Mentor Sites

At some sites, you will spend most days working closely with a faculty mentor. At other sites, you will work in labs with teams of researchers, and you will develop closer relationships with graduate student mentors. You will experience the excitement of discovery resulting from hard work and careful attention in research and creative activities.

** Please note that most sites host a small group of students, but there may be some that host only one.

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

ALLIED HEALTH (AH)

AH1

Title: Exploring Ways Technology Can Help People Live Healthier Lives

Mentors: Dr. Sherry Pagoto, Director of UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media and Professor, Allied Health Sciences, and UConn Institute for Collaborations in Health, Interventions, and Policy Research Staff and Faculty

Description: The UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media is devoted to exploring ways technology can be leveraged to help people live healthier lives. Students will work with researchers who are developing and testing mobile apps and online social communities to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In research funded by the NIH, we have developed 3 mobile apps focused on weight management and are currently conducting studies in which we counsel patients on health behavior change using online social network platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they will also assist investigators as they tackle skin cancer prevention by developing social media campaigns that educate young people about the harms of tanning beds.

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

ANTHROPOLOGY (ANTH)

ANTH1

Title: Got Milk?

Mentors: Ashley Petrillo, Graduate Student, Anthropology

Description: Archaeologists have recently discovered that humans began collecting milk from animals during the Neolithic period in Israel (when humans just began to use agriculture) through lipid residue analysis on ancient pottery. Interestingly, humans were lactose intolerant at that time in Israel. Through stable isotope analysis of human teeth, my project aims to find whether milk was used to feed children (who are naturally lactose tolerant) or adults in the form of cheese, yogurt, or butter and whether that changes over the course of the Neolithic period through the Chalcolithic period and the Early Bronze Age in Israel. Animal management practices pertaining to milk-bearing livestock will also be analyzed via stable isotope analysis of animal teeth to find when and how milk collecting became a large scale economy in the Early Bronze Age from a smaller household base economy in its early development. The lab work for this project will involve animal and/or human tooth identification, the sectioning and polishing of teeth for sample extraction, and lab work involving chemicals and safety equipment. 

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

BIOLOGY (BIO)

BIO1

Title: How and Why Organisms Evolve In So Many Beautiful Forms

Mentors: Lauren Stanley (graduate student) 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: https://monkeyflower.uconn.edu/

Note: Maximum of 2 students

BUSINESS (BUSN)

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Title: Entrepreneurship and Innovation: An Exploration into Emerging Technologies

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

Description: Are you interested in pursuing your own research question around emerging technology? 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 students hands on experience with emerging technologies in business. OPIM Innovate is a great opportunity for students to be able to walk in and learn from other students about how they can use new technology to solve complex problems. 

Our initiative hosts a number of services in our Innovation Space and Gladstein Research Lab located in the OPIM department on the Storrs, CT campus. We have equipped our space with various emerging technologies: 

  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality
  • 3D Modeling / 3D Printing
  • Internet of Things / Artificial Intelligence
  • Microcontrollers / Wearable Tech

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 students. 

Note: Minimum of 5 students; maximum of 10 students

CHEMISTRY (CHEM)

CHEM1

Title: Chemistry 100 - NanoScience: Cutting-Edge Chemistry for Saving the Corals

Mentors: Challa Kumar, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and senior students in lab

Description: At this site you will receive the state-of-the-art training in NanoScience for making Green and Sustainable Nanomaterials derived from proteins, lipids or carbohydrates. Our environment is changing in ways that biology can't 'adapt to' on this planet. For example, there is strong evidence to conclude that global warming is at unprecedented rate, carbon dioxide levels are rising rapidly, and the corals are vanishing. How do we remediate such harmful effects and restore the corals? To address this important problem our research team is making nanomaterials from edible proteins that sequester carbon dioxide at high efficiencies and low cost. For example, our protein-based nanoparticles ‘eat’ large quantities of CO2 and convert it into low-cost biopolymers to make biodegradable plastics. These plastics degrade quickly, once released into the environment while sequestering the carbon dioxide. Our research team will provide you with hands-on training in the preparation and characterization of these protein-based nano materials for carbon capture and storage.  You will be working on projects at the cutting edge of nanoscience. If you love chemistry and curious about these advanced environmentally-friendly projects, we invite you to our high-tech laboratories to assist our research team in these exciting nanoscience discoveries.

Note: Maximum of 3 students

CHEM2

Title: Mechanistic Inorganic Chemistry

Mentors: Dr. Alfredo Angeles-Boza, Assistant Professor, Inorganic Chemistry

DescriptionThe 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 use as a renewable and environmentally friendly resource. For example, CO2 can be converted to C1 feedstock for liquid fuels. With this objective in mind, we have recently begun to explore rhenium complexes as (pre)catalysts for the transformation of CO2 to methane. The YSSS scholar working on this project will synthesize and characterize heterocyclic ligands and rhenium complexes. The scholar will also explore the catalytic activity of the synthesized complexes. 

Our group is also interested in studying the mechanisms by which host defense peptides use metal ions to enhance their antimicrobial activities. By learning how these important effectors of the immune system interact will lead us to the design of new antibiotics. You will have the opportunity to synthesize peptides or peptide mimics and perform biochemical and biophysical assays to determine their antimicrobial activities.  For additional information about the research at the Angeles-Boza lab, please visit the website at: https://angeles-boza.chemistry.uconn.edu/

 Note: Maximum of 1 student.

CHEM3

Title: Functional Stimuli Responsive Adaptive Polymer Materials Research in the Kasi Group

Mentor: Prof. Rajeswari Kasi, Polymer Program, Institute of Materials Science

Description: Liquid crystals (LC) are states of matter with properties between those of conventional liquids and conventional crystalline solids. These small molecules have flow properties similar to liquids, but are arranged with some molecular order similar to 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. 

Research in the Kasi group is focused 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. 

In collaboration with graduate students and the professor, the YSSS scholars will be trained to synthesize simple LCs  by traditional organic and polymer chemical methods and explore their properties with focus on thermochromic and piezochromic features. Using these studies as the background, the scholars(s) will develop a simple sensing platform to produce a visible readout. 

CHEM4

Title: Computational Modeling of Polarization Effects in Protein Electrostatics 

Mentor: Jose Gascon, Professor of Chemistry

Description: Recent developments in the biophysical characterization of proteins have provided a means of directly measuring electrostatic fields by introducing a probe molecule to the system and measuring the vibrational frequency of that probe. To fully account for this effect, the development of accurate atomistic models is of paramount importance. We have been exploring the application of polarization techniques to improve the description of electrostatic in the active site of proteins. This work has relevance in the computation of electric fields to aid the interpretation of Stark shift spectra in protein probes. 

In this site you will be exposed to quantum chemistry and computational chemistry software and visualization. 

You will model the interaction energy of proteins and visualize how these proteins move according to those interactions. 

Note: Maximum of 1-2 students. 

CREATIVE WRITING (CRW)

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Title: Creative Writing: Creating Through Imaginative Writing

Mentors: Victoria Nordlund, Creative Writing Educator and published poet; Barbara Greenbaum, Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University; John Stanizzi, Educator, published poet, theater director, and CT Poetry Out Loud program judge

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. Fiction narratives deliver all the possibilities of imaginings. All forms shape how we as a human community connect with one another, how we communicate.

In this mentorship site, you will work with one of three 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.

DIGITAL MEDIA & DESIGN (DMD)

DMD1

Title: Greenhouse Studios

Mentors: Sara Sikes, Tom Scheinfeldt, Wes Hamrick, Brooke Foti, Thomas Lee

Description: Greenhouse Studios is a research lab for the humanities. Our team of scholars, students, technologists, and librarians are exploring creative new ways to design and deliver research, with a focus on digital media. We are currently working on a number of projects, including a virtual reality model of a historical event and a choose-your-own adventure graphic novel. Depending on their individual interests and skills, program participants will be assigned to one of our project teams and will gain experience in graphic and web design, audio-video editing, virtual reality, or another area of digital media production.

Note: Maximum of 3-4 students.

EDUCATION (ED)

ED1

Title: Igniting a SPARK: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

Mentors: Dr. Catherine A. Little, Professor, Educational Psychology, Anne Roberts, graduate student 

Description: Are you interested in a possible career in the field of education? In this site, you will have the opportunity to work with  students in a classroom setting and also to learn more about education as a profession and an area of research. You will work with classroom teachers and other educational professionals to challenge and engage diverse and active learners. Part of this work may involve facilitating activities with small groups of students and discussing lesson plans and assessments with teachers. When you return to campus each day, you will work with your mentor to discuss your experiences and questions in a seminar-like atmosphere and explore the kinds of questions that researchers in education study. In addition, you will examine the rationale behind different instructional methods and explore approaches such as makerspace problem-based learning activities (3D printing, robotics, etc.) with a focus on how these can be used to promote student learning at different levels of development.

Note: Maximum of 4 students. 

ENGINEERING – CHEMICAL & BIOMOLECULAR (CHEG)

CHEG1

Title: Location of Nanoparticles in the Organelles Based on Their Shapes

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Ms. Farnoosh Saeedinejad

Description: The therapeutic efficacy of drugs is expected to be strongly affected by the location of drug after their endocytosis. Cancer drug delivery carriers have been designed to transport the therapeutics to the tumors. We have synthesized efficacious nanoparticles which greatly enhance the cellular uptake through their shape. However, a more interesting question to be answered is “where do these nanoparticles go after endocytosis?”.  This research site aims to discover the destination (organelles) of the lipid-based nanoparticles in cell. The YSSS scholars will be provided with the hands-on experience of preparing nanocarriers. They will also gain the basic knowledge of how to do cell-based studies (i.e., cell culture). Furthermore, they will learn about advanced imaging techniques to trace the fate of nanocarriers inside the cells.

Note: Maximum of 3 students.

CHEG2

Title: Control of Drug Crystallization Through Microemulsion 

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Ms. Sanyukta Patil 

Description: Oil and water are immiscible. However, some molecules, which contains both hydrophobic and hydrophilic groups as part of their molecular structure (also known as “surfactants”), can be used to homogenize the two immiscible phases, forming submicron-sized structures in oil/water systems. The phase is called “microemulsion,”which contains water-rich and oil-rich domains with the surfactants sitting at the interfaces. This research site aims to apply the system of microemulsion to control the size and shape of drug crystals which significantly affect the efficacy drugs. YSSS scholars will be provided with the hands-on experience of making microemulsion and the controlling of drug crystals. In addition, they will perform advanced experimental techniques (e.g., dynamic light scattering, use of polarized optical microscope. Furthermore, they will learn about surfactants and the kinetics of crystallinity. 

Note: Maximum of 3 students.

CHEG3

Title: Creation of New Materials

Mentors: Luyi Sun, Associate Professor and Castleman Professor in Engineering Innovation

Description: We are a group of materials scientists/engineers who are interested in creating new materials for various applications (and having fun...). Our research covers a wide range of materials, including polymeric materials, ceramics and glasses, and composites. One of our main goals is to design materials with unique structure (down to nano- and molecular-scale) for specific applications, such as packaging, energy, catalysis, etc. In most cases, the structural design and control are the keys to the high performance of these materials. For additional information about the research at this lab, please visit https://wp.luyi-sun.uconn.edu/.

Note: Maximum of 4 students.

CHEG4

Title: Air Pollution Monitoring in Connecticut

Mentor: Dr. Kristina Wagstrom, Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Description: Students will have the opportunity to participate in two air pollution monitoring projects this summer. The first project is measuring the transport of fertilizer and pesticides from conventional UConn Farmland to the Spring Valley Student Farm. The Spring Valley Student Farm practices organic farming methods. The second project is working to estimate how air pollutants are transported from the air to land and water through rain using monitoring throughout the state.

Note: Maximum of 2-3 students.

ENGINEERING – ELECTRICAL & COMPUTER (ECE)

ECE1

Title: Electronics: Sensors and Optical Audio Links 

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 sensor circuits and an optical audio link, fun electronic systems that sense and transmit audio signals through optical signals. At this site you will learn about acoustic, optical and electrical signals. You will get hands-on experience in different aspects of electronics, including an electrical circuit, a semiconductor laser, a photodetector, and a speaker. 

Note: Maximum of 6 students.

HISTORY (HIST)

HIST1

Title: The Influence of the Past on the Present: The Underground Railroad

Mentors: Ashlyn Markosky, Graduate Student; Dr. Nancy Shoemaker, Professor of History; Dr. Manisha Sinha, Professor of History and Draper Chair. 

Description: History matters because it influences how we think about everything else. If we do not understand how things came to happen in the past, how can we understand what is going on today? Those who choose this mentorship site will join in graduate student research on topics of Slavery and Abolition, the Freedman’s Bureau archives, and an in depth look at the Underground Railroad and some of its major figures. Participants will learn important skills relating to historical inquiry such as: research methods and skills, creative and analytic writing strategies, how to analyze the role of artifacts (or lack of artifacts) and data, and multiple perspective taking. In addition, participants will ultimately get the opportunity to recreate their own museum exhibit and a portfolio of the work they have created while at the mentor site. This experience would be ideal for those who are interested in writing (e.g.,journalist or novelist), history, or politics.  

Note: Minimum of 2 students; maximum of 5 students.

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND FAMILY STUDIES (HDFS)

HDFS1

Title: Speak Up, Stand Up: How to Help Stop Bullying and Discrimination.

Mentors: Dr. Alaina Brenick, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies; Samantha E. Lawrence, B.A., and senior students in the lab.

Description: Have you or your friends ever been bullied or been treated unfairly because of who you are? How did you feel? Maybe you wondered why it was happening or wished that you knew how to make it stop. These are the kinds of things 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 grant applications, and analyzing data. Over the summer, you’ll be a part of our exciting research projects exploring:

  • The ways immigrant youth experience bullying and how others perceive bullying that targets immigrant students in their schools,
  • Effective ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination among youth growing up in political conflict, and
  • The range of negative experiences that LGBT youth face in schools and how communities can work to reduce LGBT mistreatment.

This is your opportunity to be a part of our research team and help make schools and communities safer and more welcoming for youth of all backgrounds.

Note: Maximum of 3 students. CITI training is required for participation in this site.

HDFS2

Title: Love and Personal Relationships

Mentors: Dr. Ronald P. Rohner, Professor Emeritus and Director of the Rohner Center; Sumbleen Ali, MS; and Center Staff 

Description: Your personal relationship with others is a central part of your life. Personal relationships bring joy and happiness when they go well, but cause unhappiness and pain when they go poorly. The quality of your relationship with your parents, siblings, friends, and of course, your intimate partner is vital in your life. Thus, it is important for you to understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships through the lens of interpersonal acceptance and rejection. We at the Rohner Center promote understanding of interpersonal relationships, especially interpersonal acceptance-rejection. Our work for the past 6 decades has drawn from family science, psychology, communication studies, anthropology, and neuroscience.

In the course of your stay with us, you will be introduced to scientific evidence about the importance of interpersonal relationships. You will also learn how behavioral scientists study these relationships through careful research. Many insights await you during your stay with us. But you also need to bring your own insights and personal experiences to bear on the information we provide you. Our goal as your mentors is to help you understand the scientific study of interpersonal relationships and to introduce you to diverse viewpoints about personal relationships—especially about interpersonal acceptance-rejection—from both a behavioral and a neuroscience perspective.  

Your Involvement in the Rohner Center’s Summer Program: You will be introduced to our ongoing international research projects. These include projects on: Affective Coping, Fear of Intimacy, Forgiveness, Vengeance, Loneliness, Rejection Sensitivity, Parental Alienation, Teacher Acceptance-Rejection, Intimate Partner Acceptance-Rejection, Parental Acceptance-Rejection, and LGBT+ issues. You will gain insight into how this research is done, mostly via self-report questionnaires using combination of our 32 self-report questionnaires available in about 60 languages worldwide. You will also help Center staff electronically organize these measures to increase the Center's work efficiency. 

Note: Maximum of 5 students.

HUMAN RIGHTS (HR)

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Title: Research and Action in Human Rights at the Dodd Center

Mentors: Dr. Glenn Mitoma, Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and Assistant Professor of Human Rights and Education

Dodd Center students in the Young Scholars Senior Summit Program will identify a human rights issue of concern to them, research the topic and design an outreach strategy to address, or educate/bring awareness to the problem.  The mentorship site is designed into three week modules with the first week serving as an introduction to human rights. Broad topics in the first week include Foundations & Key Concepts to International Human Rights, International Human Rights Institutions and Mechanisms, Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Vulnerable Populations.  

During the second week, using archival materials available in the Dodd Center (e.g., Nuremberg papers, Romano collection, Children’s book collection, Central America) scholars will be trained on ways to use historical documents for their research, as they begin to develop/hone a research topic of choice.   

During the third week, using various mediums (e.g., visual, written, spoken, a website, PowerPoint/workshop presentation) scholars will construct an outreach strategy to educate/address said human rights issue, to realize or build a culture of human rights in general, but specifically for primary or secondary schools.  

For more information on the Dodd Center, please visit www.doddcenter.uconn.edu.

Note: Maximum of 4 students.

KINESIOLOGY (KINE)

KINE1

Title: Heat Tolerance Test to Determine Success in Warm Weather Road Race

Title:  Investigation of a Novel Hydration Status Monitor

Mentors: Rebecca Stearns, Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Kinesiology, Chief Operating Officer, Korey Stringer Institute; Doug Casa, Professor, Kinesiology, Korey Stringer Institute 

Korey Stringer Institute (KSI)

These mentorship sites are devoted to providing scholars 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:

Scholars in these sites 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 etc)

- 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

Scholars Must:

- Be able to operate a computer and other basic research equipment (e.g., timer, weight scale etc)

- Have excellent communication skills

- Be able to collect data in a hot environment (~100°F - 105°F with 40% relative humidity)

Description: Scholars will work with researchers to examine the validity of a heat tolerance test to determine its ability to identify runners at risk for a heat illness at the Falmouth Road Race. Students will also work with researchers to determine the accuracy of a wearable hydration status monitor that is worn during exercise in the heat.

Note: Maximum of 1-2 students.

KINE2

Title:  Real-life Superheroes: How Do Animals Become Resilient to Stress

Mentors: Dr. Elaine C. Lee and senior students

Description: In the world of Marvel and DC Comics, there are hundreds of different superheroes with the power to withstand great stress, live forever, and survive exposure to toxins. Athletes are real-life super heroes and they adapt to stress of exercise training and competition, but we are still curious about how we can help them recover faster and perform better. In our lab, one way we study this is to study how animals that are unusually resistant to stressors like heat, toxins, and oxidative stress possess these unique abilities. At our mentorship site, you will work with our super-stress-resilient strains of Caenorhabditis elegans to figure out genetically and molecularly, how these animals are able to survive stress so well. Participants will be responsible for doing simple experiments on our microscopic worms and using advanced techniques in gene knockout to see what genes control stress responses. We will also have a short experience during which you can test sport performance of human subjects and introduce you to how our animal and human work are directly related. This experience is ideal for anyone interested in molecular/cell biology, genetics and genomics, stress physiology, and sport performance.

Note: Maximum of 10 students.

LINGUISTICS (LING)

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Title: Language Learning: Let's Talk About It

Mentors: Jeannie Slayton, Associate Director of UCAELI and Harry van der Hulst, Professor of Linguistics

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 assist an instructor in classes like Communication Skills, Focus on Writing, Reading Discussion, and more. Take on a creative approach to teaching English while you become part of a “global family” as you get to know people from China, Turkey, and many other countries around the globe. Learn how to develop innovative activities and assist students in conversation, listening skills, and 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! 

Note: Maximum of 1-2 students.

 

MOLECULAR AND CELL BIOLOGY (MCB)

MCB1

Title: Comparative Genomics: Gene Transfer Between Microbes

Mentors: J. Peter Gogarten, Distinguished Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology, Artemis Dyanna Louyakis, Postdoctoral fellow, and the Research Team 

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

Description: In recent years, our understanding of microbial evolution has undergone 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. Over 30,000 sequenced bacterial genomes are publicly available and many more are being sequenced at accelerating speed thanks to major advancements in sequencing technology. Comparison of genomes from closely related organisms allows us to detect recently acquired genes; databank searches often allow us to determine the likely donors of these genes; and compositional statistics and inspection of the genes' neighborhood may provide clues regarding the transfer mechanism. Participants in this site will learn how to compare and analyze genomes and metagenomes with the aim of detecting transferred genes and molecular parasites. 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 http://gogarten.uconn.edu

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

MCB2

Title: Exploring Deep Sea Genomes

Mentors: PI: Dr. Rachel O'Neill, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Lead Mentor: Kate Castellano, Ph.D. student 

Description: Oceanic environments are extremely diverse and include habitats such as polar waters around Antarctica and canyons bigger than Grand Canyon, but thousands of meters undersea. Humans have been exploring these worlds for decades, but emerging technologies in genomics now allow us to identify and study species that are adapting to rapidly changing ocean environments as well as explore the genomes of medically relevant species from deep sea habitats. In some cases, environmental adaptations are proving detrimental to the food web as successful species are displacing critical species at the base of the web. In our lab, we use genomics techniques to unravel the information coded in the genomes of many different ocean-dwelling species. In this summer project, we will be working on the genomes of the tunicate salp, deep sea corals, and the Atlantic horseshoe crab. You will use many different techniques, such as extraction of nucleic acids from different species, isolating important genomic regions using PCR, as well as gene cloning and next generation sequencing. After completing this project, you will have learned basic and advanced molecular biology techniques using an exciting and nontraditional model system.

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

MCB3

Title: Microbiome Research and Genome Sequencing in the Graf Lab

Mentors: Faculty: Dr. Joerg Graf, Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology. Lead Mentors: Dr. Jeremiah Marden, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Lidia Beka, Postdoctoral Fellow, and other members of the Graf lab.

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 students will learn a wide range of technique, including aseptic technique, spread plating, media preparation, killing assays, PCR, Sanger and Ilumina sequencing, microbiome characterization and genome sequencing. 

Note: Maximum of 3 students.

MCB4

Title: Neurodegenerative Proteins: Simple Gene Mutations, and How They Cause Neuronal Cell Death

Mentors: Dr. Ping Zhang, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, and senior students in the lab.

Description: Neurodegenerative diseases cause progressive neuronal cell death, affecting millions of people. These diseases damage the central nervous system or peripheral nervous systems. It is well known that DNA sequence changes in some genes can result in neurodegenerative diseases. However, how these simple gene mutations induce the diseases remain largely unknown. We use small fruit flies, Drosophila, as a model system to look into mechanisms of neurodegenerative cell death. These little insects measure approximately 3 mm in length, and they are easy to maintain. Scientists have studied them for over 100 years so that they are one of the best model organisms in genetics. We use genetic engineering techniques to introduce human mutant genes into Drosophila, and generate Drosophila mutants. Participants will join our ongoing project to identify Drosophila genes that modulate neurodegenerative cell death. This experience is ideal for those interested in careers in genetic research and biological sciences.

NURSING (NURS)

NURS1

Title: Making the "Ouch" Go Away... Pain Processing and the Brain

Mentors: Dr. Angela Starkweather, Professor, Nursing, and senior students in the lab

Description: Everyone feels pain at some point in their lives, and typically the pain serves a useful purpose by making people aware of an injury and driving instinctive behavior to protect the injured area from further harm. However, in some people, the pain becomes chronic and serves no useful purpose. In our laboratory, we study the transition from acute to chronic pain and how individuals can use knowledge and skills to cope with, or recover from, chronic pain. If you decide to join this mentorship team, you will gain experience in studying pain processing by applying experimental pain protocols in the laboratory environment along with other doctoral and undergraduate students. You will be encouraged to participate in screening potential research subjects, performing data collection, and providing input on the development of interventions to manage pain. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in nursing, medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, biology, or psychology.  

Note: Maximum of 2 students. Participation in this site requires human subjects research training (CITI training).

NUTRITIONAL SCIENCES (NUTR)

NUTR1

Title: Molecular Nutrition and Cholesterol Metabolism

Mentors: Dr. Christopher Blesso, Assistant Professor, Nutritional Sciences, and Liya Anto, 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 atherosclerosis. Previous research has shown that sphingolipids influence lipid absorption and it is thought that one type of dietary sphingolipid, sphingomyelin, may potentially offer protection from the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We mainly work with cell and mouse models; however, we hope to incorporate human trials in future years. 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.

Note: Maximum of 1 student.

PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCES (PHARM)

PHARM1

Title: Why is Having a Healthy Liver Important For Sustaining Life?

Mentors: Ajay Donepudi (postdoctoral fellow) and José E. Manautou (Professor and Interim Department Head, Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Description: Our laboratory work focuses on understanding how the interaction of chemicals alters the functioning of the human liver, with an emphasis on how a damaged liver can repair itself. 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 aspects of this repair process. 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 medications 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 genes associated with this adaptation acetaminophen toxicity. We have also investigated whether changes in the expression and function of specialized proteins in the liver known as drug transporters contribute to the development of tolerance to APAP hepatotoxicity. We are currently studying the transport protein multi-drug resistant protein 4 (Mrp4) and its contribution to: a). drug toxicity tolerance, b). liver tissue regeneration, and c). a pathological condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

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

Note: Maximum of 1 student.

PHARM2

Title: Working with Nanoparticles 

Mentors: Dr. Xiuling Lu and graduate students, Andre Beringhs and Wei-Chung Luo

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. If time allows, scholars will proceed to freeze dry nanoparticles for better storage. For more information on the work Dr. Lu and her team are doing, please visit Lu Research Lab

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

PHARMACY PRACTICE (PHPR)

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Title: Do You Know All That Your Pharmacist Could Do To Improve How Medicines Are Used?  

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

Description: Do you think patients, pharmacists, and other health professionals should be talking to one another about managing illnesses and treatments?  You would be surprised to learn these communications are not consistent and often do not occur at all in situations that they are needed and could impact patient care.  A team at the UConn School of Pharmacy led by Dr. Nate Rickles works on several projects to explore ways to improve and extend medication-related communications between different populations of patients, pharmacists in the community, and prescribers across different types of medical practices.  Examples of present projects are explorations involving pharmacist roles in the prescription opioid crisis, use of medical marijuana, administration of medications to individuals with mental illness, and exercise health promotion in older adults.  We are also developing computer-based agents to help individuals make over-the-counter medication choices.  If you have an interest in a career in healthcare, working with our team on existing and new projects could help orient you to the common challenges and exciting rewards of caring for patients and trying to improve their treatment outcomes.  We also have significant learning opportunities for you to participate in a variety of research endeavors that include conducting literature searches, data collection, data entry, data analysis; assisting in grant proposals and early development of new projects; and, helping to review manuscripts for publication.   

Note: Maximum of 2 students.

PHYSIOLOGY & NEUROBIOLOGY (PNB)

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Title: Ovarian Cancer and Human Ovulation Research with the Help of Fruit Flies 

Mentors: Jianjun Sun, Assistant Professor, Physiology and Neurobiology, Elizabeth Knapp, PhD student (Lead Mentor) 

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. 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 https://sunlab.pnb.uconn.edu/

Note: Maximum of 1 student.

POLITICAL SCIENCE (POLS)

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Title: Political Science and State Courts

Mentor: Dr. Virginia Hettinger, Political Science 

Scholars will work on one or two different projects that examine judges in the state courts.

The first project examines state judges who have been charged with committing ethics violations.  The project would involve examining media coverage of those judges. The scholar(s) would collect newspaper accounts of the cases using on-line databases, read the accounts, and use content analysis software to understand which judges the media chooses to cover and how the media portrays these judges. 

The second project examines elections for state supreme court justices. Dr. Hettinger is looking at the role of interest groups and advertising in those elections. She has a database of televised ads, but she is hoping to extend the database to include other forms of media. This could include websites and social media. 

Both projects would allow the student to learn about data collection, data documentation, using online databases, and performing content analysis. Each project could be structured so that the scholar(s) has a set of data that would be ready for basic analysis and presentation at the end of the program.

Note: Maximum of 2-3 students.

PSYCHOLOGY (PSYC)

PSYC1

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

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

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 new information. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in medicine, biology, or psychology.  

Note: Maximum of 2 students. Participation in this site requires handling of live laboratory animals. Instruction in proper handling techniques will be provided.

PSYC2

Title: Analysis of ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Mentors: Inge-Marie Eigsti, Associate Professor, Psychological Sciences

Description: Work in our lab centers on autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  We aim to map complex behavioral constructs, such as social communication deficits, onto mechanistic processes in the brain. We do this by studying low-level (and often non-social) cognitive processes, such as working memory and auditory processing, that may not be specific to ASD, but that can be linked to genetic, neurophysiological or neuroanatomical domains, and that impact socio-communicative behavior. We aim to understand ASD by finding links between the molecular level (genetics), the neurofunctional level (brain imaging), and the behavioral level (symptomatology).  Summer projects will center on long-term outcomes in ASD, and on diagnosis at young ages. Some scholars may also work on ‘savant’ skills or special expertise in autism spectrum disorder.

Note: Maximum of 4 students.

SPEECH LANGUAGE AND HEARING SCIENCES (SLHS)

SLHS1

Title: You Perceive What You Speak 

Mentors: Dr. Adrian Garcia-Sierra, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and students in Garcia-Sierra lab

Description: Infants are able to distinguish most of the speech sounds used in the world’s languages regardless of the language they receive at home. However, around eight months, infants lose that ability and become better at distinguishing the speech sound of their mother tongue. This phenomenon is called “perceptual reorganization” of speech or in other words, a transition from a language-general to a language-specific perception of speech sounds. In my lab, you will learn about your perceptual re-organization of speech by testing your ability to distinguish speech sounds that you are familiar with in different linguistic contexts. My lab will offer you the opportunity to receive hands on experience with how your brain is perceptually organized based on the language or languages you speak. You will have access to equipment that records brain activity and to software that will analyze your brain responses to different types of speech sound in different linguistic context.

Note: Maximum of 3 students.

SLHS2

Title: Clinical Experiences in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Mentors: Christine Njuki, Au.D. and Nancy McMahon, Au.D., UConn Speech and Hearing Clinic

Description: The mission of the Speech, Language and Hearing Science Department is to educate students on the processes of hearing, speech, language, cognition, and swallowing, to engage in the scientific study of human communication and its disorders, and to serve the community of individuals with communication disorders or differences. In all endeavors the department strives to foster a culture of inclusiveness and respect. 

During the YSSS program, a scholar will have the opportunity to participate in research in the areas of speech, language, and hearing science.  The experience will include observation and assistance with patients, as well as, an introduction to the assistive technology integral in the care of individuals with speech, language and/or hearing disorders.  

Note: Maximum of 1 student.

SOCIOLOGY (SOCI)

SOCI1

Title: Racism, Rights, and Rebellion: The Social Relationships of Slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights

Mentor: Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, Associate Professor, Sociology

Description: When it comes to ethnicity and race, who are we as a nation?  The U.S. has sown many seeds of racial oppression, liberation, and continued discrimination.  These have grown into vines that choked-out democracy, into diverse gardens of multiracial cooperation and solidarity, and most morbidly, into—as Billie Holiday once sang of lynchings—the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”   While we occasionally learn about this history, rarely to we hear directly from the people who were and are our society.  What did people feel?  Why did people rationalize enslavement of that the time was ripe to rebel?  From where did they draw inspiration?  How did people relate to other people and the conditions of slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights?  If you select this mentorship site, you will join Dr. Matthew Hughey—an internationally renowned expert on the study of race and racism—to answer these questions.  Together, we will research the social relationships captured in four research archives: (1) a database of runaway slave advertisements (1776-1865); (2) recorded oral interviews with African Americans over 1890 to 1950; (3) first-person accounts of former African American slaves collected in the 1930s, and/or; (4) original documents from the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” of 1964 that details the fight for freedom in the Deep South.  In studying these archives, you will learn how to design a sociological research project, inclusive of how to ask a research question, implement a methodology to collect data, and how to interpret the data.  Most importantly, we will use the information from the archives to begin writing a journal article that we will submit for peer-reviewed publication!  This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, geography, history, and related fields.

Note: Maximum of 6-10 students.