Undergraduate Academic Affairs

June 11, 2018

UW undergrad presents her research to senators in the “other Washington”

Jasmine Graham

Jasmine Graham (bioengineering, ’18) represented the UW and state of Washington at this year’s Posters on the Hill.  Joining 46 other undergraduate researchers from around the country, Graham, along with her peers, presented their research to congress and advocated for continued funding of undergraduate research. Jasmine takes us through her preparation and whirlwind two days in the nation’s capital.


Jasmine Graham presents her research to congress members at Posters on the Hill.

Getting ready to present my research to congress

Jasmine Graham discusses the importance of undergraduate research with Senator Maria Cantwell.

Jasmine Graham discusses the importance of undergraduate research with Senator Maria Cantwell.

February-April: I’m accepted to Posters on the Hill — a conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) — where I’ll be the sole representative from the University of Washington and Washington state. Delighted, I tell my mentors and parents about this amazing opportunity and register for the conference. With the help of a travel agent, I book my UW-sponsored flights and hotel.

The conference’s purpose is to show that undergraduate research is important and should continue to be funded. I tune in to CUR’s advocacy webinar to learn how to discuss the impact of undergraduate research with congress members and their staff. I plan my elevator pitch to include a mention of the NSF funding I received for my capstone and the ways research helped me define and pursue my career goals. I practice my poster and pitch for with mentor, who helps me to frame my research developing a dental acidity indicator. The conference’s attendees include government staff from a variety of non-science backgrounds, so I take out technical jargon. To establish common ground between my research and their dental experiences, I will discuss how my research aims to help prevent cavities by identifying at-risk teeth earlier and allowing targeted preventive treatment.

Arriving in Washington D.C.

April 17: I arrive in Washington D.C. at 7 a.m. and check into my hotel early to take a nap. At the CUR office, I meet the other student presenters and connect with Amber, a presenter from Mississippi. As we walk through the National Museum of American History, we chat about our shared goals of pursuing graduate school and becoming leaders in our field. We agree it’s inspiring to be at a conference with so many like-minded young scientists. After more sight-seeing, the evening formally wraps up with an orientation dinner at the American Chemical Society, who is a sponsor of Posters on the Hill. After appreciating the lit-up monuments on the National Mall, I head to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow’s meetings.

Meeting Washington’s state senators

Jasmine Graham shared her research with Senator Patty Murray.

Jasmine Graham shared her research with Senator Patty Murray.

April 18: My morning starts with coffee … and senators! Both Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell hold weekly coffees with their constituents — a.k.a. voters. To sign up, you just need to email the senators’ offices in advance. The coffees are informal discussions in which the senator and their staff chat with each visitor, answer questions and give updates on Senate debates.

Senator Patty Murray is a ranking member of the education committee and wrote the Higher Education Act, which sets standards for the accessibility, affordability and accountability of colleges. Several faculty members from Washington colleges are at Senator Murray’s coffee to advocate for undergraduate research funding. I jump into the discussion to share how undergraduate research helped make me competitive for grad school and solidified my career goals. The faculty agree and add that their students also learn skills not taught in classrooms, prepare for their careers and build support networks through research. Senator Murray comments that it’s great to hear about students benefiting from undergraduate research, and these stories will give her fuel for when she supports research funding. Senator Cantwell’s coffee proceeds similarly, with the senator responding to people’s concerns in a lively and insightful manner.

Getting the V.I.P. treatment

April 18: One perk of visiting your senator’s office is touring the U.S. Capitol with an intern, which includes riding an underground train to the Capitol building, giving you a behind-the-scenes peek of capitol history. Another perk is a Senate Gallery ticket, where I watch the senators popping into the chamber to vote for the NASA administrator nominee. I get a sense of the incredible amount of American history in the past and in the making.

I am paired with the UW’s Federal Relations Associate McKinzie Strait, who’s based in Washington D.C. Before this conference, I didn’t know that the UW has full-time staff in D.C., and am thankful that we do. McKinzie helped schedule all the day’s meetings, accompanies me to my one-on-one talks with US representatives’ staff, and easily navigates our way through the maze of representatives’ offices. I reiterate the importance of funding undergraduate research to Rep. Rick Larsen’s legislative assistant and Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s congressional fellow. I especially connect with Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s congressional fellow over our research experiences. Her additional roles as a research mentor and STEM outreach leader are special to me, since I want to take on the same roles in my career.

Advocating to congress for undergraduate research

April 18: It is finally time to see all 47 students and their posters at the evening CUR reception. Though I don’t get any technical questions from the congressional and funding agency staff attending, I do appreciate the enthusiasm they show about my research after I share my poster’s story with them. With a variety of compelling projects in areas from biotech to the social sciences, the poster session fosters continued support on Capitol Hill for undergraduate research. Undergraduate research has been such an impactful part of my time at UW, and I’m proud to advocate for future undergraduates to have similar experiences.

April 19: I catch my flights back to Seattle and get right back into classes and lab work. The photos taken at the senators’ constituent coffees arrive by email, and I send thank you notes to the congressional offices.

Jasmine Graham visits the National Museum of American History.

Jasmine Graham visits the National Museum of American History.

About Jasmine Y. Graham
An experienced undergraduate researcher, Jasmine Graham published a first-author paper on her dental research in “Lasers in Dentistry” earlier this year. In addition to her experience at Posters on the Hill, she has presented at conferences in San Francisco and Seattle. Her exceptional promise as a researcher has earned her a Levinson Emerging Scholars Award, a Mary Gates Research Award and a National Science Foundation award for a summer research experience for undergraduates. In addition to her lab work, Graham is an active member of the UW community, serving as a Dawg Daze leader welcoming first-year students to campus, outreach leader for the UW’s Biomedical Engineering Society and an Undergraduate Research Leader for the UW Undergraduate Research ProgramNext fall, she will start a Ph.D. program in bioengineering at U.C. Berkeley.


Learn more about Undergraduate Research at the UW.

The Undergraduate Research Program facilitates research experiences for undergraduates with UW faculty members across the disciplines. URP maintains a listing of current UW research opportunities and national programs. The Undergraduate Research Program works to ensure that all UW students have access to undergraduate research opportunities by creating initiatives that expand research opportunities; providing a public forum for students to present their work; and helping faculty integrate undergraduates into the knowledge-making process.


Related: UAA Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Research, Janice DeCosmo, named president of national Council on Undergraduate Research.