BARS Symposium Showcases Student-Mentored Research

May 11, 2017

Students, faculty and staff filled Richard Harris Terrace for the poster presentation portion of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Annual Research Symposium (BARS) on Wednesday, May 10. The presentations were a highlight of the event that showcases BMCC student research projects they have been conducting with faculty mentors.

The symposium also featured keynote speakers, student oral presentations, a poster competition and faculty/mentor reception that capped off the all-day event.

“We provide students with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and connect them with experienced research faculty,” says Helene Bach, BMCC Director of Research. “BMCC students are mentored one-on-one on the protocols of a science laboratory setting and in many cases, field research.”

BMCC faculty who work with research students have earned a Ph.D. and are published in peer-reviewed, high-impact academic journals in their respective fields. Many of BMCC’s research professors are recognized nationally and internationally for their groundbreaking work, according to Bach.

BARS and the college’s research program support the BMCC STEM pipeline, which recruits students into and retains them in STEM majors that lead to transfer opportunities and eventually, careers in their chosen fields.

“To have a research experience that lasts several semesters and culminates in an event such as the annual symposium is an integral component of the STEM pipeline and keeps these students engaged in their fields of interest,” Bach says. “Throughout the symposium, they also have the opportunity to show how they have taken complex material from the classroom and applied it to real world problems.”

Bringing research to the forefront

The symposium opened with welcoming remarks and presentations by two keynote speakers; Victoria Arango, Professor of Clinical Neurobiology at Columbia University, and Charles J. Vörösmarty, Professor of Civil Engineering at The City College of New York and Founding Director of both the Environmental Sciences Initiative and the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center.

Arango discussed her project, “From Colombia to Columbia; My Journey From the Frog to Human Brain, Leading Insights into the Biology of Suicide.” Vörösmarty discussed his project “Five Ah-ha Moments from the World of Global Water Science.”

BMCC student researchers gave oral presentations on their projects in Room N 451. The student presenters and projects included Science major Tesfamichael Demeke, “Chemically Modified Biomaterials for the Absorption of Penicillin G”; Social Sciences major Khilolahan Muzaffarova, “Four Types of Violence Present in Historical Paintings”; Science major Matthew Mangel, “Testing the Random Walk, Hypothesis in Financial Markets”; Mathematics major Karen Medlin, “The Perceptron: An introduction to Machine Learning”; Science major Jihad Gadsden, “The Effects of Forskolin on cultured SH-SY5Y Neuroblastoma Cells” and Social Science major Urjana Kica, “Capacity Limitations of Human Visual System Revealed with Response Priming.”

Rehearsal for a career

Two afternoon poster sessions showcased 78 multi-disciplinary research projects ranging from “Linear Modeling for Thermoplastic Materials” to “The Role of Community Colleges in Societal Change.”

Students stood in front of their poster displays, explaining their findings to faculty and judges who circulated the exhibits, applying criteria having to do with clarity, content and other factors. The top eight poster presenters were announced on May 12. The Office of Academic Affairs will award each of the winners funding for travel to a national conference where they will present their projects in a wider poster session.

Winners of the 2017 BARS Poster Presentation award include Caroline Eco, Rukayat Akinola, Saif Khan, Kronchai Praponpo and Edward Valdez, “Building an autonomous robot for the TYESA competition; Eudeirys Espinal, “Auto Loans: Heading to the Next Financial Crisis?”; Dominique Cortes and Francis Essel, “Identification of marine bacteria coexisting with sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus and Lytechinus williamsi”; Sheila Sarkar, “Molecular recognition of cell adhesion proteins: does water help the candida fungal pathogen colonize a host?”; Jihad Gadsden,”The effects of forskolin on cultured SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells”; Gabriela Kimanyen, Adam Rahman and Brenda Lagares, “Enzyme- linked immunosorbent assay for microbiology laboratory practices”; Tiffany Garcia and Reese Long, “Chyawamprash has a selective antiviral activity against Human Immunodeficiency Viruses” and Lionel Colon, Nicole Yoo and Walker Fanham, “Isolation and characterization of heavy metal tolerant bacteria from the Newtown Creek.”

BMCC Science Professor Kibrewossen Tesfagiorgis says the symposium serves as a kind of rehearsal for a future career in research.

“Presenting research in public helps students build confidence,” said Tesfagiorgis. “A student has to stand in front of his or her poster and tell you the story of their research. This helps them develop communication and presentation skills, both of which are important in academia and almost any career today.”

Among the presenters were Science major Gabriela Kimanyen, who along with co-researchers including nursing major Brenda Lagares were on hand to discuss their research project, “Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for microbiology laboratory practices.”

“We selected this project because we have seen that this technique is something every student interested in biological sciences should understand,” said Kimanyen. “It’s used in all the fields of pure and applied biology and is an important tool in diagnostics.”

Lagares, who will graduate from BMCC with an associate degree in Science, said BMCC has provided her with an excellent platform to conduct research.

Imagination captured by math

BMCC Mathematics major Karin Medlin gave an oral presentation on her research about perception and machine learning. She arrived at the topic, she says, after her BMCC math professors captured her imagination as well as her ability to think rationally, through math.

“Through that process, I met my mentor, Mathematics Professor David Allen, who taught me Linear Algebra, which has important implications in machine learning,” said Medlin who says perception is a powerful linear classifier.

“I get to investigate things that are intensely interesting to me, under the guidance of a professor, who help further my understanding in a unique way,” said Medlin.

Eventually, she hopes to become a Ph.D. candidate — and knows she’ll be required to present at conferences, as part of that journey. “Today’s symposium is like a precursor to those future conferences, as we all stand here explaining and defending our research,” she said.

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  • Annual Research Symposium highlights student-mentored research at BMCC
  • BMCC students, mentored by experienced faculty, conduct research in state-of-the-art labs
  • BMCC has programs in place to recruit and support students in STEM

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