LAS students focus on fall research

CATEGORIES: News, Students
A person's hand points toward a laptop. The image on the laptop screen depicts a police lineup.
Undergraduate research in LAS spans diverse fields. Here, students in the Department of Psychology discuss research related to suspect identification. (Chris Gannon/Iowa State University)

Fall semester is quickly fading, and students across Iowa State’s campus are hustling to complete projects and prep for finals. Thirteen undergraduate students in Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) are also wrapping up their ground-breaking work on faculty-sponsored research projects. These students are the latest recipients of the LAS Dean’s High Impact Award for Undergraduate Research.

Following is a look at some of the innovative research they completed this semester. A list of all fall 2023 recipients appears at the end of this article.

Stephanie Diaz (’25 psychology)
Mentored by Alison Phillips, associate professor in the Department of Psychology

Transitioning to college is a big change, and students may or may not bring their high school habits with them to college. That includes participation in athletics or physical activity. Psychology student Stephanie Diaz is conducting research on students’ athletic history to figure out what causes college students to continue or discontinue athletic activities. Determining why some people stay active in college and others don’t could help make a positive impact on the health of future students.

“This research aims to pave the way for improved initiatives that promote physical activity and well-being during the crucial transition to college life, benefiting not only collegiate athletes but also motivating high school non-athletes to adopt and maintain a healthy exercise routine as they enter college,” Diaz said.

Diaz said she has appreciated collaborating with Associate Professor Alison Phillips and drawing on her mentor’s extensive knowledge.

“Mentors play a significant role in helping us through various aspects of life and academic pursuits,” Diaz said. “It is truly enriching to have someone who shares my passion for psychology, as it has deepened my enthusiasm for the subject even further.”

Victoria Kyveryga (’24 chemical engineering, chemistry)
Mentored by Kirill Kovnir, professor in the Department of Chemistry

In the Kovnir Lab, Victoria Kyveryga is conducting fundamental research in the area of solid-state chemistry that could have future energy applications like photovoltaic, thermoelectric, or superconducting applications. She studies structure-property relationships in novel or understudied inorganic materials.

“Every starting element I work with is solid at room temperature and must be heated to very high temperatures to promote reactivity and formation of a new structure,” she said. “After confirming the resulting structures using X-ray diffraction techniques, I can measure their properties – for example, thermal conductivity or electrical resistivity.”

Kyveryga said the most interesting part of her research is figuring out how to optimize the growth of crystals.

“There are countless synthetic parameters that one can manipulate to change aspects of the crystal growth kinetics and thermodynamics,” she said. “Figuring out the exact combination of parameters that results in the biggest, cleanest crystals is such a fun challenge.”

Jillian Seweryn (’23 criminal justice)
Mentored by Shannon Harper, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice

Gathering information from written surveys and in-person interviews, Jillian Seweryn’s research investigates the survival tactics of women who have survived severe intimate partner violence. Whether the women fled their abuser by staying with a friend or called law enforcement for assistance, Seweryn’s work investigates the quality and helpfulness of their tactics.

Seweryn is thrilled to work alongside Shannon Harper, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, who taught one of her first criminal justice classes at Iowa State.

“Dr. Harper is such a kind person to work with. Being able to see that shine through in participant interviews and interactions with people at the research sites and with myself, especially, has been special to me,” Seweryn said. “Her passion for intimate partner survivor advocacy is clear in the effort she maintains through this project. I feel lucky to have witnessed that and work alongside her for the last year.”

Mia Silva (’24 psychology)
Mentored by Jason Chan, professor in the Department of Psychology

One day, Mia Silva wants to work in a field that combines psychology and law. Department of Psychology Professor Jason Chan’s Memory, Law, and Education Lab is giving Silva a great head start through research that examines memory’s important role in eyewitness testimony.

Silva’s research is focused on inconsistences in eyewitness testimony and memory education. She said she is also enjoying reviewing past research studies to gain new insights into what studies could be conducted in the future.

“I think what has intrigued me the most is the fact that our memories are not always accurate,” Silva said. “We may encounter things that can distort our memory of a past event.”

Remaining fall 2023 LAS Dean’s High Impact Award for Undergraduate Research recipients:

Eugene Bukenya (’24 biology)
Mentored by Kristen Johansen, professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology

Jacob Butler (’24 biology)
Mentored by Kristen Johansen, professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology

Alexandra Crowson (’24 public relations)
Mentored by David Peterson, Lucken Professor in Political Science

Nia DeBerry (’25 psychology)
Mentored by Carolyn Cutrona, Distinguished Professor of psychology

Hamelynn Harzman (’26 biology)
Mentored by Jeffrey Essner, professor of genetics, development, and cell biology

Seo Young Kim (’24 biology)
Mentored by Mohan Gupta, associate professor of genetics, development, and cell biology

Shea Sopher (’26 biology)
Mentored by Don Sakaguchi, Morrill Professor and director of the biology and genetics undergraduate program

Olivia Spader (’26 biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology)
Mentored by Olga Zabotina, professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology

Shandra Truong (’25 biology)
Mentored by Mohan Gupta, associate professor of genetics, development, and cell biology