2015-2106 Cohort

Our current cohort was inducted into the McNair Scholars Program in December 2016.  They participated in a research internship over the summer and presented their work at the McNair Research Symposium in July 2016.

Ana Avalos
Ana Avalos

Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Major: Religious and Theological Studies
Graduation: Spring 2017

Gazing Downwards: The Salvific and Problematic Nature of the Guadalupana Symbol
Research directed by Dr. Jennifer Veninga.

The symbol (narrative and physical image) of the Virgin of Guadalupe has continuously shaped and been shaped by the communities that use it. Interpretations of the symbol have been reshaped as a result from the feminist and Chicano movement. This leaves the newest generation of Mexican-Americans with a multiplicity of contradictory meanings.  A needed renovated interpretation of the symbol was created by weaving past interpretations and visual culture frameworks. The symbol of the Guadalupana in its novel interpretation was demonstrated to have a bridge-like function between the hisory and culture of the symbol and Mexican-American young women’s struggles.

Pablo Castro
Pablo Castro

Hometown: Humble, Texas
Majors: History and Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2018

The Moorish and Catholics: Analysis, Comparison and Constrast of Governing Iberia
Research directed by Dr. Christie Sample Wilson.

This research analyzes and evaluates the similarities and differences between the rule of Moorish and Catholic monarchs and links of influences between these two groups’ respective system of governing. This research relied on the analysis of secondary and primary sources that discuss the importance of Moorish influence on the people and politics of Spain. By analyzing these kinds of sources, an accurate display of said importance may be determined, while simultaneously supporting a broader, more general historical theme: the importance of influences that occurs when two or more people are exposed to each other for long periods of time.

Luana Chaires
Luana Chaires

Hometown: Harlingen, Texas
Majors: Political Science and English Writing and Rhetoric
Graduation: Spring 2017

An Analysis of the Impact of Redistricting Commissions on Turnout and Competition in Congressional Elections
Research directed by Dr. Nicholas Chad Long.

Evaluating potential voting demographics of congressional districts after each U.S. census, congressional districts appear to be an orchestrated product of political gerrymandering. Competitive elections are essential for a successful democracy.  The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact independent redistricting commissions might have on the voting demographics of a state’s congressional districts versus district drawn by state legislatures. To gather data, vote totals were collected from the seven states the decade before and after they switched to independent commissions. The results are patterns of fluctuating voter turnout rates and increased competition within political parties.

Melissa Chavarria
Melissa Chavarria

Hometown: San Juan, Texas
Majors: Political Science and Sociology
Graduation: Spring 2017

Undocumented Survivors of Domestic Violence: Does VAWA Help? Interactions of Attorneys/Nonprofit Staff with Survivors
Research directed by Dr. Rachael Neal.

Several barriers immigrant women face puts them at risk of domestic violence. The introduction of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allowed for the opportunity of undocumented women to end the violence by delinking themselves from their abusive spouse/intimate partners. However, VAWA still makes it difficult for attorneys/non-profit staff to serve undocumented survivors. This research explored whether VAWA helps attorneys and non-profit staff aid undocumented women. Data was gathered through individual interviews with six attorneys/nonprofit staff that work with VAWA. Preliminary findings show that VAWA is useful, but some improvements are needed.

Brianna Collins
Brianna Collins

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Major: Environmental Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2018

The Effect of Vacancy Defects on Ion Transfer in Carbon Nanotubes
Research directed by Dr. Tricia Shepherd.

Carbon nanotubes are analogues for many biological systems including protein channels through which confined ions and water flow. Experimentally, carbon nanotubes harbor inherent defects, such as vacancies, which impact computational predictions.  We performed large-scale molecular dynamics simulations with a coarse-grained molecular model to investigate the effect of defects on ion flow in order to better model these systems to understand the relationship between the percent of vacancies for various radii and the impact on water coordination, ion hydration, and diffusion coefficients. These results are useful in assessing the impact of structural purity of the nanotube and confinement on solution properties.

Emily Dalton
Emily Dalton

Hometown: Arlington, Texas
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Spring 2017

Assessing Assessments of Sustainability
Research directed by Dr. John Cotter.

Public outcry for information regarding sustainability has never been louder.  Yet, for every definition provided for sustainability, a different method of assessment is employed, which has resulted in skewed and incomparable reports. Data presented in these sustainability assessments typically proves incapable of gauging the effectiveness of sustainable practices instituted. The purpose of this case study was to assess existing assessments of sustainability to explore the definition and application of sustainability. Scale and category of the system reviewed was predicted to influence how sustainability reports are generated. Results provided by this study will encourage sustainability-oriented decision-making.

Marcela Kunkel
Marcela Kunkel

Hometown: Katy, Texas
Majors: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2017

The Effect of the “Thigh Gap” on the Ideal Female Waist-to-Hip Ratio
Research directed by Dr. Jessica Boyette-Davis.

The present study examines the interaction between waist-hip ratio (WHR) and thigh gap on perceptions of women’s attractiveness. The thigh gap has been a recent social phenomenon that has not appeared to have any attention from researchers. Using line drawings that varied in WHR and thigh gap, participants were asked to rate the overall attractiveness of different body shapes over an online survey. The present findings suggest that small or moderate thigh gap may enhance perceived WHR in Western cultures and presents differences in perceptions based on gender and view of images (front or back).

Amy Ontai
Amy Ontai

Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Major: Biology
Graduation: Fall 2016

Effects of Ashe Juniper-Dominated versus Oak-Deciduous-Dominated Areas on Soil Ecology in South Central Texas
Research directed by Dr. Teresa Bilinski.

This project sought to determine Ashe juniper’s effect on soil ecology. Soil samples were taken at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve from six plots characterized as oak-deciduous-dominated or Ashe juniper-dominated. Woody species were identified and measured to calculate biomass, and soil was analyzed for pH, amount of organic carbon and microbial carbon substrate utilization through EcoPlateTM testing. Paired t-tests were run on organic matter (OM) and pH, and a multivariate matrix was run on the EcoPlateTM data. No significant difference was found between pH or OM, (p=.602, p=.857), and different soil plots showed varied microbial communities.

Mayra Ortega
Mayra Ortega

Hometown: Fort Hancock, Texas
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2018

Depression and Aggression in Children: Parent Perspective
Research directed by Dr. Kelly E. Green.

Research suggests that correlates of childhood depression are different for boys and girls. This study explored relationships between parent ratings of childhood depression and aggression as well as gender differences. Participants were parents with children ages of 6-12 who completed an anonymous online survey. The sample (n=23) included 15 girls (65%) and 8 boys (35%) with a mean age of 9.65 (SD = 1.77). Analyses indicated a significant positive correlation between ratings of depression and aggression for the girls only. Analyses also indicated gender differences; parent ratings were higher for girls on subscales of depression, withdrawn depression, and externalizing problems.

Jaquelin Ortuno
Jaquelin Ortuno

Hometown: Houston, Texas
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Spring 2017

Efficient Mosquito Vector Abundance Comparison Between Developed and Protected Natural Areas
Research directed by Dr. Michael Wasserman.

Mosquitoes are of public health importance due to the numerous pathogens they carry. In Central Texas, the prime culprits of spreading viruses like West Nile, Zika, and Chikungunya are Aedes albopictus, Aedes aegypti, and Culex quinquefasciatus (DSHS). For this study BG Sentinel 2 traps were placed around St. Edward’s University campus and Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve to compare mosquito diversity. A great portion of mosquitoes captured was A. albopictus and C. quinquefasciatus, with slight variations. Generally, larger samples were captured on the university campus than the preserve. Further sampling is recommended with emphasis placed on gender and screening for disease.

Isavannah Reyes
Isavannah Reyes

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Major: Bioinformatics
Graduation: Spring 2017

Comparison of Differential Expression Employing 3’ Tag Counting
Research directed by Dr. Charles Hauser.

RNA degradation results in shortening of the RNA molecules. In RNASeq experiments that rely on mapping mRNAs to a reference genome, degradation results in underestimation of the number of molecules mapped to genes. Previously, RNA degradation was identified in samples used in RNASeq experiments, resulting in misreported differentially expressed genes (DEG’s). In this work, the method 3’ tag counting (3TC), which accounts for degradation by trimming gene models, was employed. It is expected that application of these methods will result in a more accurate representation of DEGs, and the number of false positives will decrease.

Gilbert Rivera
Gilbert Rivera

Hometown: Odessa, Texas
Major: Mathematics
Graduation: Fall 2016

Corona Discharge and Tropospheric Ozone Levels
Research directed by Dr. Paul Walters.

Ozone is most commonly associated with the ozone layer in the stratosphere; however, ozone is found in the troposphere as well. In the stratosphere, ozone is produced by dissociation of oxygen (O2) with high energy UV light, then subsequently reacting one of the freed O atoms with O2 in the presence of a third molecule to form ozone (O3). In the troposphere, ozone can form via reactions of hydrocarbons and NOx in the presence of sunlight. Ozone can also be formed from corona discharges. Corona discharges are caused when hydrometeors (i.e., ice crystals, ice pellets, or hailstones) approach each other. This leads to significant ionization of the air around the hydrometeors and causes charges to separate in the clouds, which may assist in the production of tropospheric ozone. On September 5, 2013, in Houston, balloon measurements showed high levels of ozone during the ascent as a storm was approaching and low levels during the descent less than two hours later. Our hypothesis is that on days similar to September 5, 2013, the high levels of ozone read by the ascent of the weather balloon, are a result of the corona discharge in the clouds before a storm. Lightning strikes themselves produce significant amounts of NOx, which in the absence of sunlight reacts with ozone, thereby reducing its concentration. We would like to know what is the frequency that we see events such as the one that happened on September 5, 2013, in Houston, TX, in Huntsville, AL? In addition, what implication does this have on the tropospheric ozone budget? We are currently carrying out data analysis of other ozonesonde measurements in order to find evidence that either supports or invalidates our hypothesis.

Lorena Sierra
Lorena Sierra

Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Major: Social Work
Graduation: Spring 2017

Students with Intellectual Disabilities and Their Access to a Postsecondary Education
Research directed by Dr. Anna Escamilla.

Individualized education programs (IEPs), a crucial component of a student’s academic career, are designed to meet individual needs, build a strong support system and determine goals for the student. IEPs also address transition to postsecondary education as students approach graduation. Postsecondary education options for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) provide a more inclusive environment, employment opportunities and take into account academic goals as well. A snowball sample comprised of professionals and caregivers of students with ID were interviewed about IEPs and postsecondary education options to determine the role IEPs play in bridging the gap between high school and postsecondary education.

Nickolaus Stiles
Nickolaus Stiles

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2018

The Role of Religion in Punitive Behavior
Research directed by Dr. Jessica Boyette-Davis.

A plethora of data shows an unprecedented trend toward religious unaffiliation in the United States. The
“Unaffiliated” is the fastest growing and second largest “religion” in the United States, and third largest worldwide. What role does religious identity play in social behavior? How does one’s religion influence how we behave toward others or vice versa? Mounting evidence suggests that being seen as irreligious leads to moral distrust, resulting in biased and prejudicial behavior toward the unfaithful. This study extends this research by investigating the role religious identity plays in how much punishment is given and received for a nonviolent offense.

Crisel Suarez
Crisel Suarez

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Major: Mathematics
Graduation: Spring 2017

SPARC-Viz
Research directed by Drs. Yaunlin Zhang and Michael Gelfond.

Wilson Whitener
Wilson Whitener

Hometown: Temple, Texas
Majors: Mathematics and Religious and Theological Studies
Graduation: Spring 2018

Psalms of Solomon: Solomonic Attribution within the Context of Second Temple Pseudepigrapha
Research directed by Dr. Kelley Coblentz-Bautch.

The pseudonymous psalm collection known as the Psalms of Solomon has long been regarded as an important Jewish text from the late Second Temple period. However, there exists a lack of scholarship concerning the significance of its association with Solomon. Drawing upon the work of Matthew Gordley, this paper explores the dynamics of Solomonic attribution within the context of Second Temple pseudepigrapha. In particular, this study will argue that the Psalms of Solomon is not purely associated with Solomon externally; the text internally alludes to Solomon through the employment of various literary techniques and themes found amongst other Solomonic literature.

Rebecca Zapata
Rebecca Zapata

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Major: Organizational Communication
Graduation: Spring 2018

Women of Color and Barriers in Organizational Leadership
Research directed by Dr. Teri Varner.

Women of color have progressed into leadership positions in various organizations, yet they remain underrepresented in top levels. The present study utilizes mixed methods to analyze factors that women of color have encountered within their organizations. Results from the online survey indicate a variety of barriers women of color experience in their respective jobs. Implications of this study for women of color, leadership, and interpretations are offered.