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Undergraduate Research Center

Featured Mentors

According to the Council on Undergraduate Research (, one of the key characteristics of excellence in undergraduate research is faculty commitment.  The success of the Undergraduate Research Experience and Creative Activity (URECA) grant program is dependent upon our faculty mentors who are highly committed to providing students with a hands-on research experience that includes instruction, guidance and direct modeling.  They support student learning in a manner that allows students to develop greater responsibility for his or her own work, develop and demonstrate valuable teamwork skills, and gain experience in critical inquiry. 

Below are some of our featured faculty mentors who continuously engage in mentored research through the URECA program.   

Mark Abolins, Ph.D.
URECA Projects
: Relationship between sinkhole flooding and geology in Grassy Cove, TN (Summer 2023); Snail Shell Cave Preserve, central Tennessee (Spring 2022), Structural controls on cave passage orientation (Spring 2022), Assessment of the Relation between Hydrology and the Appearance of Bons near Tuiliere, Switzerland (Spring 2022), Assessment of the relationship between hydrologic conditions and the appearance of springs on satellite images of Biere, Switzerland (Fall 2021), Accuracy Assessment of Digital Geologic Maps of Part of the Nashville Dome, Central Tennessee (Fall 2020), 

Research Interests: Caves, Karst, Remote Sensing, Spatial Analysis, Structural Geology and Tectonics

Erin Anfinson
Art and Design

URECA Projects: A Creative Exploration of the History of Women’s Anger (Spring 2020)

Research Interests: Encaustic painting, drawing, animation, environmentally sustainable art practices. 

M. Elizabeth Barnes, Ph. D. 
URECA Projects:
 A Comparison of Religious Cultural Competence in Evolution Education (ReCCEE) Online versus In-Person and its Effects on Student Outcomes , A Literature Review on Students’ Attitudes and Science Communication about Climate Change, Exploring Undergraduate Biology Students’ Attitudes and Science Communication about COVID19 and COVID19 Vaccines

Research InterestsBiology education research, science communication research, history and philosophy of science, evolution education, vaccine education, climate change education, inclusive teaching. 

Claudia Barnett

URECA Projects: Fully Realized Theatre: An Exploration of Dissociation and Its Sociopolitical American Catalyst (Spring 2023-2024); Spring Festival of New Plays (Spring 2023); How to Survive Adulthood with a Critical Fail: A New Play (Fall 2020) ; Toss, Turn, Catch: The Creation of a Play about Baton Twirling (Spring 2020)

Research Interests: Modern and contemporary drama and playwriting.

Kevin Bicker, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: Characterization of Antifungal Peptoid Dendrimers (Summer 2023); Therapeutic Characterization of Cyclic Peptoids Against Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida albicans (Spring 2023); Synthesis and evaluation of antifungal peptoid derivatives against Cryptococcus neoformans (Summer 2021); Synthesis and Characterization of the Therapeutic Potential of β-5 (Summer 2021); Synthesis and evaluation of antifungal peptoid derivatives against Cryptococcus neoformans (Fall 2020); Synthesis of Peptoid Coated Quantum Dots for Biomedical Applications (Summer 2020); Synthesis and MIC Testing of Antifungal Peptoids against Cryptococcus (Summer 2017); Characterizing the Therapeutic Potential of the Antifungal Peptoid AEC5 (Summer 2017); Synthesis and Screening of an Antimicrobial Oligomer Peptoid Combinatorial Library Against the Fungi Aspergillus, Candida, and Cryptococcus (Summer 2016); Synthesis and Screening of Antimicrobial Peptoid Combinatorial Libraries Against the Fungi Aspergillus, Candida, and Cryptococcus (Fall 2015)
Research Interests: Bioorganic chemistry, peptoids and peptides, solid-phase synthesis, assay development, drug development

Kathryn Blankenship, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Health and Human Performance
URECA Projects:
 The Comparison of Two Different World-Learning Strategies in Undergraduate University Students (Spring 2023); Word Learning in Undergraduate Students (Summer 2022); Vocabulary Learning in College Undergraduate Students (Summer/Fall 2022).The Effects of a Pandemic on Speech Therapy for Children (Fall 2021);The Effect of Language Sample Length as a Function of Varying Age Groups (Summer/Fall 2019-Spring 2020)

Research Interests: Understanding the factors that contribute to college students’ vocabulary abilities and enhacing understanding of the strategies that work best for college students to learn and retain new vocabulary, which will provide information to assist faculty in developing specific activities for vocabulary learning and retention within their courses. 

Jessica Gentry Carter, Ph.D.
URECA Projects:
 Exploring the prevalence of Bovine leukosis in the MTSU beef and dairy herds (Summer 2022);The Effects of a Powdered Post Dip Compared to a Liquid Post Dip on Teat End Conditions in correlation to Somatic Cell Count During the Winter (Spring 2022); Environmental temperature effects on milk production and daily activity of dairy cattle with respect to different breeds (Summer 2021); Environmental temperature effects on milk production and daily activity of dairy cattle with respect to different breeds (Spring 2021); Genetic improvement of Angus cows through genomic testing and EPDs (Spring 2020); A bi-seasonal evaluation of the relationship between bedding bacterial levels and somatic cell counts of milk on cows housed in a compost bedded pack barn (Spring 2020); Evaluation of breed, milk production, and udder characteristics on somatic cell count and udder pathogens in lactating Holstein and Jersey cows. (Spring 2019); Effectiveness of Zinc Based Footbath Solutions over Industry Standard Copper Bath (Fall 2017)
Research Interests: 
Beef cattle management, genetics and reproduction, dairy cow health and production, meat science factors that affect quality and tenderness

Emily Farris, Ph.D.
Center for Dyslexia
URECA Projects: 
Child-level reading variables and gist-based memory: An interactive model (Fall 2021); Childhood Reading Experiences and Adult Reading Performance (Spring 2021); The Examination of Neural Connectivity with Resting-State EEG (Summer 2019)
Research Interests: Enhancing understanding of reading difficulties with the ultimate goal of improving ability to identify individuals with reading difficulties and develop treatment programs tailored to the individual’s needs. 

Jessica Gaby
Mathmatical Science

URECA Projects: Influence of Diet on Body Odor and Social Judgements (Spring 2023); Can priming information about body odor affect perceptions of competence in a virtual interview? (Fall 2021)

Research Interests: My work is broadly based on the perception of smell and taste, with a specific focus on how human body odor impacts our social interactions. Current projects in the lab focus on the impact of diet on body odor, how perfumes impact perceptions of competence, and the impact of gender affirming hormone therapy on social odor perception. I am also interested in how individual differences impact sensory perception in the chemical senses, particularly in food, beverages, and fragrances.

Katie Goodwin
URECA Projects: 
Play Space: A New Play Development Initiative (Summer 2021)

Research Interests: Theatre Education, Stage and Production Management in the Performing Arts, New Play Development, Theatre as a documenting and processing the human experience, and Script Analysis

Scott Handy, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
Asymmetric Carbonyl Allylation by Allylic Acetates (Summer 2023); Detection of Mercury Ions Using an Aurone-based Small Molecular Fluorescent Probe (Spring 2022); Synthetic Organic Electrochemistry in Deep Eutectic Solvents (Summer 2021); Investigation of Pi-extended Aurones (Spring 2021); Further Exploration of Aurone System in Mercury Sensing (Fall 2020); Fluorescent Labels Based on the Aurone Scaffold: A Group Project (Team Project, Summer 2020); Dyeing with Deep Eutectic Solvents (Summer 2020); Exploration of Aurone System in Mercury Sensing (Summer 2020); Synthesis of Amino Aurones: An Exploration into Nitrogenous Functional Groups and Organometallic Catalysts (Fall 2019); Exploration of Aza-aurone, Thioaurone and Triazole Systems for Florescence in Bio-imaging (Fall 2019); Aside Aurones and Click Chemistry (Spring 2019); *N-Substituted Azaaurones: Synthesis, Photochemistry, and Biological Applications (Spring 2019); Dyeing to Know: A Natural Approach to Dyeing (Fall 2018) 
Research Interests: Organic Synthesis. Within this broad area, Dr. Handy has two areas under active investigation: deep eutectic solvents and the exploration of aurones as biologically active natural products and fluorophores.

Samuel Haruna, Ph.D.
URECA Projects:
 Influence of Land Management Practices and Population Density on Soil Hydraulic and Thermal Properties (Fall 2021); Defining Landscape Effects on the Spatial Variability of Hydraulic and Thermal Properties (Summer 2020); Effects of Aerated Irrigation Through Subsurface Drip Irrigation on Soil Thermal and Physical Properties (Team Project, Spring 2020); Effects of Landscape Position on Soil Hydraulic and Thermal Properties (Spring 2020)
Research Interests: Soil and Water Conservation; Soil Management Practices; Cover Crops; Soil Thermal Properties; Vadoze Zone Hydrology.

Alisa Hass, Ph.D.

URECA Projects: Don’t Sweat It: An Exploration of Effective Heat Risk Communication to Today’s Youth (Fall 2022)
Research Interests: Hazard climatology, Applied climatology, Hazard communication, Adaptation, mitigation, perceptions of, and interactions with meteorologic hazards, Extreme heat, Severe weather, Urban heat islands, Heat exposure.

James Houston

URECA Projects: Implicit Leadership Theory- Reaction Time Experiments (Fall 2022)

Research Interests: Neurocognitive Aging, Chiari Malformation Syndrome, Neural Electrophysiology, creativity, Quantitative Analysis Methods.

Ryan Seth Jones, Ph.D.
Educational Leadership
URECA Projects: 
The Impact of 3D Biology Lessons Within the Classroom (Spring 2019); Developing Procedures for Capturing Video and Audio of Small Group Interactions in Large Classroom Data Collection (Spring 2019); The effects of 3D biology lessons on student learning (Fall 2018)
Research Interests: Methods of supporting students to use mathematics and science to construct and revise knowledge, measuring the extent to which whole class discussions in middle grades classrooms support students, creating innovative technologies for teachers and students in middle grades math classes, developing new tools for assessing nuanced ways of thinking in middle grades students, and developing frameworks and curricular approaches for interdisciplinary STEM learning environments organized around data modeling practices.

Rebekka King, Ph.D.
Philosophy and Religious Studies
URECA Projects: 
(dis)Connected: A Series of Interviews on Society and Spirituality in the Modern World (Fall 2021); Non-Christian and Immigrant Christian Communities and the Programs Available to their Youth in Middle Tennessee (Spring 2019)
Research Interests: 
Global Christianity, North American religions, anthropology of religion, secularism, Bible and its reception, method and theory in the study of religion, ethnographic field methods, religion and the public sphere, teaching for civic engagement

David E. Nelson, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
Measuring changes in CITED1 expression in THP-1 and FLAM cells in response to IFN? treatment (Spring 2023); Measuring changes in CITED1 expression in macrophage and IFN?-responsive cells lines (Fall2022); Regulation of BCL2A1 and CCL2 expression by CITED1 in C. neoformans-infected macrophages (Spring 2022); Determining the effect of Cryptococcus neoformans infection on the phosphorylation and subcellular localization of CITED1 in macrophages (Fall 2021); Investigating the role of phospho-polyubiquitin in the recruitment of Parkin at the mitochondria (Fall 2020); Examining the Role of Parkin as a Regulator of Gene Expression During Periods of Induced Mitochondrial Depolarization Using BAM15 (Spring 2020); Fluorescent Taggine of Genomic Parkin in Human Osteosarcoma Cells Using CRI (Spring 2019); Examining the Effects of Inflammation on Parkin-Dependent Mitochondrial Quality Control in Parkinson’s Disease Using Cell Line Models of Neurons and Microglia (Spring 2019); Investigating the effects of glucoseconcentration on macrophage polarization using a tissue culture model of type II diabetes mellitus (Summer 2018); The Effect of Intracellular C. Neoformans on Expression of lrf4 (Fall 2017); Compare the effects of lipopolysaccharide and inerferon gamma on the expression (Fall 2017); Measurement of M2-Associated Protein Markers in Macrophages Infected with the Facultative Intracellular Pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans (Summer 2017); Effect of Cryptococcus neoformans on Macrophage Activation State (Fall 2016); Investigation of “memory”-like properties within the PINK1: Parkin Mitophagy Pathway (Fall 2016); Determining the Effects of Different Capsular GXM Species, Shed by the Pathogenic Yeast Cryptococcus neoformans, on Macrophage NF-κB Signaling and Proinflammatory Gene Expression (Summer 2016); Effect of Cryptococcus neoformans Capsular Polysaccharide on Production of TNFα and iNOS in Macrophages (Fall 2015)
Research Interests: Cell biology, cell signaling, mitochondria, mitophagy, host:pathogen interactions

Timothy N. Odegard, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
Visual-Spatial Processing Differences Among Those with Dyslexia and Those Without Dyslexia (Summer 2023); Child-level reading variables and gist-based memory: An interactive model (Fall 2021), A Systematic Review of the Comorbidity of ADHD and Dyslexia (Fall 2020), An EEG Investigation of Cognitive Resilience Factors in College Students (Fall 2019), Examining the Automaticity of Vowel Letter Speech-Sound Integration Using Mismatch Negativity (Fall 2019), The Examination of Neural Connectivity with Resting-State EEG (Summer 2019), Using ERP to Explore The Relationship Between Letter-Speech Sound Associations and Reading Ability (Summer 2019)

Research Interests: Risk and resilience factors that predict and impact outcomes for students in literacy. Interventions for students with reading disabilities. Screening and identification of students with reading disabilities. 

Kiel Ormerod

URECA Projects: Exploring the Behavioral Impacts of Neuronal, Huningtin Aggregates on Adult Drosophila Melanogaster (Summer 2023); The behavior of drosophila affected by Huntington’s Disease (Spring 2022)

Research Interests: The Ormerod lab seeks to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying cellular communication. We aim to understand how neuromodulatory substances alter cellular communication underlying the coordination and orchestration of physiological and behavioral processes. We explore foundational principles including: i) how signaling molecules like neuropeptides are encoded, sorted, trafficked, and undergo fusion at synapses; ii) how modulatory substances impact the efficacy of neuronal synapses; iii) excitation-contraction coupling mechanisms; iv) how changes in these processes manifest as changes in animal physiology and behavior; v) and how diseases and disorders impact physiology and behavior. 

Joshua Phillips, Ph.D.
Computer Science
URECA Projects:
 Applying Induced Set Attention to Transformers for Object Detection (Summer 2023); StrXL: Adapting Set Transformer to Model Arbitrary Length Sets (Fall 2022); Validating the 1GB1 folding pathway using Greedy-Proximal A (Summer 2022);High Performing Scientific Computing as a Service in the Cloud (Fall 2020); Dynamic Threshold for the Partially-Observable and Non-Observable Working Memory Toolkit (Fall 2019); N-Task Learning on Partially-Observable Image (Fall 2019); Automatic Feature Association and Dynamic Threshold for the Combined Observable and Non-observable Task Switching Model (Summer 2019); Enabling Multi-Task Learning in Partially- and Non-observable Environments with Keras (Summer 2019); Combining Models for Observable and Non-Observable Task Switching to Achieve Working Memory for Autonomous Systems (Spring 2019); Unitization and Catastrophic Interference in Reinforcement Learning (Spring 2019); Dimensional Attention Learning for Working Memory (Spring 2019); Unitization Applied to deep reinforcement learning (Fall 2018); Application of N-Task learning on Traditional Computer Vision Problems (Spring 2018); Dimensional Attention Learning for Working Memory (Fall 2017); Holographic Reduced Representation for Working Memory Concept, Automating Action Learning (Fall 2016); Calibration of the Holographic Working Memory Toolkit Using the Delayed Saccade Task (Fall 2016); Holographic Reduced Representations for Working Memory Concept Encoding (Spring 2016); Spectrum Analysis of HIV Clades (Fall 2015)
Research Interests: Molecular modeling and simulation, computational models of working memory, machine learning and neural networks

Corey Reece
Media Arts

URECA Projects: Half Dead Animated short film (Summer 2023)

Research Interests: Emerging animation & visual effects tools and techniques that cover character performance, technical rigging, 3D modeling, game development, motion graphics, effect simulations, and storytelling. (Summer 2023)

Bill Robertson, Ph.D.
Physics & Astronomy
URECA Projects
: Electrical ring resonator: Experiments and program development (Fall 2022); Electrical Analog of a Ring Resonator Structures and an Acoustic Demultiplexe (Fall 2021); Creating Acoustic Diode in Waveguides: Simulation and Experiment (Summer 2021); Acoustic Demultiplexing in Waveguide (Fall 2020); Constructing a novel experimental apparatus for use with acoustics research (Fall 2018); Modeling, Simulating, and Testing an Acoustic Lens (Summer 2018); Testing applications of the Photonic Crystal Based Biosensor (Fall 2017); Improvement of the Photonic Crystal Biosensor Design (Summer 2017)

Research Interests: Optics, acoustics, terahertz spectroscopy, computational science, and signal processing

Tiffany Rogers, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
EXAMINE THE EFFECT OF ACUTE OXYTOCIN ADMINISTRATION ON SOCIAL BEHAVIOR IN MALE AND FEMALE MICE (Spring 2023); EXAMINE THE EFFECT OF ACUTE OXYTOCIN ADMINISTRATION ON SOCIAL BEHAVIOR IN MALE AND FEMALE MICE (Fall 2022); Exploring the Role of Mesolimbic Nuclei in Social Motivation in Mice (Summer 2022); Changes in Social Motivation Following Oxytocin Receptor Inhibition (Fall 2021); The Effects of Intra-Cerebral Infusions of Oxytocin Agonist and Antagonist on Conditioned Place Preference (Summer 2021); Validation and Testing of a Social Motivation Task for Mice (Spring 2021); Evaluating Chronic Oxytocin Effects on Social Behaviors (Spring 2019)
Research Interests: Social and Affective Neuroscience

Elizabeth A. Smith, Ph.D.
Human Sciences
URECA Projects: 
Factors Affecting Older Adults’ Fruit and Vegetable Consumption (Spring 2020); Food Security, Coping and Support Strategies, and Diet Quality in College Students from a Moderate Sized University (Fall 2018); Mini Health and Nutrition Screen (Fall 2018)

Research Interests: Changing nutrition related health behaviors such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake, food insecurity, and preventing chronic disease through nutrition related health and wellness

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Criminal Justice Administration
URECA Projects: 
Why They Died: An expanded analytical examination of details surrounding the 999 officer-involved shooting deaths in 2019 in the United States (Spring 2021); Why They Died: An expanded analytical examination of details surrounding officer-involved shooting deaths in the United States (Fall 2020); Pirates With No Sea: The Rising Rate of Porch Package Theft (Spring 2018); The True Costs of Private Security. (Fall 2017)
Research Interests: Crime prevention, environmental criminology and metal theft, private security, police operations, administration and use of force

Hanna Terletska, Ph.D.
Physics and Astronomy
URECA Projects: Harnessing Disorder Effects in Superconductors (Fall 2021); Designing STEM Outreach Activities Manual for K-12 Students (Fall 2021); The Role of Electron-Electron Interactions on Metal-Insulator Transitions (Spring 2019)
Research Interests: Condensed matter theory; Computational many-body physics; Strongly correlated electrons; Quantum criticality; Disordered systems and localization; Metal-Insulator transitions; Superconductivity.

Jorge Vargas
Engineering Technology

URECA Projects: Implementation of an ideal automotive engineer workstation (Spring 2023); Investigating Parameter Estimation and tracking functions used in the Conformation of Autonomous Vehicle Radar Detections (Fall 2022)

Research Interests: RF/Microwave Engineering, Microelectronics, Radar Sensors for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Sensor Fusion, and Machine Learning. My industry background at IBM involves product and process development of RF/Microwave devices.

Donald Walker, Ph.D.

URECA Projects: Fungal-fungal interactions on the skin of reptiles (Summer 2023); Host skin chemistry drives fungal-fungal interactions in a host-mycobiome-pathogen system (Summer 2022); Mechanistic interactions between a host, microbiome, and fungal pathogen (Spring 2022); The endosymbiotic bacterial community of the causative agent of White Nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) of bats (Summer 2021); The endosymbiotic community of the causative agent of White Nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) of bats (Summer 2019); Endosymbiotic bacteria impact the function of an important wildlife pathogen of bats (Summer 2019)
Research Interests: Molecular evolution and molecular ecology of microorganisms with an emphasis on fungi. 

April Weissmiller, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
Investigating a New Oncogenic Pathway in Rhabdoid Cancers (Spring 2023); Exposing New Oncogenic Pathways in Malignant Rhabdoid Tumor (Spring 2023);  Investigating the Effect of Colchicine Inhibitors in Cancer (Spring 2023); Investigating the Significance of MYC in Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary Hypercalcemic Type (Fall 2022); Investigation of a two new protein targets in N-MYC amplified neuroblastoma (Fall 2022); Investigating the Significance of N-MYC-WDR5 Interaction in Neuroblastoma (Spring 2022), Probing the N-MYC-WDR5 interaction in neuroblastoma (Summer 2021), Investigating the Significance of SWI/SNF on MYC-dependent Transcription in Malignant Rhabdoid Tumor (Summer 2021), Investigating the Interaction of the Oncogene MYC with the pBAF Chromatin Remodeling Complex (Spring 2021)

Research Interests: Basic mechanisms of cancer, chromatin biology, regulation of gene expression, genomics.

William Yelverton, Ph.D.
URECA Projects:
 Classical Guitar Transcriptions and Recordings of Minecraft Volume Alpha (Fall 2021),Classical Guitar Transcriptions of Popular Songs & Soundtracks (Fall 2020); Classical Guitar Audio/Video Recording of Roland Dyens “Trios Saudades” (Fall 2020)
Research Interests: Guitar

Lu Xiong
Mathmatical Science

URECA Projects: Tree-based Machine Learning Algorithms for Analytics of Online Shopper’s Purchasing Intention (Spring 2023)
Research Interests: Actuarial Science, data analytics, computational science and actuarial software development.

Hongbo Zhang, Ph. D

Mechatronics Engineering

URECA Projects: Optical Farm: Use of Light to Increase Soybean Yield, 3D Imaging of the Weed Cell Structure for Effectiveness of UV Light Weed Removal

Research Interests: Dr. Hongbo Zhang’s research interests include robotics, computer vision, and 3D imaging.  He has secured a few external research grants related to robotics navigation, smart farming, and computer vision related smart object detection. 

Mengliang Zhang, Ph.D.
URECA Projects: 
The Exchange of Nanoparticles and Peptoids (Summer 2023); Investigation of Weathering Effect on Less-Volatile Component Profiles in Ignitable Liquids (Spring 2021); Novel Method for the Forensic Dye Analysis by Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (Spring 2020); Novel method for the detection and quantitation of organic ligands bonded to CdSe quantum dots using direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (Fall 2019); Fast Screening of Explosives by Ambient Ionization Mass Spectrometry (Spring and Summer 2019); Prolysis DART-MS Analysis of Ignitable Liquids for Forensic and Environmental Applications (Summer 2018); Analysis of local water samples for Algal Toxins: Saxitoxin and Microcytsin-LR (Summer 2018).

Research Interests: Analytical chemistry, forensics, material science, chemometrics

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Undergraduate Research Center
Jamie Burriss, Ph.D.
Program Manager
(615) 494-7669