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Scholars Present Undergraduate Research

Published: Friday, 21 Apr 2017
Author: The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program
Department: Office of the Dean

The annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) was held on April 7, 2017. Several MasterCard Foundation Scholars had the opportunity to present at the forum which provides Michigan State undergraduate students with an opportunity to showcase their scholarship and creative activity. The students' research was varied, with presentations on topics such as neuroscience, poetry, and non-governmental organizations.

Hepsiba Chepng'eno presented research on the role non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play in the integration of small holder farmers into agribusiness supply chains in Sub-Saharan Africa.  As a MasterCard Foundation Scholar from Kenya, Hepsiba is especially invested in her research. After graduating with a degree in Agribusiness Management, she plans to return to the continent and help address some of the constraints that small holder famers face, and provide access to new supply and demand opportunities. Judges at the event voted Hepsiba's research as the first place winner for the Business-Section 1 poster category.

Neuroscience major, Derrick Dwamena, combined his love of literary arts and neuroscience for his research. Derrick's mentor, Professor Natalie Philips, helped him set up a research project in which he investigated the neural structures and cognitive process involved in reading poetry. Derrick recognized the benefits of being able to work in a lab, saying, "As a college freshman, the opportunity to work for a lab so closely related to my major and career choice was invaluable and a strong backbone to have." Dwamena collaborated with two other undergraduate students on the project, and the group won first place in the Neuroscience-Section 1 poster category.

Balindile Motsa, who presented two research projects, used the opportunity to work towards her future goals by merging two of her interests; plant science and medical research.

  • Studying the effects of plant density, community composition and pollinator identity, Mostsa explored how density and competition for pollinators affects pollination success. The findings will be used to inform efforts to establish plant populations in ecological restorations.
  • The second presentation studied terpenoid biosynthesis in two unique plants. When isolated, the compounds can be used as antimalarial or anticancer drugs, but they are naturally produced in very small quantities and extraction is not yet economically feasible. Motsa hopes the research can be used in the engineering of plant pathways to either increase the production of terpenoids or to express valuable terpenoids that can be used for industrial purposes.

After Motsa's research experience with mentor Susan Magnoli she realized the importance of having strong mentors, "I believe that I am able to take on other research opportunities because she taught me the process of research and the need to always look in between the lines."

William Yakah investigated the role of dietary fatty acids in child growth and brain development of children in northern Ghana. Results from 307 children (2 to 6 years old) showed that omega-3 fatty acids were positively associated with performance on cognitive function. The sophomore neuroscience Scholar expressed gratitude to Dr. Jenifer Fenton, Associate Professor at the Department of Human Nutrition and Food Science, for her invaluable mentorship and the opportunity to be part of this research. Yakah and Fenton are now investigating common foods in northern Ghana that contain high levels of omega-3 that could be incorporated into children's diets to improve their growth and brain development.

Finally, Scholar Panshe Mayangamutse presented research that she conducted at MSU's Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. According to Mayangamutse, the project opened her eyes to a new field of science. "I'm an electrical engineering major, but this research was so exciting! I am now thinking about adding a physics minor." The Scholar's research was centered on using Constant Fraction Discriminator (CFD) algorithms to provide subclock-tick precision. The findings are employable in analyzing nuclear charge-exchange reactions in radioactive beams where high-resolution timing is important. Mayangamutse added, "I am a more well-rounded student because of this opportunity. I have no doubt I'll be able to use knowledge I've gained on this project in my professional career."

The MasterCard Foundation Scholars and their undergraduate colleagues gained valuable experience presenting their research, answering questions about their work from audience members and guests, and received constructive feedback from judges. Balindale Motsa summarized the value of the event, "I hope that one day I can use the skills that I have learned as an undergraduate researcher to become an active player in improving access to medication back in Africa." Abstracts of all of the participants' research can be found here

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