More than 200 projects spotlighted at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Presentations on LGBT identity in the Jewish community and jaguar habitat preservation in Belize were among the more than 200 unique student projects in competition at the 17th annual Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS) April 11, hosted by the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL).

More than 200 student research projects were showcased at the 17th annual Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium. (Photo by Katharine Shilcutt)

More than 200 student research projects were showcased at the 17th annual Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium. (Photo by Katharine Shilcutt)

Since 2002, RURS has served as the premiere event for Rice undergrads to share research from across disciplines with their peers, professors and the Houston community at large. Mentors from both Rice and beyond work with students each year to complete and contextualize their research, while judges from within Rice and across Houston provide valuable feedback following the presentations. Providing transformative undergraduate education through faculty-mentored research, real-world problem-solving and team-based projects is one of the goals of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade (V2C2).

“The Center for Civic Leadership is proud to support undergraduate research as a highly rigorous form of experiential learning,” said Danika Burgess, the director of curriculum and fellowships for the CCL. “The student research presented at RURS represents students contributing to the mission of Rice University of advancing the thinking and innovation in a wide range of disciplines and on a wide range of challenges.”

This year, 271 students participated across several rounds that included three poster sessions at Tudor Fieldhouse and oral presentations inside Herring Hall. Two of the three poster sessions were competitive; the first session offered noncompetitive entrants feedback on early stage research that will be continued after the symposium — a change from years past.

“For the first time, we allowed students to enter as non-competitive entrants,” said Jones College senior Lanie Tubbs, who served as student co-chair for the event alongside Will Rice College junior Aziza Salako. “This category was created to welcome younger students and researchers at the very early stages of their work. I was thrilled that over 50 projects were entered as non-competitive because it signaled to me that we were reaching students who otherwise wouldn’t have participated and that these non-competitive entrants believed in the value of RURS as an event for exchange and feedback, not just a means for a prize.”

As part of Inquiry Week, students posted handwritten notes to thank their research mentors, which were displayed at RURS and this year's Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Session. (Photo by Katharine Shilcutt)

As part of Inquiry Week, students posted handwritten notes to thank their research mentors, which were displayed at RURS and this year’s Engineering Design Showcase. (Photo by Katharine Shilcutt)

But that wasn’t the only big change for RURS: For the first time, the symposium was folded into Inquiry Week, a campus-wide celebration of research, design and creative work hosted by the Office for Inquiry-Based Learning. “It has been exciting to see engagement with and support for undergraduate research really growing around campus and across offices, departments and more,” said Tubbs.

“Working as co-chair was definitely one of the most challenging yet rewarding events that I’ve organized here at Rice,” said Salako. “What made it all worth it was seeing how proud students were of their research, and how pleased judges were to see their passion and the work that is being contributed to their respective fields.”

A panel of 119 judges composed of faculty members, physicians and researchers from the university and local community selected three winning projects from each school on the basis of the quality of their research and the clarity of their presentations. The winners received plaques of recognition at an awards dinner following the symposium.

The 2018 RURS winners from each participating school are:

George R. Brown School of Engineering

  • William Cannon Lewis II, “Motion Planning for Structured Exploration in Robotic Reinforcement Learning,” mentored by Lydia Kavraki.
  • Nishant Verma, “A New Method of Miniaturized Wireless Power Transfer with Applications to Neuromodulation,” mentored by Jacob Robinson.
  • Team: Liseth Perez-Sanchez, Shravya Kakulamarri and Caroline Lee, “Design and Assessment of Low-Cost Ostomy Pouches Universally Compatible with Disposable Bags,” mentored by Meaghan Bond.

Wiess School of Natural Sciences

  • Lucrecia Aguilar, “Effects of Selective Logging on Jaguar (Panthera onca) Habitat Use in Belize: Implications for Conservation,” mentored by Amy Dunham.
  • Emily Ashkin, “A Novel Synergistic Approach for Enhancing T-cell Mediated Immunotherapy in the Treatment of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma,” mentored by Debora Silverman.
  • Aaron Shi, “Chondroprogenitors Cells Source for Cartilage Repair Using a Biomimetic 3-D Repair Model in Vitro,” mentored by Ennio Tasciotti.

School of Humanities

  • Miriam Shayeb, “A Regional Affliction: A Portrait of Dr. Joseph Jones in the New South,” mentored by John Mulligan.
  • Katherine Weber, “LGBT Inclusion and Identity in Jewish Community,” mentored by Natali Valdez.
  • Augusto de las Casas, “Communicative Goals in Cross-Cultural Health Communication,” mentored by John Mulligan.

School of Social Sciences

  • Laruen Yeom, Blind Touch: “Processing Tactile Stimuli Without Somatosensory Cortez and in the Absence of Conscious Awareness,” mentored by Simon Fischer-Baum.
  • Luis Edmundo, “Text Messages Can Promote Hepatitis C Screening in Primary Care: A Pilot Study,” mentored by Monisha Arya.
  • Elijah Li, “Age-Dependent Performance on ProPoint and AntiPoint Tasks,” mentored by Anne Sereno.

For more information on undergraduate research at Rice, visit the CCL’s website at

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.