Student researchers, faculty mentors shine

More than 150 projects presented at 2017 Research and Creative Activities Symposium

May 3, 2017
Students at RaCAS
Bethany Walker, a first-year student in the Masters of Science in Environmental Sciences program, explains her project during the Research and Creative Activities Symposium. Photo by Sam Maslak.

Vikasini Mahalingam, Hannah Stobaugh and Elena Ortiz didn’t work long hours on their research project for recognition. So when they learned their project about gender-based violence in Chicago won two awards at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical CampusResearch and Creative Activities Symposium (RaCAS), they savored the moment.

“We built this from the ground up, so being honored is fantastic,” said Mahalingam, after the project won a RaCAS award funded by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

RaCAS is the university’s annual showcase for original undergraduate and graduate research, creative, and other scholarly activities. More than 150 projects were part of the symposium, representing the quality and breadth of research that takes place at the university. The projects featured original research in engineering, sciences, education, social sciences, humanities, and arts, as well as service learning projects.

Students packed the hallways of CU Denver’s Student Commons Building on April 28 with posters and other exhibits, and stood by to explain their projects to other students, faculty and guests. Student presentations and lively discussion filled the classrooms.

The number of students eagerly discussing their work created an energy in the air. It grew more noticeable as the day culminated in an awards ceremony for outstanding scholarship. For the first time, outstanding faculty mentors from both campuses also received honors.

Award-winning research, creative and other scholarly activities

More than a dozen projects received awards for excellence.

Mahalingam, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), Stobaugh, a junior in the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD), and Ortiz, a senior in CLAS, won awards from the CLAS Interdisciplinary Directors’ Council and the Council on Diversity and Inclusion for their paper, “Exploring the Interconnectedness of Gender-Based Violence in Society.”

RaCAS award
Sarah Berg, Elena Ortiz, Hannah Stobaugh and Vikasini Mahalingam at the 2017 RaCAS awards ceremony. Ortiz,, Stobaugh and Mahalingam won two awards for their paper researching gender-based violence in Chicago.

The three students worked with advocacy and community groups in Chicago. Stobaugh said they found that asset-based community development is an effective way to address gender-based violence. That approach tries to work with people and organizations to build on a community’s strengths, rather than focusing on shortcomings and problems.

The co-authors attended the ceremony with friends who cheered for them when their names were called. The applause wasn’t expected, but it was welcome.

“We put so much work into every last detail of this,” Mahalingam said. “We’re really thrilled.”

RaCAS is a valuable experience for all students. CU Denver senior Derek Wengryn said presenting at the symposium taught him skills he could not learn in the lab. He worked with the School of Medicine’s (SOM) Dermatology Department to study the genetics of skin cancer.

“I talked with a lot of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Hearing their takes and being able to present and discuss the research in different ways and to learn how to communicate effectively is very educational,” Wengryn said.

Awards for CU Anschutz, CU Denver faculty mentors

This year marked the first time RaCAS honored faculty from CU Denver and CU Anschutz for outstanding mentoring of student research. From 23 nominations, three recipients were picked based on the extent of their engagement with undergraduate and graduate students, their impact on research and creative activities, and the potential importance of their students’ work.

“It was really difficult—and humbling—to select the winners,” said Leo Bruederle, PhD, the director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities and one of the organizers of RaCAS.

One CU Denver professor and two professors at CU Anschutz received the honor from CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman during the closing ceremony.

RaCAS 2018

The 2018 Research and Creative Arts Symposium is scheduled for Friday, April 27. Details will be posted on the RaCAS website.

Dan Connors, PhD, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, earned the prize for mentoring CU Denver students. He also formed CU Denver’s team for the Intel-Cornell Cup competition, a national engineering and design competition sponsored by Cornell University and Intel. CU Denver won the competition in 2015.

Sheana Bull, PhD, MPH, earned the honor for mentoring a number of Colorado School of Public Health students and helping them prepare for academia, government or industry. Bull is a ColoradoSPH professor and directs the school’s mHealth Impact Laboratory. She is an expert in technology-based health promotion and research, and she provides students with collaborative research opportunities.

John Repine, MD, was honored for what he has done over four decades to help recruit, mentor and supervise CU medical students. Repine is the James J. Waring Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Surgery in SOM and the director of the Webb-Waring Center. He founded the annual Medical Student Research Forum and the Colorado Undergraduate Summer Research Program, which gives undergrads from around the country the chance to conduct research at CU Anschutz.

RaCAS 2018 is scheduled for Friday, April 27.