Undergraduate Academic Affairs

May 28, 2024

Arts, humanities and sciences unite at 27th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium

Danielle Marie Holland

The 27th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium showcased a diverse array of more than 1,200 student presenters, including nearly 200 UW Honors Program students, representing an impressive spectrum of majors, research projects, fellowship and scholarship awardees. STEM-focused Washington Research Foundation Fellows and McNair Scholars presented their work alongside arts, humanities and social sciences students.

This year’s Symposium expanded beyond Mary Gates Hall into multiple venues throughout the campus. Students presented posters in Mary Gates Hall, the HUB, and Computer Science and Engineering building. Oral presentations filled Mary Gates Hall and the Computer Science and Engineering building while performance sessions lit up the stage in the Meany Hall Studio Theatre and the visual arts and design session created a buzz in the Allen Library Research Commons.

Science and society

Photo of Diego Loeb with his poster.

Diego Loeb shared his poster about changes in education and physics funding during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement through a collection of oral histories.Photo by David Ryder

Interdisciplinary thinking was evident at this year’s event. Diego Loeb, ‘25, Honors student, presented an intersectional historical analysis of 20th-century physics titled “Oral and Written Histories of 20th-Century American Physics in a Racialized Political Economy.” Loeb studied the changes in education and physics funding during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement through a collection of oral histories. “I was inspired to do this historical research because of the ongoing co-option of diversity to support militaristic interests, and felt a calling to speak out against US-backed wars,” said Loeb.

Incorporating a racial and class perspective into his analysis through the framework of Cedric Robinson’s “Racial Capitalism,” Loeb noted, “We cannot analyze the economy without also considering race, as the evolution of the economy was dependent on racism, whether in the form of slavery or the dispossession of Indigenous land.”

Loeb plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and continue his research integrating applied physics with the history of science. Loeb intends to use this work to address systemic racism in the physics community and create models for future history of science research.

Photo of Javon Shabaq Hickmon presenting his research poster

Computer science major and Honors student Javon Shabaq Hickmon couldn’t wait to get involved in research after learning how people were taking machine learning research and applying it to other fields and parts of society.Photo by Jayden Becles

Javon Hickmon, ‘24, computer science major and Honors student, presented “Multimodal Ensembling for Zero-Shot Image Classification.” Hickmon was first introduced to research through a computer science seminar and was hooked after learning how people were taking machine learning research and applying it to other fields and parts of society.

“I wanted to get involved as quickly as I could!” Hickmon said. His desire to impact society across various fields inspired his research on improving image classification accuracy. “The general public is finding it easier to understand the importance of larger language models like Chat GPT, due to their increasing use,” Hickmon stated.

The fact that technology has been developed and pushed out, and we kind of understand the sociological implications after the fact, is something I want to push back on with my research,” Hickmon said. His research explores providing a better education to the public and how to use models and correct context for deeper understanding. He believes this can help society make better use of machine learning technology, especially considering the increased potential for harm.

At the Symposium, guests not only attended poster sessions but observed oral presentations. One presenter was Brieana Smith, ‘24, and McNair Scholar majoring in sociology and anthropology. Smith’s interest in American religion and politics inspired her research presentation: “Exvangelicals in America: The Exit Patterns and Commonalities of Former Evangelicals.”  “I wanted to understand what motivates people to identify as exvangelical,” Smith said.

Photo of Brieana Smith presenting her research.

Brieana Smith examined interviews with individuals who left American Evangelicalism and, among other things, discovered that engaging in research is about embracing the unexpected.Photo by David Ryder

Smith’s project involved a qualitative analysis of 42 interviews with individuals who have left American Evangelicalism. It aims to comprehend the formation and growth of the exvangelical identity and community by exploring common narratives, cultural and personality traits and the replication of aspects from their former church. Her research also examines how American Evangelicalism’s unique culture may influence these communities.

Smith shared how engaging in research is not just about validating your hypotheses, but about embracing the unexpected, “You go into it with, ‘I have a hypothesis, but I’m pretty sure I’m right,’ and when the data doesn’t line up that can be frustrating.” She sees these moments as powerful learning opportunities to challenge presuppositions and build greater resilience. This process ultimately enriches your understanding and encourages deeper inquiries. Research is more than reinforcing existing beliefs; it’s about discovering new insights and fostering growth, “It forces you to ask better questions,” said Smith.

Another oral presentation was given by Mary Gates Scholar, Shima Shaporifar, ‘24, who is majoring in microbiology. Her presentation, “Fine Mapping of MUC5AC to Define a Functionally Active TB Meningitis Susceptibility Polymorphism,” involved finding specific changes in the DNA of a gene called MUC5AC that could make someone more prone to a severe form of tuberculosis (TB). Using molecular cloning and mutagenesis techniques to analyze the influence on gene expression, Shaporifar’s research used techniques to alter and study these tiny DNA changes and how they affect the activity of the gene.

Photo of Shima Shaporifar presenting her research.

Shima Shaporifar’s research aims to increase the ability to identify individuals more susceptible to tuberculosis, with the goal of improving life expectancy and health worldwide.Photo by Jayden Becles

Shaporifar corrected the misconception that TB is “not a significant concern, a relic of the past.” She stressed the importance of TB research in addressing global population health. “Especially in low and middle-income countries with limited resources, TB is a significant and complex problem. It often ranks among the top three causes of death in these countries, and it’s one of the top ten globally,” she stated. Shaporifar’s research aims to increase the ability to identify individuals more susceptible to TB, with the goal of improving life expectancy and health worldwide.

“This has been such a rewarding experience,” said Shaporifar of the research process and presentation. She plans to become a physician, and her research on global health issues has motivated her to work with immigrant populations with high TB prevalence. “I’m interested in interacting with these patients and using the knowledge I’ve gained from my TB research to help these communities.” Now that the Symposium is over, Shaporifar is eagerly anticipating commencement and a summer of MCAT preparation.


Photos from the 27th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium

These photos are a sampling of students’ projects and presentations. Photos by David Ryder.