was found to be mutationally activated in many cancers. It is important to understand the molecular mechanisms by which mutationally active Rac1 contributes to carcinogenesis. To understand these mechanisms, we will turn to the model organism C. elegans, a transparent nematode whose neurons undergo well-defined cell migration, and whose signaling pathways are conserved. The neuronal migrations will be used as a proxy to study human cancer cell movement. First, we will determine how mutationally active Rac1 alters neuronal migration in C. elegans. To do this, we will cross a strain expressing mutationally activated Rac1, ced-10(n1993lq20), with a GFP marker to visualize the neurons, and we determine whether mutationally active Rac1 alters axon guidance. If mutationally active Rac1 does alter axon guidance, we can then knockdown candidate genes to determine which genes are required for Rac1-mediated defects. Taken together, these experiments uncover the mechanisms by which Rac1 contributes to metastasis.

Brady Hasse
Brady Hasse -
Androgen Receptor Coregulator Transcriptional Activities in Kennedy’s Disease
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jamie Johansen
Spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA, Kennedy’s disease) is an X-linked progressive neuromuscular disorder caused by polyglutamine repeats in the androgen receptor (AR) gene. SBMA is associated with androgen dependent muscular weakness. Recent studies have challenged the neurocentric theory of the cause of SBMA, and suggested a muscular origin of pathophysiology. There seems to be a toxicity introduced into the muscle cells from altered transcriptional activities. Because of this, we examed the role that a particular AR corepressor, SMRT, has in the mouse model of SBMA.

Kurtis Mai
Kurtis Mai -
Biomedical Sciences & Neuroscience
Regulation of Ribonucleoprotein Remodeling in C. Elegan Oocytes
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jennifer Schisa
Ribonucleoprotein (RNP) granules form in Caenorhabditis elegans oocytes in response to several environmental stresses and are composed of mRNA and RNA binding proteins. It is hypothesized that RNP granules form in order to protect the cell from the environmental stress. The purpose of this study was to determine if a set of osmoregulatory genes regulate the formation of RNP granules in response to glucose stress. Gene expression of a set of osmoregulatory genes was knocked down using the method of RNA interference (RNAi). Worms that have a green fluorescence protein marking RNP granules were placed on 500 mM glucose plates for one hour. They were viewed using a fluorescence microscope to assay the formation of RNP granules. These results will address the role of osmoregulatory genes in the assembly of RNP granules after worms are exposed to glucose stress.

Taylor Morgan
Taylor Morgan -
First Generation Proud
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Phame Camarena
This study looks at the experience of 21 first-generation students after their first year of college in the Honors Program at Central Michigan University. The data were collected through a web-based survey and were coded for content and analyzed for themes. We were not looking for any particular results, but instead were purposely looking at the data with an open mind and analyzing the story it told. When looking at the overall theme, students generally reported that the Honors Program helped them to come to a first-generation awareness, and that this was a positive awareness for them.

Mara O'Neill
Mara O'Neill -
Synthesis of Trehalose Analogues and Uptake by Mycobacteria
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Ben Swarts
Tuberculosis (TB), which is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), is still a major health issue in many parts of the world. In addition, drug-resistant strains of Mtb make treatment even more challenging and there is an urgent need for new treatment methods. Mtb’s complex cell wall contributes to its pathogenesis and resistance to antibiotics. Trehalose is a non-mammalian disaccharide that is required for the construction of various essential structures in the cell wall of Mtb. SugABC-lpqY is a transporter protein that recycles trehalose from these cell wall-building processes so that it can be repurposed inside the cell. The proposed work seeks to exploit this natural trehalose-recycling pathway to deliver modified trehalose analogues to the bacterial cell that may have potential as antibiotics or diagnostic imaging agents.

Taylor Ripke
Taylor Ripke -
Computer Science
Exergames: Developing Sensory Substitution Utilizing Vibrotactile and Audio Cues
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Anthony Morelli
A problem that faces children and teenagers who are visually impaired is that they are unable to socially interact with their peers through gaming. Using Unity, an integrated game development environment, we are able to create exergames in which children who are visually impaired can play with their peers through enhanced vibrotactile cues. This will allow for children who are blind to engage in the game and be equally fun for them because it will feature graphics for non-visually impaired people to enjoy as well. Upon completion, we plan to release these games to the public and provide source code for all of our games so that a developer could modify the game to meet these needs of an individual person.

Camila Sarmiento -
The Effect of Race and Crime: An Investigation of Prejudice Toward Wrongfully Convicted Individuals
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Kyle Scherr
Exonerees experience various difficulties during their reentry into society, including the continued stigma of being an actual offender. This study explored the possibility that the stigma placed on an exoneree is exaggerated when the exoneree was accused of a stereotypic race-consistent crime. Participants read one of four fictional newspaper articles about an African American or White male who was wrongfully convicted of either embezzlement or physical assault and then had their prejudice toward the exoneree assessed. Participants were also given an ostensible opportunity to donate their own money to help exonerees (although in reality no money was actually donated). Based on research that demonstrates the negative impact of the race-crime-congruency effect in legal decision-making, we predicted that there would be a higher level of prejudice and discrimination towards the African American exoneree who was accused of physical assault and the White exoneree who was accused of embezzlement.

Rachel Schumaker
Rachel Schumaker -
Nontoxic Organoplatinum Cancer Drugs
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Bob Howell
Organoplatinum antitumor agents are broad spectrum drugs effective against a range of cancerous disease. The most widely used of these, cis-dichlorodiamimineplatinum(II) [Cisplatin], has been prominent in cancer treatment for several decades (the largest selling cancer drug for many years). While this is an extremely effective drug, its administration is accompanied by several rather severe side-effects. The most debilitating of these are extreme nausea and kidney damage. Mitigation of the severity of side-effects might be provided by a time-release formulation such that the level of active platinum drug in the extracellular fluid is kept low - beneath the threshold required for toxicity. Attachment of a platinum moiety to a biocompatible polymer should provide a prodrug suitable for the slow release of an active platinum agent. The polymer chosen for the generation of the prodrug is a hyperbranched polymer generated from glycerol and adipic acid (both available from renewable biosources) containing carboxyl end-groups. Coordination of the cis-diammineplatinum(II) group to the carboxyl groups should provide a prodrug from which an active platinum agent may be slowly released by enzymatic hydrolysis in the blood stream.

Jazmin Simmons
Jazmin Simmons -
Personality in Relation to Counterproductive Work Behavior, and the Mediating Role of Justice
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Kimberly O'Brien
This study examined whether justice served as a mediator between either negative affectivity (NA) and counterproductive work behavior (CWB) or hostile attributional bias (HAB) and CWB. In order to examine this relationship, 207 pairs of employees and their supervisors were surveyed via an online panel. Employees were asked to take a total of three surveys, while their supervisors were asked to take one survey, evaluating their employee’s performance. Results were consistent with previous research on personality and CWB, supporting a relationship between the two. Justice was found to act as a mediator between HAB and CWB, while the mediation between NA and CWB was not supported. Further exploration of personality and CWB is needed to understand this gap, reducing the risk of CWB in organizations.

Holly Sucharski
Holly Sucharski -
Biomedical Sciences
Exploring the Role of Axon Guidance Molecules in Pancreatic Cancer Using C. Elegans
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jamie Alan
Pancreatic cancer is highly lethal, with a <5% 5-year survival rate. Current systemic therapies are only modestly effective. Recently, a study identified aberrations in axon pathfinding genes in pancreatic cancer, specifically genetic lesions in SLIT/ROBO signaling, suggesting SLIT/ROBO signaling is upregulated and downregulated in cancer. There is a critical need to uncover the roles of axon guidance molecules in tumorigenesis and metastasis. Signaling pathways in the model organism, C. elegans, have been previously used to elucidate important molecules in oncogenic signaling pathways. The orthologue of ROBO in C. elegans is sax-3, which is involved in axon guidance. A deletion strand of sax-3, sax-3(ky123), can be used in a synthetic lethal screen to determine which genes are required in the absence of sax-3.

Donovan Watts
Donovan Watts
- Political Science
Knowledge and Attitudes of CMU’s African American Students About Recent Conflicts Between Law Enforcement Officers and African Americans
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Joyce Baugh
This project involves a study of African American students at CMU regarding their knowledge and attitudes about recent incidents involving law enforcement officers and African Americans. In the first part of the project, fifteen CMU students were interviewed during the summer of 2015. They were asked several questions, including their knowledge of recent police shootings of African Americans, their sources for this information, whether they have discussed these incidents with their friends and family members, and how often they believe that these incidents of police violence occur.  A majority of the respondents were familiar with the cases involving Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray. With the exception of one participant, they all obtained their information the same way -- through social media.  Half of the respondents talked with their friends and family about the events while the other half avoided these conversations.  More than half of the participants believe that incidents of police violence in the African American community occur every day but are not reported in the news. The second phase of the project, to be completed this fall, will involve a quantitative survey of a larger number of African American students about these and similar issues.

Thomas White
Thomas White -
Mechanical Engineering 
Evaluation of Hydrophilic Properties of Polydimethylsiloxane for Possible Microfluidic Sweat Sensor Applications
Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Tolga Kaya
Sweat contains similar health indicators as blood. Consequently, diagnostic biomedical sweat sensors could non-invasively provide information about electrolyte, hydration, and pH levels in the body. Sweat sensor models range from rigid structures to more flexible designs incorporating RFID chips to pH sensitive ionogel indicators. Polydimethylsiloxane’s (PDMS) utility in microfluidic devices might lead to sweat sensors requiring fewer components while maintaining effectiveness. In particular, hydrophilic properties of PDMS are being heavily researched for applications in possible microfluidic sweat sensors. The presented project primarily focused on measuring water droplets through digital images and contact angle measurement. Scanning electron microscopy explored possible differences between hydrophobic and hydrophilic surface properties. The current results proved inconclusive and led to more questions to be answered in future experiments.
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