2017-2018 Cohort

Our most recent cohort of McNair Scholars was inducted into the program on December 1, 2017. Welcome, scholars!

Guadalupe Aguilar
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Major: Forensic Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

Assessment of Titanium Dioxide as a Development Method for Latent Fingerprints on Dark Adhesive Surfaces
Research directed by Dr. Casie Parish Fisher, School of Natural Sciences

Fluorescent chemicals have been used to aluminate latent fingerprints on dark surfaces; however, the dyes bind to cyanoacrylate fuming, which is used as a pretreatment on nonporous surfaces. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) has been found to produce good contrast on dark surfaces during latent fingerprint processing by staining the fingerprint white without fuming. This project aims to combine basic yellow 40 and TiO2, to produce a white residue with possible fluorescence.  Different concentrations of TiO2 and basic yellow 40 were utilized to process black adhesives to determine if fingerprints could be viewed in ambient light and an alternate light source (ALS).

Christopher Azaldegui
Hometown: Cypress, Texas
Major: Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

Colorimetric sensor array for the characterization of the transcriptional coactivators Med25-AcID and CBP-KIX
Authors: Christopher Azaldegui (St. Edward's University, Department of Chemistry), Clinton J. Regan (Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan), Julie M. Garlick (University of Michigan, Department of Chemistry), Nicholas Foster (University of Michigan, Program in Chemical Biology), Raychelle M. Burks (St. Edward's University, Department of Chemistry), and Anna K. Mapp (University of Michigan, Department of Chemistry, Life Sciences Institute, Program in Chemical Biology)

Coactivator proteins are fundamental in the process of gene activation, forming protein-protein interactions (PPIs) with DNA-bound transcriptional activators. Thus, elucidating the structural and functional roles of coactivator-activator PPIs is key to understand gene expression. However, these interactions are particularly challenging to study due to their dynamic nature as well as their large, poorly-defined surface area. Furthermore, there features make rapid or high throughput analysis difficult. Presented here is the development of a colorimetric sensor array (CSA) for the detection and identification of coactivator proteins. This approach allows for a unique colorimetric fingerprint of proteins to be obtained based on interactions with a variety of dyes. To develop the array, a library of commercially-available dyes has been screened to construct a panel of molecules that exhibit unique spectroscopic profiles when exposed to two different coactivator domains, Med25-AcID and CBP-KIX. This array-based methodology will ultimately paint a more descriptive picture of the diverse structures the coactivators assume upon interacting with various transcriptional activators and small molecules.

Andrea Calderon
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Spring 2019

Does awareness to the risks associated with unethical product sourcing influence consumer purchase behavior?
Research directed by Dr. Peter Beck, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Consumers are interested in an organization’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, and have an affinity for industries that abstain from the conventions of production that lend to existential abuses of human rights and environmental degradation. And while consumer ideologies towards corporate social responsibility are well recorded, the impact of the awareness factor remains an enigma. The purpose of this study is to bridge this gap and examine whether awareness to the risks associated with unethical standards of production influences consumer purchase behavior. If there is a direct correlation, then industries have an obligation to release full disclosure of the PLC.

Clarissa De Leon
Hometown: La Villa, Texas
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Spring 2019

Mycorestoration of prairie landscapes invaded by Ligustrum japonicum
Research directed by Dr. Amy Concilio, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

This study will analyze the removal of the invasive species Ligustrum japonicum by treatment trials using native mycorrhizal fungi, while monitoring native plantings currently on-going at Blunn Creek, at Austin, Texas. By spreading beyond its ornamental use, Ligustrum japonicum interferes with the native biodiversity, and limits native plant growth by way of prolific regeneration. By using the applied treatments, the goal of this research is to eliminate costs of invasive species containment, as well as restore soil moisture, and monitor native species return.  The initial removal of  Ligustrum japonicum, followed by the applied treatments, are hypothesized to contribute to the rapid decomposition of plant litter and soil composition, further facilitating the native species recovery. Findings of this research should be of broad interest to invasive species managers in Central Texas and beyond.

Kaylee Delgado
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2020

Fighting Drug Resistance: Plant Extracts as Potential Sources of Antimicrobial Agents
Research directed by Dr. Trish Baynham, School of Natural Sciences

The World Health Organization projects that antibiotic resistant infections will impact more than 500,000 people worldwide and would cost the United States more than 2 billion dollars annually. In this study, over one thousand plant extracts obtained from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) were tested for antimicrobial activity using the Kirby Bauer Disk Diffusion method and 13 showed inhibition from 8 to 30 mm against Staphylococcus aureus. Their minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) ranged from 0.0078 to 2 mg/mL. These plant extracts may be further studied and developed to be used as an alternative or supplemental treatment for antibiotic resistant infections.

Jennifer Jaimes
Hometown: Kyle, Texas
Major: Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

Purification and characterization of the metalloenzyme BthA from Burkholderia thailandensis
Authors: Jennifer Jaimes, Andrew C. Weitz, Sean J. Elliott
Boston University, Department of Chemistry

In microorganisms, metal-containing proteins are essential to help protect the cell from reactive oxygen species (ROS). Of particular interest is the bacterial cytochrome c peroxidase superfamily, which are diheme enzymes upregulated in gram negative bacteria in response to oxidative stress, and are responsible for the reduction of hydrogen peroxide to water. The bCCP superfamily also includes MauG from Paracoccous denitrificans. While bCCPs specialize in the detoxification of hydrogen peroxide, MauG uses the oxidizing potential of hydrogen peroxide towards maturation of tryptophan tryptophylquininone (TTQ) via formation of a unique bis-Fe(IV) intermediate. Previous efforts have identified a new member of the bCCP superfamily from Burkholderia thailandensis known as BthA, a class A diheme enzyme that shares structural and functional commonalities with both bCCPs and MauG. For this research, the purification and characterization of BthA is discussed in an attempt to better understand its structural and functional features in comparison to bCCPs and MauG. Various spectroscopic and analytical assays were performed to probe the structural properties necessary for formation of the bis-Fe(IV) intermediate found in BthA. By performing spectrophotometric and electrochemical titrations with small molecules such as cyanide, the results suggest a change in the coordination environment of the heme centers. These experiments in turn improve our understanding of the coordination environment needed for bis-Fe(IV) formation.

Sydney Mitchell
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2019

The Role of Race and Physicality in Punitive Behavior
Research directed by Dr. Jessica Boyette-Davis, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

There is an overrepresentation of minorities incarcerated in the United States. For example, the population of African Americans and Hispanics is 30%, though they constitute 56% of the prison population. This study, therefore, sought to investigate the influence of race and physicality on sentencing given for a non-violent crime using a fake vignette that varied race (White, Black, or Hispanic) and physicality (slender or muscular). While these factors were not found to significantly impact sentencing, the study found that minority participants and men punished more harshly. Future studies should carefully evaluate participant demographics when evaluating issues of race.

Analise Roth-Rodriguez
Hometown: Weslaco, Texas
Major: Biochemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

Synthesis of Pyridinylimidazole-type Kinase Inhibitors
Research directed by Fabian Heider; Pierre Koch, PhD, University of Tuebingen

Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) and p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) are known to be involved in many prevalent diseases such as cancer, inflammatory diseases, neurological disorders amongst others. Therapeutic targets have been developed to inhibit the kinases, as they are thought to hyperphosphorylate the tau protein and cause aggregate formation, most notable in Alzheimer’s disease. Pyridinylimidazoles are ATP competitive kinase inhibitors that have many established routes to improve the flexibility and binding to multiple regions on the aforementioned target enzymes. The imidazole core is favorable due its solubility and ability to both accept and donate protons allowing versatility in functionality. Utilizing and optimizing established protocols involving transition metals and cross coupling reactions, a set of small molecule kinase inhibitors centered around the five-carbon imidazole ring were synthesized.

Bianca Salinas
Hometown: Edinburg, Texas
Major: Mathematics
Graduation: Spring 2019

Foldings on Generalized Bonding Graphs
Research directed by Dr. Mitch Phillipson, School of Natural Sciences

RNA is a single-stranded molecule whose function depends on how it folds onto itself. RNA sequences are comprised of 4 molecules: adenine (A), uracil (U), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). Biologically, the Watson-Crick base pairs are rules that dictate the bonding relations between these molecules. We consider a combinatorial abstraction of RNA, in which we generalize the Watson-Crick base pairs to a general graph and foldings are represented by non-crossing matchings. Using this model, we were able to categorize graphs that guarantee connected move graphs, which is how foldings transform into one another.

Alessandra Urbina
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Major: Global Studies
Graduation: Spring 2020

Evaluating the Ethicality of Federal Legislation Permitting Government Surveillance Practices in the United States
Research directed by Dr. Jooyoun Lee, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Ethical dilemmas in data science have recently become more prominent due to individuals’ growing concerns about data privacy. While there are a number of federal protections in the United States for citizens regarding individual rights to privacy in industries such as business or medicine, there are few that refer specifically to governmental use of private data. This research critically analyzes federal legislation established to protect citizens from potentially exploitative government use of private data by applying key data ethics principles to the legislation examined, allowing for conclusions to be made concerning the ethicality behind government usage of private data.

Ana Vielma
Hometown: Pharr, Texas
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2020

Social Networking Sites: Exploring Cultural Differences in Online Behavior
Research directed by Dr. Jeannetta Williams, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Logging on to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites has become a daily routine for connected individuals around the globe. The present study examines cultural differences in social networking behaviors, specifically, between Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities. Over 400 participants completed an online survey on Qualtrics by providing demographic information and specific data about their personal profiles on social networking platforms. Prior research regarding Hispanics’ social networking behaviors is extremely limited and these results contribute theoretical implications regarding cultural differences and social media consumption.


2016-2017 Cohort

These scholars were 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 2017.

Nubia Briones
Hometown: San Benito, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2018

Relationship Between Ethnic Identity & Ethnocultural Empathy: Gender Comparison
Research Directed by Dr. Moira Martin, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Ethnocultural empathy is a multifaceted concept that describes an individual's ability to understand and empathize with a person of a different ethnic or racial background than one's own. Research suggests gender and minority subscription markedly influence a person's ability and motivation to empathize; however, little is known about other important factors such as ethnic identity. Furthermore, no research has investigated the relationship between ethnic identity, gender and empathetic ability using advanced cognitive processes such as perspective taking. This study will investigate ethnocultural empathy and predictors of empathetic response among ethnically diverse populations. Findings and future research are discussed.

Sarahi Enriquez
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Major: Forensic Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

A Comparative Interpretation of DNA Profiles from Blood Samples Enhanced with Ninhydrin
Research directed by Dr. Casie Parish Fisher, School of Natural Sciences

STR profiles can be a critical piece of evidence in an investigation. For this reason extensive analysis of the profiles are carried out in order for them to be deemed reliable. An analysis of the peak heights of the allele calls is a less subjective method of assessing an STR profile.  DNA samples were obtained from two individuals and ran through two STR kits PowerPlex 16HS (standard) and PowerPlex 18D (direct amplification). The peak heights were analyzed according to dye for the two kits. This was done as part of a comparison study to evaluate the performances of the instruments.

Rachel Leader
Hometown: Glenn Dale, MD
Major: Sociology
Graduation: Spring 2019

The Role of Key Federal Education Policies on the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Research directed by Dr. Jennifer Jefferson, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence

The employment of punitive disciplinary strategies by primary and secondary schools in the United States resulted in the school-to-prison pipeline. This systematically disenfranchises students, funneling them into the incarceration system. Education policies configure the architecture of schooling, and may contribute to the pipeline. The purpose of this study is to understand the role of key education policies from the twentieth century had in the formation of the school-to-prison pipeline. Three key educational policies, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Education for All Handicapped Children, and the Guns Free Schools Zone Act, were selected from different decades from the past century based on significance in the formation of the school-to-prison pipeline. The researcher used a content analysis to review the impact of these policies, and dissect the relationship between the selected policies and the pipeline. The implications of this study are to assist policy makers and stakeholders in the education system in considering the impact of educational policies on incarceration.

Chantal Neutzler
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2019

Exploring the Effects of Increased Activity of Autophagy through Rapamycin Treatment on the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease in the Model Organism Caenorhabditis elegans
Research directed by Dr. Fidelma O’Leary, School of Natural Sciences

This study aims to characterize the indirect effects of rapamycin on two strains of the model organism, Caenorhabditis elegans, through the analysis of amyloid protein accumulation in Alzheimer’s disease. The addition of rapamycin is believed to increase the degradation and elimination activity of autophagy. Autophagy has been studied and is known to diminish effects of neurodegenerative diseases. As a result, the objective is to develop a strong methodology to quantify the amyloid beta in treatment groups and work toward potential research opportunities.

Anthony Sanchez
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Major: Biochemistry
Graduation: Spring 2019

Investigating the role of autophagy in axonal development in UNC-33 mutant C. elegans
Research directed by Dr. Andrea Holgado, School of Natural Sciences

Autophagy is a self-degradative mechanism used within cells to maintain homeostasis by recycling cellular waste and protein aggregates. The induction of autophagy has been implicated in regulating axonal development via CRMP-2/UNC-33/Dpysl2, a cytoskeletal remodeling protein in axons. To properly evaluate this relationship, we have induced autophagy in unc-33 mutants via nutrient deprivation and quantified autophagy flux. Transgenic nematodes possessing a dual fluorescently tagged (dFP) LGG-1 and a marker for D-type motor neurons in unc-33 mutant backgrounds were constructed to allow for this quantification via biochemical techniques. Additionally, microscopy is currently being used to visually evaluate the axonal development in the D-type motor neurons, providing a direct connection between development and autophagy. The data suggest that mutations in the unc-33 gene result in abnormal autophagy responses to starvation. Further studies are underway to determine the nature of UNC-33’s role in this process.