Ashley Jarkowski explains her study on the therapeutic effect of berry extracts on individuals suffering from oral cancer during Niagara University's Undergraduate Research Conference on April 29.

Korinne Thorne investigated the use of curcumin-mediated photodynamic therapy in the treatment of cervical cancer.

Shannon Chowaniec examined the impact of paid and unpaid YouTube brand endorsements on consumer purchase intentions.

And Freddie Liederbach developed a mobile app that employs usage data from a bike-sharing system in New York City to predict the availability of rentable bicycles in defined downstate locations.

Each of the students – along with 96 of their peers – presented their findings during Niagara University’s Undergraduate Research Conference, which was held April 29 in the Gallagher Center. The annual event showcases much of the scholarly work that takes place behind the scenes at Niagara, where faculty-guided undergraduate student research occurs at nearly twice the rate of that at other national institutions, according to National Survey for Student Engagement data.

Students are making critical connections when they can participate in research, noted Dr. Timothy Downs, Niagara’s provost and chief academic officer. At NU, the projects are conducted under the close, year-long tutelage of university professors.

“Surveys have shown that involving students in original research is a powerful, effective way to teach and learn. In addition to the practical application of the research itself, these experiences also enhance the students’ intellectual skills, such as inquiry and analysis, reading and understanding primary literature, communication, and teamwork,” Dr. Downs said. “Niagara University is a leader in extending this model to undergraduate students in all academic disciplines.”

Undergraduate Research Conference | 04.29.16

Working under the supervision of Dr. Yonghong Tong, assistant professor of computer information sciences, and Dr. Marlo Brown, associate professor and chair of mathematics, biking enthusiast Liederbach was thrilled to be able to participate in a project that amalgamated his recreational passion with his multidisciplinary academic studies. “CitiBike InfoVis” pulls and repurposes API data from the CitiBike sharing system in New York to create a mobile device-based visualization platform.

“I really enjoy biking and this was a great way for me to incorporate both of my majors into my research,” said Liederbach, who will graduate in May with degrees in math and CIS.

Similarly, Chowaniec, a self-proclaimed “YouTuber,” was interested in what influence, if any, students placed on whether or not products were promoted on the social media channel by paid or unpaid personalities. Her research determined that YouTube users affixed much greater credibility to individuals who weren’t receiving stipends for their endorsements.

Still, Chowaniec found, that hasn’t prevented online sensations like Shay Carl – he has 4.2 million subscribers and 2 billion video views – from forging lucrative careers in the paid product endorsement arena.

Thorne credited Dr. Robert Greene, professor and chair of biology, for helping her select a topic that piqued her interest and then guiding her as she carried out her research.

“I really wanted to find a natural way to help cancer patients,” Thorne said. “Dr. Greene is great at using his background and experience in cancer research – he’ll send us articles and encourage us to try new methods – to push us just enough while we’re developing these self-made projects, which really are so unique for college undergraduates.”

Thorne will pursue an MBA with a concentration in healthcare administration at Niagara University next year. While doing so, she’ll work with Dr. Mary McCourt, professor of chemistry, to devise soluble ways to package and deliver curcumin to cancer cells. She then plans to continue her studies at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The Undergraduate Research Conference is sponsored by Niagara University’s Honors Program. Other notable projects that were presented Friday included Ashley Jarkowski’s study on the therapeutic effect of berry extracts on individuals suffering from oral cancer, Melissa Wright’s test of the visual acuity among different breeds of goldfish, and Steven Randall’s examination of how the possession of nuclear weapons impacts conflict.

“What students do in college, how fully and effectively engaged they are in the collegiate experience, is a great predictor of success,” said Dr. Michael Barnwell, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Honors Program. “By providing these opportunities for students to collaborate with our wonderful professors on high-level research, we are putting them in a great position to succeed.”

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