Undergraduate Academic Project Grants

Initiated by then-Chancellor John Bardo in 1996, the Undergraduate Academic Projects Grant Program funds a variety of student projects. Administered by the Office of Research Administration, the Academic Project Grants Program awards students and faculty with materials, supplies, and travel support to conduct research and creative work during the academic year. Students and faculty construct proposals, which are reviewed by a formal faculty committee made up of representatives from across the colleges.  

Student and faculty proposals were submitted for competitive review. We wish to acknowledge by project title and student name the awardees for the 2023 – 2024 academic year. Congratulations to these students and their faculty sponsors.  Many thanks to the Academic Project Grant committee for their work, and to Suzanne Melton, the research programs coordinator for this program in the Office of Research Administration.  Members of the committee include:   


Meghan Gangel
College of Education and Allied Professions 

Chuck Thomas
Hunter Library 



Frankie West
College of Arts and Sciences 

Bora Karayaka
College of Engineering and Technology 

Kim Hall, chair
College of Health and Human Sciences 

Steve Ha
College of Business 

Leo Lei
College of Fine and Performing Arts 

Suzanne Melton
The Office of Research Administration


College of Arts & Sciences

Anthropology and Sociology

Testing Decomposition Scoring Methods at FOREST in Cullowhee, North Carolina
Student Awardee: Leilah Melerine
Faculty Sponsors: Rebecca George and Nicholas Passalacqua

Examining the Dental Morphology of Donors within the JAW Collection
Student Awardee: Caroline Burks
Faculty Sponsor: Rebecca George


Optimizing protoplast transformation and imaging for BiFC protocol
Student Awardee: Jadyn Hutsell
Faculty Sponsor: Amanda Storm

Investigation of Gelatin’s Impact on Autophagy in Human Embryonic Kidney Cells
Student Awardee: Leah Ondersma
Faculty Sponsor: Heather Coan

Investigation of solubility of F508del and N103K CTFR mutations.
Student Awardee: Andrea Sibu
Faculty Sponsor: Robert Youker

Investigation of Stabilizing Mutations in N1303K-CTFR Protein
Student Awardee: Andrea Holguin
Faculty Sponsor: Robert Youker

Surveying for Perkinsea, an infectious protist parasite in Western North Carolina Wood Frogs (Rana [Lithobates] sylvatica)
Student Awardees: Robert Carlin, Celelan Garriott, and Deven Hall
Faculty Sponsor: Joseph Pechmann

Chemistry and Physics

Characterization of a Repressor/Anti-Repressor Protein Interaction Using a Forward Genetics Mutagenesis Screen.
Student Awardees: Hailey Roach and James Morris
Faculty Sponsor: Maria Gainey

Diffusion of Limonene into Paraffin Wax Using Infrared Spectroscopy
Student Awardee: Taylor Gregory
Additional Author: Morgan Higgins
Faculty Sponsors: Scott Huffman

Synthesis, Characterization, and Evaluation of Biodegradable Zwitterionic Poly(carboxybetaine) Polymer Hydrogels for Protein Delivery.
Student Awardee: Mage Naef
Faculty Sponsor: Rangika Hikkaduwa Koralege

Study of Novel Proteins Containing an Immunity Repressor Domain
Student Awardee: Brianna Reyes Soto
Faculty Sponsor: Jamie Wallen

Investigation of Strand-Displacement Activity of the Larva64 Prim-Pol Enzyme
Student Awardee: Paiton Motley
Faculty Sponsor: Jamie Wallen

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Molecules Bound to Nanocrystal Surfaces
Student Awardee: Kirsten Hahn
Faculty Sponsor: Curtis Beimborn

Scale-up synthesis & characterization of protein-polymer nanoparticles for drug delivery applications.
Student Awardee: Kira Yost
Faculty Sponsor: Rangika Hikkaduwa Koralege

Criminology & Criminal Justice

An Analysis of the Executive Branch in State Supreme Court Elections
Student Awardee: Simon Gugerli
Faculty Sponsor: Andrew Hansen

North Carolina Criminal Justice Association Student Funding
Student Awardees: McKinzie Gaylor, Taylor Godwin, Marissa Czap, Joseph Smart, and Daniel Farquharson
Faculty Sponsor: Jamie Vaske

Geosciences and Natural Resources

Tree growth response to Rhododendron removal and prescribed fire in the southern Appalachians
Student Awardee: Devon Barbour
Faculty Sponsor: Yang Yang

Comparative Study of Two Mica Mine Adjacent Wetland Ecosystems — Cullowhee, NC/Leicester, NC
Student Awardee: Lacie Larsen
Faculty Sponsor: Mark Lord

Iron Speciation in the Carolina Terrane
Student Awardee: Shawn Bast
Faculty Sponsor: Shane Schoepfer

Bulk Geochemistry Analysis of Troctolites from Corundum Knob (Buck Creek Formation, Chunky Gal Mountain, NC)
Student Awardees: Gillian Barker, Dulaney Boonsue, Leah Bowers, Joseph Brundrett, Mei Cornell, Kayleigh Dugger, Lane Hobson, Agnes Koury, Lacie Larson, Damian Murphy, Sophie Platt, Aiden Posadas, Alex Rehrig, Kaley Shoffner, Brooke Starnes, and Blake Whitney
Faculty Sponsor: Amy Fagan

Paleontology Trip to Texas
Student Awardee: Corielle Jennings
Faculty Sponsor: Frank Forcino

Poster Presentation at Southeastern Geological Society of America: Geochemical and Petrologic Examination of Corundum Knob Lithologies
Student Awardees: Leah Bowers, Mei Cornell, Kayleigh Dugger, Agnes Koury, Lacie Larsen, Sophia Platt, Aiden Posadas, and Alex Rehrig
Faculty Sponsor: Amy Fagan

A Survey of Aerial and Aquatic Arthropod Diversity Between Reference and Degraded Fluvial Wetlands in the Little Tennessee River Floodplain
Student Awardee: Heather Pratt
Faculty Sponsor: Keith Gibbs

A Preliminary Assessment of Wildlife Use of mid- to high-elevation Rhododendron Thickets in western North Carolina
Student Awardees: Lyndsey Connor, Ben Smith, Elli Jones, Alex Farmer, Dawn Hall, and Turner Stolarz
Faculty Sponsor: Aimee Rockhill


“Undergraduate Research in Black Studies at Western Carolina University”
Student Awardees: Asha Asha, Jacob Lockhart, Khadija Davis, and Kaley Buckman
Faculty Sponsor: David Walton

College of Education & Allied Professions


The Effect of Pubertal Timing and Sexual Education on Late Adolescent Well-Being
Student Awardee: Lyndsey Conway
Faculty Sponsor: Meghan Gangel

The Impact of Weight Stigma on Pelvic Floor Health in Emerging Adult Females
Student Awardee: Krysta Perez
Faculty Sponsor: Meghan Gangel

Problematic Internet Usage and Disconnected College Students
Student Awardee: Memphis Griggs
Faculty Sponsor: Annie Wilson

College of Engineering & Technology

School of Engineering & Technology

DNA construction for Improved Biological Drug Production
Student Awardees: Alex Judson, Alissa Kloppenborg, and Jesse Nichols
Faculty Sponsors: Scott Rowe and Amanda Storm

Performance Comparison of Small-Scale Wind Turbines Composed of Recycled and Low-Cost Materials
Student Awardee: Sydney Kilgus-Vesely
Faculty Sponsor: Timm Muth

Evaluation of an inexpensive cloud sensor
Student Awardees: Valerie Castro and Ryan D’Amore
Faculty Sponsor: Scott Rowe

Design and Develop Neurological Recovery Device for Stroke Survivors
Student Awardees: Catherine Johnson, Joaquin Rodriquez, and Josh Khamphengphet
Faculty Sponsor: Yang Zhang

Kimmel School of Construction Management

Effects of Heat Capacity of Paving Concrete on Longevity and Performance of Jointed Plain Concrete Pavements
Student Awardee: Tasfia Tafannum
Faculty Sponsor: Gauhar Sabih

College of Fine and Performing Arts

School of Art and Design

Rush Hour
Student Awardee: Matthew Cain
Faculty Sponsor: Morgan Kennedy

Mimic Gown
Student Awardee: Kiara Leary
Faculty Sponsor: Morgan Kennedy

School of Music

Emma O’Halloran Percussion Ensemble Commission
Student Awardees: Connor Butler, Zack Heller, Trinity Leger, Daniel Noonan, JammyLee Saintons, and Russell Wallace
Faculty Sponsor: Adam Groh

WCU Horn Choir to perform at the Southeast Horn Workshop (UGA, Athens, GA, February 23-25, 2024)
Student Awardees: Ellie Barber, Hannah Russell, Gavin Franklyn, Max Foltz, Cecilia Wright, Alexis Whitley, Megan Kinstler, Ashton Giles, Aidan Sevigny, Isabella Vejarano, Shayla Sills, Bruno Dippolito, and Katie Sammons
Faculty Sponsor: Travis Bennett

Student Saxophone Quartet Performance at the International Saxophone Symposium
Student Awardees: Sterling Clauter, Sean Ohmann, Danny Strother, and Gabriel Szcinski
Faculty Sponsor: Ian Jeffress

School of Stage and Screen

The A1 Conference
Student Awardee: Kasen Walker
Faculty Sponsor: Peter Savage

Natural Shocks
Student Awardee: Fiona Marty
Faculty Sponsor: Matte O’Brien

Selcouth: A BFA Senior Thesis Capstone Performance
Student Awardee: Brian Bush
Additional Author(s): Katherine Mullis, Jillian Hall, Grace Hayes, Colby Johnson
Faculty Sponsor: Matte O’Brien

We Animals
Student Awardee: Keegan Dustin
Faculty Sponsor: Steve Kniss

Whee, The Cats: A Season with the Catamounts
Student Awardee: Aidan McGinnis
Faculty Sponsor: Steve Kniss

College of Health Sciences

School of Health Sciences

Evaluating Wildfire-Induced Air Quality Risks for Migrant Agricultural Workers in Western North Carolina
Student Awardees: Elizabeth Nesbitt 
Additional Author: Katie Beam
Faculty Sponsor: Sara Duncan