Capstone Competition

In the Capstone Competition, students deliver three-minute presentations of their Capstone projects live online using image-only slides (no text) and outstanding storytelling. The Capstone Competition is modelled after the Three-Minute Thesis format that is common at the graduate level.

This year, students delivered their presentations live online via Microsoft Teams on Friday, April 16, 2021, in two sessions: 11 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. You can watch the recordings at the links below.

Host and emcee for both sessions was Dr. Megan Lamkin, Program Director for Undergraduate Research.

Morning Session

Watch Session

Watch morning session video recording in Microsoft Stream (UC login required)

Welcome, Rules and Judges’ Introductions (11:00-11:10)

Host Dr. Megan Lamkin welcomed everyone and introduced this session's judges:

  • Prof. Lauren Tate, Assistant Professor, Art History, DAAP (Captain)
  • Dr. Littisha A. Bates, Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Community Partnerships and Associate Professor of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Mr. Rickey Terrell, Program Manager of Innovations and Community Partnerships, College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services
  • Dr. Mohamed Elwakil, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, UC Blue Ash
  • Dr. Rita Kumar, Executive Director of UC’s Faculty Enrichment Center
  • Dr. Steve Matter, Associate Professor, Biology, College of Arts and Sciences

Morning Presentations (11:10-11:45)

Daniel Posmik, Economics, Data Analytics, Mathematics Minor
Project Advisor: Dr. Michael Jones

Abstract: Political divisiveness, immigration hurdles, and an unfavorable job market have led to a decrease in international student enrollment at U.S. postsecondary institutions. In an attempt to examine potential enrollment incentives, I examine the effect of institutional aid on undergraduate international student enrollment. Using a fixed-effect model with merged Common Data Set and IPEDS data, my sample consists of Title IV institutions in the midwest region. I find both the number and amount of monies awarded to international students to be statistically significant, relative to total costs. Moreover, the relative allocation of total aid for international students is important. More granular analysis shows that large, and/or public institutions experience a stronger enrollment change for aid awarded than small, private, and/or name-brand universities.

Joyce Ghali, Biochemistry
Project Adivsor: Dr. Julio Landero

Abstract: Glucose is the body’s major source of energy; the human body requires around 160 grams of glucose per day, 120 of which are utilized by the brain alone. If left in circulation, glucose can damage blood vessels, leading to a host of complications. Thus, the detection and quantification of glucose uptake and metabolism is necessary for conducting a variety of basic physiology and biomedical research. Present research employs radiotracers and fluorescent analogs of glucose. These techniques can only measure one analyte, limiting experimental flexibility. Given its multi-channel capabilities, we developed a method using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to simultaneously measure the uptake of 13C-labeled glucose and other elements in biological samples. This method employs a cryogenic tissue pulverization and probe-assisted ultra-sonication protocol to extract 13C-glucose and other polar analytes from tissues into ultra-pure water. We have established and optimized ICP-MS tuning parameters to reliably detect 13C, even with high carbon background. Due to its ubiquity, carbon is a difficult element to analyze using ICP-MS. By using our approach, we were able to detect as little as 4 parts per million of 13C from 13C-glucose in sample. This detection capability for carbon in biological matrices is expected to provide a novel approach for the study of complex biological processes relating to carbon/glucose metabolism. Using this method, we are investigating the correlation between a sodium-dependent glucose transporter (SGLT) and Na,K,ATPase (NKA) importing glucose into the muscle in insulin independent conditions during contraction and its implication for diabetes mellitus.

Jane Cox, Speech and Hearing Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Nancy Creaghead

Abstract: The purpose of this case study was to understand the perspective of a Mexican immigrant mother of a child with a communication disorder. This study was carried out by means of an in-depth ethnographic hour and a half long interview, during which we gathered information about her family, her experiences adapting to US culture, her perceptions around bilingualism, and her experiences with her son's school and the healthcare system. The entire audio was then transcribed and we reviewed the content themes that might better help us support individuals like this parent. We found that community members such as friends, family, and healthcare providers acted as steppingstones to positive outcomes. As an implication of this research to the field of speech pathology, Speech Language Pathologists MUST help parents understand healthcare by avoiding making assumptions, cultivating empathy, stay current with research that relates to our clients, and we should not shy away from asking questions!

Brielle Robbins, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. George Uetz

Abstract: Animal signaling involves the transfer of information between individuals and is particularly important in mating. In the wolf spider Schizocosa ocreata, males use multimodal (visual, vibratory) signals in courtship to indicate their mate quality to females. However, males also learn to associate competitor male signaling with female presence by eavesdropping on others in an attempt to increase their own chances of mating. Theory predicts that males should be able to assess the quality of rivals as well as their own mating potential. Here I investigate whether eavesdropping male S. ocreata can assess potential competitors relative to themselves and behave in a manner that improves mating success. To explore this, eavesdropping male courtship rates were analyzed to determine if males use different rates when confronted with larger or smaller competitors. I exposed focal males (trained eavesdroppers or naïve control males) to manipulated video playback of courting males with larger and smaller leg tufts and recorded courtship rates in 5-minute trials. The focal males were also analyzed to examine their body size and tuft area relative to their digital rivals. The results show that males with smaller tufts relative to their competitors tend to court more vigorously. This indicates that males are more likely to adjust their courtship rates when presented with relatively larger competitors. It was also found that there was no correlation between body size and courtship rates of focal males, suggesting that different courtship rates can be attributed to the assessment of rival male size.

Lily Stewart, English (Rhetorical & Professional Writing and Literacy & Cultural Studies)
Project Advisor: Dr. Cheli Reutter

Abstract: Although many people are familiar with the UC Health System, few know much about one of the most important Cincinnati medical figures: Dr. Christian R. Holmes, the founder of the Cincinnati General Hospital. The creation of the hospital is a celebrated event, yet it had unintended consequences on Cincinnati medicine. This study examines the founding of the hospital and its effects on medical equity and education, specifically in the context of Cincinnati medical history. Results show that events in Cincinnati's medical history-specifically the segregation of the hospital and the development of narrow standards for medical education-have had lasting negative effects on medically underserved populations that continue to this day. It is recommended that medical decision-makers must take a holistic and thoughtful approach for improving community health, which is especially important during a serious health crisis, such as a pandemic.

Margaret Milbrandt, Biochemistry
Project Advisor: Dr. Anna Gudmundsdottir

Abstract: There is a significant need for smart materials able to transduce light into mechanical motions because they can be used in applications such as biomedicine and soft robotics. Research in our group is focused on photodynamic crystals that acquire momentum by releasing gas, a mechanism that is similar to jet engines.

The following will report the photodynamic behavior of azidostilbene derivatives that release nitrogen gas upon exposure to UV light. Different azidostilbene derivatives display different dynamic behavior. Some crack fiercely upon exposure to light, whereas others undergo only surface clouding reactions that are less dynamic. The solution and solid-state photoreaction mechanisms for these azido compounds were determined by carrying out product studies and obtaining laser flash photolysis of them in solution and solid nanocrystals. The mechanism was further supported by ESR spectroscopy and DFT calculations. To elucidate how the crystal lattice controls the photodynamic behavior, X-ray structures of the starting materials were obtained, and lattice energy calculations were carried out. The proposed reaction mechanism and the reasoning for how the nitrogen gas release controls the photodynamic behavior of the crystals will be discussed in detail.

Anna Sensel, History
Project Advisor: Dr. Wayne Durrill

Abstract: In New England in the 1830's and 1840's abolitionism spread like wildfire throughout New England, but in the case of the North Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that wasn't the case. After a previous slave-holding minister moved from Macon, Georgia to Portsmouth and became the new minister, the antislavery churchmembers began being excommunicated from the church and drama ensued. These antislavery members wrote letters detailing their disdain for their new minister Edwin Holt. A newspaper article was written in 1841 discussing the Abolitionist Society and how they were bothering the churchmembers regarding their new minister and they then claimed that an unnecessary crusade was being fought by the Abolitionists towards these members. This case study of the North Church in New Hampshire reveals a more realistic story of how abolitionism was not a quick sweep as it is typically seen, but rather for all of those involved in this particular case shows that it was actually a more complicated and slow story that had to go through several stages in dealing with the question of slavery.

Judges’ Deliberations (11:45-11:55)

Judges will convene in Prof. Lauren Tate’s WebEx Room to decide first, second and third place winners. During this time, Dr. Lamkin will facilitate conversation with the presenters.

Winners Announced

Prof. Lauren Tate, Judges’ Captain, will announce first, second and third place winners.

Afternoon Session

Watch Session

Watch afternoon session video recording in Microsoft Stream (UC login required)

Welcome, Rules and Judges’ Introductions (1:00-1:10)

Host Dr. Megan Lamkin welcomed everyone and introduced this session's judges:

  • Prof. Lauren Tate, Assistant Professor, Art History, DAAP (Captain)
  • Dr. Jane Strasser, Senior Associate Vice President for Research, University of Cincinnati
  • Mr. Rickey Terrell, Program Manager of Innovations and Community Partnerships, College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services
  • Dr. Rita Kumar, Executive Director of UC's Faculty Enrichment Center
  • Dr. Julio Landero, Assistant Professor, Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Dr. Jack Kues, Associate Dean for Research Evaluation, College of Medicine

Afternoon Presentations (1:10-1:45)

Easton Phillips, History
Project Advisor: Dr. Stephen Porter

Abstract: Most of the Underground Railroad's history emerged between the 1880s and early 1900s. Decades before the Civil Rights movement, African Americans and their allies viewed the cooperation and camaraderie that came from the Underground Railroad's history as a step towards a racially harmonious America, while others argued that blacks alone lacked the ability or capacity to reach freedom without the assistance of whites. The prevailing narratives promoted the image of predominantly white conductors risking their lives to usher adventurous runaways to the promised land of freedom in defiance of southern slavecatchers. Through the analysis of scholarly literature and amateur reminiscences, it is possible to identify how this "popular image" of the Railroad was altered by the "winners" of America's ideological struggles. Within this same literature exists the reasoning for placing whites at the center of the Underground Railroad and the identity of those who benefitted from this "folklore history."

Oluwadamilola “Dami” Omojola, Medical Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Biplab Dasgupta

Abstract: Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer, currently with no effective treatment options due to its location in the hindbrain. Minimal understanding of the biological and biochemical nature of these tumors results in a poor prognosis with only 1% of patients surviving 5 years after diagnosis. In order to develop effective treatment options, an understanding of the biological and biochemical nature of the survival of these tumors is essential. This project aims to understand the mechanisms of survival of these cells in order to develop effective therapeutics to improve the disease-free survival of patients. We explore the inhibition of the cellular pathway of glycine production which is increased in these cancer cells. Glycine plays a crucial role in the biosynthesis of the building blocks of DNA. It also functions in antioxidative capacities to detoxify the cell of the toxic by-products that result from a high metabolic activity which is characteristic of cancer cells. An increase in the production of glycine would sustain the abnormal uncontrolled cell growth that is indicative of cancer. To determine the effectiveness of inhibiting this pathway in reducing cancer growth, we test the efficacy of SHIN1, a small molecule inhibitor of an enzyme involved in the production of glycine. In glycine-free conditions, this drug showed marked efficacy in reducing the growth of these cancerous cells.

Kristen Snowden, Biological Sciences and Environmental Studies
Project Advisor: Dr. Nathan Morehouse

Abstract: Biodiversity conservation is critical in the face of increasing Anthropocene extinction rates. Speciation through local adaptation is a central tenet of sensory drive, which predicts that animal signals and sensory system efficacy are impacted by environmental context and should therefore adapt to maximize efficiency when faced with environmental noise.

One of the most critical life history considerations for species survival is the ability to procreate. Therefore, sexually reproducing species have often evolved elaborate courtship procedures to ensure reproductive success. Courtship displays are often evolved under a sensory drive process, and organisms practicing mate choice are especially likely to speciate. The environmental noise places high selective pressure on sensory systems and signals, specifically ones used to locate sexual partners.

The massive change to environments and habitats due to climate change can have a devastating impact on the sensory landscapes of species. In order to combat this issue, proper characterization of sensory landscapes and how organisms accommodate environmental shifts must be investigated. Habronattus jumping spiders would be the ideal model species to examine these questions and concerns. Habronattus jumping spiders are highly diverse and found in a myriad of different environments. They also have highly developed visual systems and have elaborate male mating displays. While collecting male spiders for a related experiment, we also collected habitat videos for numerous Habronattus species habitats in order to quantify environmental noise. We explore novel motion visualization techniques and use non-parametric circular statistical approaches to determine whether habitats are significantly different.

Christine Powell, History
Project Advisor: Dr. Brianna Leavitt-Alcantara

Abstract: The Great Migration was a huge event in American history, with millions of Black people leaving the South for better lives in the North and West. Two of the major destinations for these migrants were Chicago and Los Angeles. The changes these cities went through, and the long term impact this event had on them, will be looked at and examined. This presentation will look at how Black neighborhoods were created in these cities, specific reasons migrants had for choosing the locations they moved to, and how the culture of these places was impacted.

Richard Chhaing, Biological Sciences (Biomedical Studies)
Project Advisor: Dr. Elif Erkan

Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is the most common cause of kidney failure in adolescents. Patients with kidney failure need dialysis to survive. FSGS patients present with high amounts of protein in their urine because the filtering units do not work. How FSGS arises is still unknown. The objective of this study is to establish a mice model in Balb/c species to study FSGS and determine if lipid metabolites produced by an enzyme called cytosolic phospholipase A2(cPLA2) contributes to progression of FSGS. Adriamycin is a cardiotoxin, but also a chemotherapeutic medicine used to treat cancer in humans. Adriamycin causes FSGS in Balb/c mouse. Saline vs adriamycin was administered by tail vein injection at eight weeks old male Balb/c mice to induce FSGS. In order to understand the role of cPLA2 in FSGS, adriamycin injected mice received three times a week intraperitoneal injections with cPLA2 inhibitor (AACOCF3) versus saline. Urine was collected four weeks after adriamycin injection for protein analysis by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Blood was obtained by cardiac, submandibular vein puncture and kidneys were harvested eight weeks after adriamycin injection. FSGS was successfully induced in adriamycin injected mice. FSGS mice demonstrated increased urine protein levels, and decreased kidney function recapitulating human FSGS. AACOCF3 injected mice demonstrated better preservation of kidney function, histology and lower levels of urine protein compared to saline injected mice. We concluded that cPLA2 pathway is a target for drug treatment to prevent progression in FSGS. Further research is warranted to understand the role cPLA2 in FSGS.

Chloe Boehmer, Biochemistry & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Project Advisor: Dr. David Smithrud

Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second most common cancer diagnosed in American men. Progression of PCa during the early stages is dependent on androgen. First-line treatments consequently rely on inhibiting the functioning of the androgen receptor. However, resistance develops giving rise to hormone/castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). This cancer is typically treated with second generation anti-androgens such as abiraterone (Abi), which targets the steroidogenic enzyme CYP17A1. Some tumors do not respond to Abi, however, and some of those which do respond eventually become Abi-resistant (Abi-R). Identification of markers predicting Abi-R is essential for precision medicine. Using a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) mouse model which mimics the development of Abi-R, previous work identified differentially expressed genes to distinguish between Abi-R and either CRPC or Abi-sensitive (Abi-S) tumors. The current project is focused on validating these genes through quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). We used NIH Primer-BLAST software to identify primer sequences to be used in qPCR. Primers were designed for genes that predict Abi-R and first tested for their utility through qPCR. We varied the temperature and time of annealing to increase primer-pair specificity. The melt curve of products was used as a readout for specificity. Agarose gel electrophoresis was performed to confirm size of generated product. So far, we have identified primers specific for 15 genes. We are now ready to validate our biomarker signature for resistance in our PDX mouse model and in human samples.

Judges’ Deliberations (1:45-1:55)

Judges will convene in Prof. Lauren Tate’s WebEx Room to decide first, second and third place winners. During this time, Dr. Lamkin will facilitate conversation with the presenters.

Winners Announced

Prof. Lauren Tate, Judges’ Captain, will announce first, second and third place winners.