Mentor Sites 2022

Please see the mentorship sites that will be offered during the 2022 program below.

Click on the department tabs below to see the available sites!

The YSSS team attempts to place as many scholars as possible at their most preferred mentorship site. Once site placements have been finalized, changes will not be made without extenuating circumstances beyond scholars’ control.



Title: What Mom Eats Matters!

Mentor: Dr. Sarah Reed, Associate Professor, Animal Science

Description: Should Mom eat for two when she's pregnant? Or eat a lot of veggies? Or fruits? Or satisfy those pregnancy cravings for pickle, peanut butter, and potato chip sandwiches every night? The goal of our lab is to understand how what a mom eats when she's pregnant affects how the baby develops during gestation, and importantly, how that impacts their growth and health after they're born. We know that over- or under-eating when you're pregnant isn't ideal, and that the offspring of moms with poor diets during gestation have a greater risk for more fat mass and less muscle, which can lead to metabolic diseases in adulthood. We are interested in understanding what happens in the muscle of the offspring of moms with poor diets that leads to these changes. Scholars in our lab will learn about the field of maternal programming, specifically related to nutrient intake, and will work closely with Dr. Reed and her graduate students to better understand how skeletal muscle is impacted by maternal diet. Scholars may also assist with data collection and analysis on other ongoing projects and may assist with collecting data from sheep if interested (we'll teach you how!). This site is ideal for scholars interested in One Health (the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health).

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Entrepreneurship and Innovation: An Exploration into Emerging Technologies and Analytics

Mentors: Jonathan Moore, MIS Academic Director, Operations and Information Management & graduate students in the lab

Description: Are you interested in pursuing your own research question around emerging technology and Analytics? OPIM Innovate is an initiative started by the Operations and Information Management (OPIM) Department in the UConn School of Business. The goal of this initiative is to give scholars hands on experience with emerging technologies in business. OPIM Innovate is a great opportunity for scholars to learn about how they can use new technology to solve complex problems.

Scholars who join our site will engage in a number of hybrid activities accompanied by various equipment in the lab which will be made available to each scholar assigned to our site.

You will use the tech kits below as a framework for your exploration and discovery of your own research question

  • X Reality (virtual reality, augmented reality, 360 video)
  • 3D Tech (scanning, modeling, printing)
  • Circuitry (wearables, microcontrollers, digital logic)
  • Applied Tech (robotics, drones, automated logistics)
  • Smart Tech (artificial intelligence, blockchain, voice flow)
  • Data Visualization (Tableau, Power BI, Google Analytics)
  • Predictive Analytics (SAS JMP, R, Python Analytics)
  • Programming (GIT, SQL, Python)

Please note: Participation in this site requires self-guided research projects utilizing the equipment and technology in our lab. Projects will be supported by site mentor and lab students.

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 10

Minimum Number of Scholars: 6



Title: Sustainable Approach to Carbon Dioxide Reduction

Mentors: Prof. Alfredo Angeles-Boza, Associate Professor, Inorganic Chemistry, Mr. Murphy Jennings, & Mr. Luis-Felipe Sanchez

Description: The increasing emission of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, has received considerable attention due to its serious environmental consequences. An obvious solution is the capture and storage of the CO2 produced in the industrial processes. A more attractive approach is to combine the capture of CO2 with its conversion to a useful resource. For example, CO2 can be converted to fuels. With this objective in mind, we design catalysts that can be used in the transformation of CO2 to methane and other hydrocarbons. The YSSS scholar working on this project will design heterocyclic ligands and metal complexes that can be used for this purpose.

For additional information about the research at the Angeles-Boza lab, please visit the website at:

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2


Title: Liquid Crystals and Adaptive Polymers: Advancing Robotics and Human-Machine Interface

Mentor: Dr. Rajeswari Kasi, Professor, Chemistry and Polymer Program at the Institute of Materials Science

Description: Are you interested in robotics or medical science? The Kasi Group is studying the use of liquid crystals and adaptive polymers for the purpose of advancing robotics and human-machine interface, including computers, smart devices, medical devices, and prosthetics.

Liquid crystals (LC) are states of matter with properties between those of conventional liquids and conventional crystalline solids. These small molecules have flow properties like liquids but are arranged with some molecular order like crystalline solids. These molecules show "phase" and "temperature-dependent" properties which yields optical materials. Furthermore, LCs respond to electrical and magnetic fields that are important for technological developments including optoelectronic devices, liquid crystal displays and lasers. Liquid crystals are essential in biology including formation of the all-important lipid layers which hold cells together.

The Kasi group focuses on synthesis of small molecule LC and liquid crystalline polymers (LCP), wherein the liquid crystal is covalently attached within a polymer matrix. These new materials also respond to electrical and magnetic fields and show an optical response. We use this "responsive" feature in the creation of new adaptive materials including soft actuators, soft robotic materials, drug delivery devices and sensors.

Participating scholars will be trained in the field of liquid crystalline polymers as well as other responsive polymers with focus on thermochromic (color change with temperature) and piezochromic (color change with pressure) features. Using these Kasi Group studies as the background, the scholars will be supplied with polymers, and they will develop a simple sensing platform to produce a visible readout.

Modality: Hybrid



Title: Creating Through Imaginative Writing

Mentors: Victoria Nordlund, Creative Writing Educator and published poet & Barbara P. Greenbaum, Creative Writing Educator, published author

Description: Every moment of our waking day we are surrounded by words, by stories and the drama of narrative. We watch, we talk, we participate, and we imagine. Words, stories shape our world and how we come of think of it. Poetry fashions our connection to that world through feelings hopes and desires. Drama plays out in every aspect of our lives, real and fictional. Fictional narratives deliver all the possibilities of imaginings. All forms shape how we as a human community connect with one another.

In this mentorship site, you will work with two stellar teaching artists who will guide you through writing projects of your choosing. Always wanted to try poetry? Or fiction? Or dramatic writing? This is your opportunity to work with professional writers who teach. You will be encouraged to write, read, share and expand. This experience is ideal for those interested in creative writing, or how language shapes thinking and communication.

Modality: In-person and hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 6

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2 or 3



Title: How and Why Organisms Evolve So Many Beautiful Forms and Color Patterns

Mentors: Amy LaFountain, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Sarita Munoz-Gomez and Yaowu Yuan (PI), Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Description: The Yuan lab is primarily interested in how and why organisms evolve into so many beautiful forms in nature. We study flower diversification as a representation of the general problem of phenotypic evolution. The specific questions we ask include: What are the genes underlying the dazzling variation of flower color and shape? How do these gene products (e.g., transcription factors, enzymes, signaling proteins) regulate the production, transportation, modification, and degradation of pigments to generate floral color patterns? How do they regulate the division, elongation, and polarization of cells to make flower shapes? How does evolution tinker with these genes to generate different phenotypes among species? What is the adaptive significance of the diverse floral forms? How do flowers with different color patterns and shapes interact with different pollinators? What role do these interactions play in adaptation, reproductive isolation, and speciation? Students will work with researchers as they use a highly integrative approach to address these questions, including computational analysis of genomic and transcriptomic data, molecular biology experiments in the wet lab, genetic crosses and mutagenesis in the greenhouse, and ecological interrogations in the field. For more details, please see our website:

Modality: In-person (weeks 1 and 3) and hybrid (week 3)

Maximum Number of Scholars: 1



Title: Nanoparticle/Nanostructure Characterization

Mentors: Justin Amengual and and Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Description: Nanotechnology and nanoscience have been emergent research fields for decades. The term “nano” normally refers to structures with a length scale around, or smaller than, 100 nanometers. Material of such small structures have unique properties to enhance specific functions of the materials, for example, a conductive material may become semiconductor. Another example is the use of nanoparticles for drug transport to specific tissues or locations (e.g., tumors or the brain), as well as the use of nanostructures to house and protect mRNA vaccines. A central branch of nanoscience is structural characterization to ensure the quality of nanomaterials (such as uniformity) which is a non-trivial task. Traditional optical microscopy (resolution > 1 micron) is not applicable to resolve the nanostructure, and it is difficult to operate electron microscopy on samples in solution with good resolution. At this research site, you will be introduced to advanced structural characterization tools (e.g., neutron, X-ray and light scattering) for structural characterization, which can be performed in complex environments, and you will also have the opportunity to learn how to operate the instrument and analyze the scattering data.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 5


Title: Design Oral Delivery Nanoparticles

Mentors: Luke Notaro-Roberts and Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Description: Drug delivery using nanoparticles is an emergent research area in biomedical engineering and pharmaceutical science. Most drug delivery of sensitive materials is administered through an IV method, which is not favorable for patients. At this research site, you will learn how to manufacture and design drug-encapsulated nanoparticles, which can survive the drastic change of pH through the digestion system and deliver the drug to the intestine for absorption.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 5


Title: Sustainable Polymers for a More Sustainable World

Mentor: Luyi Sun, Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Description: Modern life relies on polymers, which are widely used from daily items to high tech components. While most polymers help improve the quality of our life (e.g., polymer membranes for water purification, masks for protection), their existence after usage has led to serious environmental concerns. Therefore, we must develop innovative solutions to address the negative issues of polymers to make them more sustainable. We aim to work with YSSS scholars to explore options from different aspects to make polymers more sustainable, including (but not limited to):

  1. Polymers from bio-resources
  2. Degradable/compostable polymers
  3. Polymer recycling and upcycling (via both engineering and synthetic approaches)
  4. Isolate and removal of microplastics

We will work together to draft a report based on the literature as well as new innovative ideas from the YSSS scholars.

Modality: In-person and hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 6

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2


Title: Air Pollution Monitoring in Connecticut

Mentors: Dr. Kristina Wagstrom, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering & Britney Russell, PhD Student, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Description: Students will participate in air pollution monitoring projects this summer. These projects include monitoring projects in nearby towns and on campus. Students will use a combination of stationary and portable air monitors to improve our understanding of how air pollutant levels vary by location and time. Students will also gain experience evaluating and analyzing the collected data.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 3

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Electronics: Sensors and Circuits

Mentors: Dr. Ali Gokirmak, Associate Professor, and Dr. Helena Silva, Associate Professor, Nanoelectronics Laboratory, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (PIs); Hasan Talukder (Graduate student Mentor)

Description: Electronics are everywhere—from lighting to energy generation, distribution, and storage, to transportation, communications, medical devices, and computing. It is difficult to imagine our lives today without electronics. In this laboratory, you will: design and build light, sound, and temperature sensor circuits and as well as a fun combined sound-light system that senses and transmits audio signals through optical signals. At this site, you will learn the fundamentals about sound, optical, and electrical signals, and gain experience in using various electronic components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors, and operational amplifiers) and transducers (microphone, semiconductor laser, light-emitting diode, photodetector, and speaker).

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 6



Title: Anti-racism in Action: Recognizing, Reflecting on, and Responding to Bullying and Discrimination

Mentors: Dr. Alaina Brenick, Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Sciences; Rui Wu, visiting Research Associate; and Minjung Choi, Masters Student, Human Development and Family Sciences & Educational Psychology

Description: Have you or your friends ever been bullied or treated unfairly because of who you are? How did it make you feel? Maybe you wondered why it was happening or wished that you knew how you could make it stop for good. These are the kinds of questions we research in our lab.

We scientifically analyze individuals' experiences of being bullied, discriminated against, or excluded because they are different. Working in our lab, you'll learn skills like searching for scholarly literature, helping prepare conference presentations, and analyzing data. Over the summer, you'll be a part of our exciting research projects exploring:

  1. The ways immigrant and minority youth experience bullying and how others perceive bullying that targets immigrant and minority students in their schools;
  2. Effective ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination among youth growing up in political conflict (e.g., the Middle East); and
  3. The range of negative experiences that LGBT youth face in schools and how communities can work to reduce LGBT victimization.

This is your opportunity to be a part of a research team that addresses social inequalities and helps make schools and communities safer and more welcoming for youth of all backgrounds!

Modality: Hybrid (mentorship site located at Hartford campus)

Maximum Number of Scholars: 6

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Korey Stringer Institute

Mentors: Douglas Casa, PhD, ATC, Professor, Kinesiology, Korey Stringer Institute & Rebecca Stearns, PhD, ATC, Chief Operating Officer, Korey Stringer Institute

Please note: This site requires the ability to operate a computer and other basic research equipment (e.g., timer, weight scales) and excellent communication skills.

Description: This mentorship site is devoted to providing students exposure to high-level research, advocacy and education initiatives related to the mission of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI). The mission of the Korey Stringer Institute is to provide research, education, advocacy, and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter, and laborer. Individuals will be provided full immersion into the daily operations of an active research lab; assisting with field studies, epidemiological investigations, surveys, and laboratory protocols focused on preventing sudden death in sport and enhancing sport safety.

Research Experience Description:

A student in this position will assist faculty in research efforts within the laboratory or other research-specific environment. Research activities may include:

  • Attend training sessions (CITI, bloodborne pathogens training, CPR/AED)
  • Assist collection of biological samples (e.g. urine, sweat, saliva, blood)
  • Prepare and maintain research materials and environment
  • Operate and maintain basic lab equipment
  • Take accurate measurements
  • Code/plot and analyze data within guidelines
  • Keep detailed records
  • Organize, analyze, and communicate data
  • Perform miscellaneous duties as directed

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Language Learning: Let's Talk About It

Mentors: Jeannie Slayton, Associate Director of UCAELI & Harry van der Hulst, Professor of Linguistic

Description: Have you considered a career in teaching English as a Second Language? Are you fascinated by the language-learning process both in first language acquisition by children and second languages learning by adults? Do you think you would enjoy working with people from other countries and cultures?

UConn's American English Language Institute (UCAELI) offers intensive English classes to undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world. As a participant in this site, you will observe English classes and have the opportunity to assist in and lead classroom activities to help international students improve their English proficiency. Your time spent in conversation with Dr. van der Hulst, along with your engagement in readings from linguistics will provide you with a linguistic background to unlock some of the keys to language learning and teaching. Take on a creative and informed approach to teaching English while you become part of a "global family" as you get to know people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Learn how to develop innovative activities and assist students in conversation, listening skills, reading, and writing. You will also have an opportunity to become a "Conversation Partner," which is an important part of the learning experience at UCAELI. Conversation partner time, which is built into UCAELI classes, encourages the sharing of languages and cultures among students and conversation volunteers from the UConn community. It is a time where everyone learns from one another. Learning more about English as a Second Language can open the door to careers as bilingual teachers, ESL teachers in the U.S. and abroad, interpreters, and translators!

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 4

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Visualization of the Behavior of Padé Approximants and Continued Fractions

Mentor: Dr. Maxim Derevyagin, Assistant Professor in Residence

Description: A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. Most of mathematical models deal with functions in one way or another and, to make some predictions for the system, it is necessary to understand the behavior of those functions. As a rule, the functions that come from modeling are extremely complicated or it is only possible to get some partial information about them. To overcome this obstacle, an efficient approximation method needs to be picked and this helps to see the properties of the functions based on the partial information that comes from an experiment or an observation. The chosen approximation method depends on many things. For instance, it could be that the precision is of extreme importance. Or, it could be the fact that an experiment gives an enormous amount of data and a clever way to deal with that has to be found. Choosing the appropriate approximation method is crucial and could drastically simplify the model.

One of the interests of this mentorship site is the study of a specific approximation scheme in relation to a few models that are concerned with extraction information from highly noisy data. Such models appear in gravitational wave detection, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy as applied to nuclear waste, brain/breast cancer detection, oil detection and other similar areas of application. The approximation scheme in question is called Padé approximation and its essence is that it approximates complicated functions by rational functions, which are easier to deal with.

If you join this mentorship site, we'll teach you some basics of computing environments such as Maple and Mathematica. Then, you'll be helping us to visualize the behavior of Padé approximants for some specific functions. It's worth noting here that some of Padé approximants are convergents to continued fractions.

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 3



Title: Comparative Genomics of Microbes and Viruses

Mentors: J. Peter Gogarten, Distinguished Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology; Sophia Gosselin, PhD student; & the Research Team

Please note: Background experience or coursework in biology and computer programming is recommended for participation in this site.

Description: Our understanding of microbial evolution and microbial communities currently undergoes a major revision. Genomes are no longer seen as slowly changing information repositories but have been revealed to be changing rapidly through gene duplications, deletions, rearrangements, and the acquisition of genes from unrelated organisms. Even within species and populations, genome content varies to a surprising degree.

These lessons apply to viral genomes just as much as microbial genomes. Viruses are an important part of these microbial communities, including those that live in and on multicellular organisms. Analyses of community genomes, evolutionary histories of individual genes and the patterns of mutations that these genes experienced provide information on the size of the population these genes evolved within and on the selection pressures that these genes experienced. In some instances, one can even use these patterns to predict future evolution; for example, which members of a present-day virus population are likely ancestors of future outbreaks. Participants in this site will learn how to compare and analyze genes, genomes, and metagenomes to detect and analyze transferred genes and selfish genetic elements. This work will involve analyzing genomes and gene families using analytical tools that are already established and available as web-based applications, along with simple scripts and programs. For more information on the Gogarten-Lab see

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2


Title: Microbiome Research and Genome Sequencing in the Graf Lab

Mentor: Faculty: Dr. Joerg Graf, Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology and others from the research team

Description: The term "microbiome" is used to describe the community of microbes (such a bacteria) within a specific environment, for example the mouth or intestine. In our lab, we are interested in understanding how the composition of the microbiome influences the health of animals. In this project, the scholars will help to characterize the community of bacteria inside the North American leech and isolate members of the bacterial genus Aeromonas from them. Afterwards, the scholars will sequence the genomes of the Aeromonas isolates and determine if they can attack and kill other bacteria using a type 6 secretion system (T6SS), which some bacteria use to kill other bacteria by injecting toxins into them. The results from these experiments will help us to better understand the diversity of bacteria present in wild animals. The scholars will learn a wide range of technique, including aseptic technique, spread plating, media preparation, killing assays, PCR, Sanger and Illumina sequencing, microbiome characterization and genome sequencing.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 3



Title: Childhood Adversity and Health Inequities

Mentor: Eileen Condon, PhD, APRN, Assistant Professor, UConn School of Nursing

Description: Childhood adversity related to structural racism and socioeconomic inequity can lead to poor lifelong health. In our lab, we work with marginalized children and families to identify and understand risk and protective factors for childhood adversity. We have a particular emphasis on studying the roles of sleep/circadian rhythm, maternal mental health, and biological stress. Scholars at this site will learn about childhood adversity and health disparities, participate in lab team meetings, and work collaboratively with research team members on ongoing projects. Scholars may also have the opportunity to observe analysis of saliva samples in the School of Nursing Biobehavioral Laboratory and participate in data collection with parents and young children in the lab and the community.

This site is a great fit for scholars who are interested in health equity, pediatrics and family health, and/or biobehavioral research. In addition to hands-on research activities, scholars will also conduct an independent project on a topic of interest. This project will include close mentorship from the research team and help the scholar gain skills to critically review scientific literature. Scholars will be required to complete online Protection of Human Subjects training prior to joining the site.

For more information about ongoing projects, visit

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Molecular Nutrition and Cholesterol Metabolism

Mentors: Dr. Christopher Blesso, Associate Professor, Nutritional Sciences & Chelsea Garcia, Graduate Assistant, Nutritional Sciences

Description: The research in our lab focuses on the prevention and treatment of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease. More specifically, we seek to understand the mechanisms of health and disease and study the molecular actions of various compounds naturally occurring in foods. For example, one class of naturally occurring compounds that we study are sphingolipids. We currently have research projects investigating the effects of sphingolipid supplementation in mice on cholesterol metabolism, with a special interest in heart disease and liver disease. Previous research has shown that sphingolipids influence lipid absorption, and it is thought that dietary sphingolipids may potentially offer protection from the development of chronic disease. We mainly work with cell and mouse models, but also incorporate human trials in our research. The scholar in our lab could potentially gain experience in cell culture, working with mice (after receiving animal training), biochemical assays, gene expression analysis using real-time qRT-PCR, and more. A general interest in nutrition or biochemistry is recommended.

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 1



Title: Why Is Having a Healthy Liver Important for Sustaining Life?

Mentor: José E. Manautou, Professor and School of Pharmacy Department Head of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Description: The liver is interesting in comparison to other organs. You can damage the liver, and if the damage is not overwhelming, with time it repairs itself and it appears normal. Our laboratory is trying to study how the interaction of chemicals alters the functioning of the human liver, with an emphasis on how a damaged liver can repair itself. Our research work has been built over the years studying the drug acetaminophen, known commercially as Tylenol, which is safe when taken in recommended doses, but can produce toxic byproducts in the liver when consumed in higher quantities. Abuse of the drug can occur when patients take the suggested dosage and then use another over-the-counter medication that also includes acetaminophen, unknowingly raising the potential for toxicity.

The use of acetaminophen at doses above therapeutic values can lead to the development of tolerance against acetaminophen poisoning. To better understand the factors that drive this adaptive response, we have employed genomics approaches, allowing us to identify and characterize genes associated with this adaptation acetaminophen toxicity. We have also started investigating the relationship between the function specialized proteins in the liver known as drug transporters and the development of a fatty liver disease.

This line of research is ideal for students interested in pharmacy, toxicology, medicine, organ physiology and pathology.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 1


Title: Working with Nanoparticles

Mentor: Dr. Xiuling Lu, Associate Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Description: Dr. Lu's research involves the use of nanoparticle-based formulations to deliver therapeutic and diagnostic agents. These are primarily applied in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Scholars have the opportunity to take part in important research and will learn how to prepare different kinds of nanoparticles for drug delivery. The focus of the period is to prepare and characterize drug loaded nanoparticles. For more information on the work Dr. Lu and her team are doing, please visit Lu Research Lab.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 1



Title: Risky Business: How Pharmacy Practice Research Is Addressing Urgent Public Health Epidemics

Mentors: Dr. Nate Rickles, Associate Professor, Pharmacy Practice & pharmacy students working in Dr. Rickles' research group


  • How do we address the nationwide opioid crisis and the misuse of prescription drugs? How do we identify individuals at risk for opioid misuse?
  • How do we help low-income women get the health care services they need?
  • How could a pharmacist help you if you were forgetting or refusing to take life-saving medication?
  • How do we train pharmacists to help patients and themselves through a mental health crisis?

In the Rickles lab, researchers seek to answer these critical questions through projects related to improving medication safety and public health. Scholars will have the opportunity to assist with one or more of the research projects while joining a multi-disciplinary team including health professionals, researchers, and other stakeholders. Scholars will attend lab meetings and may contribute to a range of collaborative research activities, including assisting with the initiation of projects, data collection, data entry, analysis, and some professional writing. This experience is ideal for those interested in a career in pharmacy, public health, or medicine.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Ovulation and Contraceptive Research with the Help of Fruit Flies

Mentor: Jianjun Sun, Associate Professor, Physiology & Neurobiology and other researchers working in his lab

Note: It is recommended that the scholar has taken a biology course prior to YSSS for this site.

Description: Research in the laboratory focuses on reproductive physiology. Our lab is interested in understanding the mechanisms regulating ovulation, mostly because when this process dysfunctions it can result in a range of problems from female infertility to ovarian cancer. In addition, understand the mechanism of ovulation will allow us to develop novel non-hormonal contraceptives that have less side effects. Instead of using mammals to research our questions concerning ovulation we turn to a simpler model system: the fruit fly. Our lab has shown that fruit flies surprisingly have a fairly similar process of ovulation to mammals, yet they are much easier and quicker to manipulate genetically. For more information about our exciting research, please visit our lab's website at

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: School Infrastructure as a Human Right

Mentor: Dr. David L. Richards, Associate Professor of Human Rights & Political Science

Description: The COVID pandemic has brought to light many previously overlooked human rights problems; one of these is the state of public schools in the USA. For example, during the omicron surge, political leaders were calling for schools to remain open to protect students. Yet, the American Society of Civil Engineers finds that "53% of public-school districts report the need to update or replace multiple building systems, including HVAC systems" necessary for disease mitigation (see The condition of our public schools must be viewed as a children's human rights issue, not as something completely left to the discretion of local boards of finance. In fact, while there exist national minimum standards for prison infrastructure, none exist for our schools.

In this mentor site, students will work as research assistants on a project analyzing the state of school infrastructure in the USA as a human rights issue both on its own and in comparison, with prisons. Work at the mentorship site will include researching state laws and regulations on school and prison standards; finding, creating, and analyzing education-related human rights data about the US and other countries; researching international human rights standards; and examining the national discourse on education and children's human rights in the USA. Skills gained from this work will include human rights data literacy; legal research; policy research; and comparative analysis.

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 10

Minimum Number of Scholars: 4


Title: Climate Change and Social-Political Conflict

Mentor: Frank Griggs, Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Political Science

Description: Does climate change influence social-political conflict? The answer depends on how one measures climate change (e.g., rainfall, atmospheric temperature, floods) and conflict (e.g., civil war, protest). I study the climate change-conflict relationship by focusing on internal human displacement, people whose lives are disrupted by natural disasters related to climate change, such as floods and storms. For conflict, I examine violent attacks on and by the government, and protests. This research is important because it not only helps governments and aid organizations support people who are suffering from a natural disaster, but also so that the suffering does not worsen and lead to fighting.

Research tasks at this site may include:

  • Assisting with literature reviews: finding, reading, and analyzing recent climate change-conflict research to learn of new findings.
  • Data Formatting: assisting with combing different data sets to enable statistical analyses.
  • Revising teaching materials: assisting with the updating of university course materials used for teaching.

Modality: Hybrid (likely UConn Storrs campus)

Maximum Number of Scholars: 1

Minimum Number of Scholars: 1



Title: Memories Make the Person…But How Do We Make the Memory? —Memory Formation & the Brain

Mentors: Dr. Etan Markus, Professor, Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) & senior students in the lab

Note: Participation in this site requires handling of live laboratory animals. Instruction in proper handling techniques will be provided.

Description: We go through life experiencing many different things: happy and sad events, people, places, food, and smells, just to name a few. Days or even years later, we can bring these experiences back to life as memories. In our laboratory, we study how experiences are preserved in the brain. We focus on a brain structure (the hippocampus) that, when damaged, prevents the formation of new memories and disrupts navigation. If you select this mentorship site, you will join a team of UConn doctoral and undergraduate students researching how the hippocampus is involved in changing brain circuitry. You will learn to train rats on mazes. Participants will also be encouraged to ask questions and sit in on any ongoing research, regardless of the specific mentorship project they will be working on. We are currently conducting experiments examining social learning; the activity of hippocampal neurons during behavior and how these cells respond to different situations. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in medicine, biology, or psychology.

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 2

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2


Title: Connecticut Autism and Language Lab (CALL)

Mentors: Inge-Marie Eigsti, Professor, Psychological Sciences & Dr. Caroline Larson, Postdoctoral Fellow

Description: We go through life experiencing many different things: happy and sad events, The research in CALL focuses on language and communication in people with autism, and the brain functions underlying language. One of our big projects looks at individuals who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prior to age 5 but, later in development, have no symptoms. Our lab is examining this "Loss of ASD Diagnosis" (LAD) outcome in young adults, who are learning to be independent, and in teens who were diagnosed with ASD at two or four years of age, to identify early predictors of LAD. We use fMRI to measure functional brain networks involved in social and language processing, and at rest, to investigate the neural mechanisms related to the reduction in ASD symptoms. Other lab projects include:

  • Language skills and social-emotional outcomes. When people interact, they must choose words that make sense and put those words together to make meaningful sentences; how is this process related to anxiety, social skills, and emotional well-being?
  • Speech processes in ASD. How do differences in hearing relate to the way the voice sounds, and the way children learn language?
  • Gesture in ASD: Temporal asynchrony. Do people with autism differ in how they produce and understand the movements we all make while speaking (i.e., our gestures)?
  • Hyperlexia. Some people with autism have precocious reading abilities. What does this mean for their ability to learn the meanings of words?
  • Low Verbal Investigatory Survey (LVIS) Project. Some children with autism struggle to learn to speak, but eventually talk; other children never learn more than 5–10 words. We hope to understand what predicts these very different outcomes.

Students joining our team will learn about: Autism and other developmental disabilities; fundamentals of language and linguistics; the fields of Clinical Psychology and Speech Language Pathology; fundamentals of human brain imaging with MRI.

Modality: Hybrid

Maximum Number of Scholars: 4



Title: Speech and Brain Lab

Mentor: Emily Myers Ph.D., Associate Professor, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Description: Have you ever wondered how people understand each other when they talk? Listeners interact with many speakers who produce certain sounds in different ways (different languages and accents), in many different environments (i.e., in a noisy coffee shop vs. in a quiet room). How listeners process speech sounds varies between speakers and across diverse settings. Despite this variability, all listeners engage in a common goal: figuring out how to derive meaning from speech. Research in our lab focuses on how people map the sounds of language to meaning, using a variety of behavioral and brain imaging methods. Our lab will give you the opportunity to be involved with projects that help us understand how we process the sounds of language, from designing studies to analyzing data. There are also opportunities to learn about how the brain processes language using software to analyze neural signals. If you're curious about how we understand meaning when people talk, then our lab would be a great fit for you!

Modality: In-person

Maximum Number of Scholars: 4

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2



Title: Advancing Health Equity

Mentor: Stacey L. Brown, Ph.D., Public Health Sciences

Description: This project will serve as an introduction to health disparities with a specific focus on eliminating disparities to achieve equity. Throughout the program, we will examine theoretical models, causes, consequences and solutions related to health and health care disparities in the United States. Students will engage the work independently, collaboratively and with community connections to gain a deeper understanding of the sociocultural, economic, geographic, environmental, political, and individual factors that contribute to health disparities. We will explore structural, community, and individual level interventions to reduce the impact of inequity on health and health care utilization.

Learning will take place synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous remote material will be covered in a seminar style with students expected to actively participate. Discussions will involve lectures, review of assigned material, activities to promote deeper understanding, and potentially guest speakers. Asynchronous work will involve watching films, reading articles/reports, completing assignments that involves talking with community partners. At the culmination of the program, the students will (a) develop an intervention designed to address a health inequity within a population of their own choosing and (b) participate in an ongoing project supporting the efforts of the Urban Ecology Wellness Center. The Center is a component of the Keney Park Sustainability Project. Depending on what project needs at the time of the YSSS Program, students will participate in either data development for the Hartford Resilient American Communities (RAC) Dashboard or the public health awareness/social media campaign for wellness events.

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • Describe and define health inequities
  • Articulate complex relationships between multiple dimensions like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, psychosocial and cultural factors as these relationships underlie health disparities
  • Identify and engage with local organizations that address one or more health disparities issues
  • Express well-reasoned, well-researched arguments explaining the fundamentals of health inequity and intervention strategies in written and oral form

Modality: Virtual

Maximum Number of Scholars: 3

Minimum Number of Scholars: 2