Undergraduate Researchers Show Their Work at UNCG Expo

Posted on June 18, 2024

A woman walks past a line of poster boards displays in UNCG's Cone Ballroom.

At the close of every spring semester at UNC Greensboro, students get the chance to share the outcomes of their scholarly activity at the undergraduate and graduate research and creativity expos. They display their results on posters in UNCG’s Cone Ballroom, through performances and art exhibitions, or in oral presentations. 

We spoke with some of the winners from the 2024 Carolyn & Norwood Thomas Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo. They describe it as an incredible chance to hone their presentation skills and give back to UNCG. 

Modern Myths

Rising fourth-year classical studies major Ethan Divon blended his favorite hobbies – mythology and video games – into his research. With mentorship from Dr. Aisha Dad in classical studies, Divon is studying the ways that Greek and Roman mythology gets worked into games, part of what is known in academia as “classical reception.” 

“I can spend 30 minutes talking to Aisha about the ‘Hades 2’ game’s technical tests. And we not only talk about how it’s a cool game, but how it’s receiving this literature.” 

He hopes his findings will help make video games an effective teaching tool for educators. “Seeing how those classical ideas have been imagined and reimagined, accurately or inaccurately, is super fascinating and can tell you a lot about a culture.” 

Divon, who is part of the Ashby Residential College with the Lloyd International Honors College (LIHC), had taken his research to several conferences, most recently the Southern Regional Honors Conference. He says he felt his poster in UNCG’s Undergraduate Expo last year was not as good as it could be, not helped by his field revolving around long epics comprised of text. For his oral presentation this year, he made sure he had appealing images in his slides. He was excited to learn that he took first place for the humanities category. 

“Conveying research through speech allows you a little bit more flexibility than a paper,” he says. “When talking, I try to keep my presentation a little bit lighter, a little more casual.” 

While his prior experience in band, theatre, and choir prepared him to speak in front of a crowd, Divon says it was somewhat stressful to speak in front of peers and professors, so he practiced in front of friends. “It’s a strategy I use for my papers as well. Before I write, I usually try and talk to a friend in a conspiracy theory-style rant. It helps me get all my thoughts in order.”

Class Notes 

Abby Hughes ’24 and Tyler Rae Durkee ’24 share a love of music but play different musical instruments. That became the basis of their research to help music teachers teach students how to play instruments they themselves are not used to playing. Working with Dr. Rebecca MacLeod, professor of music education, they won first place in the Expo’s performing arts category for a presentation specifically about how colleges can prepare educators to teach string instruments.

In 2023, they spoke at the National Conference for the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). They had to shorten that presentation to fit the time limit at UNCG’s Expo.

“It was tough, taking what we already condensed down into 45 minutes, then condensing that further to 12 minutes,” says Hughes. “And at the ASTA conference, we were talking to other music teachers and string players. For URSCO, our audience did not necessarily have that background. So, we met to figure out how to make sure it made sense and was still appealing to them.”

With MacLeod as their mentor, Hughes says they brought three unique perspectives to craft effective tools for music educators. “Rebecca helped us brainstorm ideas and asked us questions that challenged us to go even further with our research.”

The Expo was during their last semester before graduating with degrees in music education. Hughes and Durkee were also completing student teaching. Hughes said their friendship and a shared love of the research topic helped them get ready. “Almost every week, we would meet so that we would get more comfortable with what we were saying,” she says. “It got to the point that we could easily go back and forth, taking turns speaking. We figured out a rhythm.”

Having shared their presentation at a national conference, Hughes was happy for the chance to bring it home to UNCG.

“We were excited to find out that we won, and that people liked our presentation,” says Hughes. “One of our goals is spreading awareness of the string teacher shortage and giving an option to all music education students. To have that message spread further was really cool for both of us.”

Mind the Gaps 

Rising third-year student Kendal Walker majors in mathematics and statistics, but her research on the post-pandemic data of STEM participation was deemed the best presentation for the category for business, education, social and behavioral sciences.

The Honors College student studied undergraduate students’ participation in STEM classes. Her data initially showed few disparities between racial and gender groups, but only when all STEM-related fields were averaged together. She delved deeper and identified the fields where gaps were apparent: physics, engineering, and computer science. 

At the Expo, Walker took great care in making her poster an attention grabber. She picked one angle of her multi-faceted research that would stand out in a room full of posters. “It makes me feel like a salesperson,” she says. “I can grab people walking by, if they even glance at my poster for a second. I like to pull them in.” 

While not in the oral presentation lineup, Walker still had to be comfortable with speaking. “Some people come look at the poster, read it, and then ask questions. I like that format better than an oral presentation. You can make it more interactive.” 

Walker sets a high standard for herself as an undergraduate, saying, “The project I’m doing is something that I could be doing for my career. I treat it as I would treat my job.” 

She’s grateful for the help of all her department faculty, particularly her mentor, Economics Professor Dora Gicheva. “She always had time to give me feedback at any stage of this process,” says Walker. “She was available for once-a-week meetings. And I could email her and receive feedback within a day or two.” 

More support came from Dr. Julie Edmunds, the director of the Early College Research Center at the SERVE Center, a UNCG initiative to promote positive outcomes in education that was working with the same post-pandemic data. Edmunds met regularly with Walker and gave advice on presenting her own findings. 

Finally, Walker appreciated the chance to step back from her own research and see the other UNCG students and faculty presentations at the Expo. She says, “I got to talk to other professors and make connections with professors that I might not normally talk to.”

UNCG congratulates all winners of the Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo, listed here: 

Business, Education, Social and Behavioral Sciences 
1st Place
Kendal Walker, Mathematics & Statistics
STEM Enrollment Gaps by Race/Ethnicity and Gender before and after the COVID Pandemic: Evidence from North Carolina Public Colleges and Universities

2nd Place (tied)
Nathan Dang, Public Health Education
Chronic Health Disparities in the U.S. Hmong Population: A National Profile with Implications for a Community-Driven Needs Assessment in NC

Kimberly Cang, Biology; and Tiffany Tan, Psychology
Conversations About Discrimination Among Asian American Parents and Adolescents

1st Place
Ethan Divon, Classical Studies
Expanding Classics: Comparative World Mythology and its Reception in Gaming

2nd Place
Sofie Muska, English
Scions of the Solar Sea

3rd Place
Matthew Henderson, Anthropology
Zooarchaeological Considerations at Crusader-Period Caesarea Maritima

(STEM) Mathematics, Life and Physical Sciences
1st Place
Sarah Hudson, Biology
Exposure to Microplastics and Nanoplastics (MNPLs) Triggered Inflammatory Response in Human Aortic Endothelial Cells (HAEC)

2nd Place
Sarah Korb, Biochemistry
Enantioselective Effects of Co-Catalysts on Tetrahydropyran Protected Alcohols

3rd Place
Yeancarlos Jalouf-Zogbi, Biology; and Grant Koher, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Māmaki Ethanol Extracts Inhibit TNF-Α-Induced Endothelial Proinflammatory Gene Expression in Human Aortic Endothelial Cells

Performing Arts
1st Place
Tyler Rae Durkee, Music Education; and Abigail Hughes, Music Education
Everybody Can Play Strings: Including Non-String Primaries in Your Program

Visual Arts Exhibition
1st Place
Annabelle Kizer, Art
The Children of Nightmare

2nd Place
Sophie Shahan, Theatre
Exploring History and Theatrical Mobility

3rd Place
Sarah Smith, Art; and Amiah Jones, Art
Murals and Large-Scale Painting: Bridging Creative Research and Community Development

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications 
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications

UNCG student Leo Ivey Dr. Bryan McLean look at the skeleton of a bird on a screen.

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