Rising Researcher

Making Their Mark

UMass Amherst undergraduates demonstrate leadership and know-how in science and entrepreneurship
  • The five selected Rising Researcher undergraduates for Fall 2014.

The Rising Researcher student acknowledgement program is designed to raise the profile of our most promising undergraduate students and to publicly acknowledge their excellent work.

There are a growing number of exceptional undergraduate students who are choosing to make their mark early in life. UMass Amherst Rising Researchers Allison Masley, Shayna Nolan, Curtis Owen, D'Andre Quinerly, and Amanda Rutherford show us how it's done.

Allison Masley '15, a double major in Anthropology and Political Science, is both an excellent student and an outstanding hands-on researcher. During the spring and summer of 2013 Allison worked as a research assistant for Anthropology Professor Lynnette Sievert studying hot flashes among new mothers. Masley initiated the partnership by asking Sievert if she had any openings for undergraduate researchers. When Sievert mentioned the research project investigating if menopausal-like hot flashes were associated with a drop in estrogen levels of mothers post-partum Allison jumped in whole-heartedly.

"She carried out her own library research as questions arose, and she demonstrated terrific self-motivation and responsibility. She nudged me to move forward when things slowed down," says Sievert.

Masley helped to analyze preliminary data for the study, of which two abstracts were submitted for conference presentations. Sievert says both journal abstracts were accepted, presented, and well received at meetings of the Human Biology Association and the North American Menopause Society. Allison contributed advice and edits at every stage in the process of writing the paper, which was published in Early View in the journal Menopause and will appear in print in March. Allison’s name is on all published material.

“I have been teaching undergraduates for 26 years and Allison is, without a doubt, the best undergraduate research assistant I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” says Sievert.

​Shayna Nolan '16 is a junior majoring in Chemical Engineering who is applying her quantitative training toward medical and biological applications. Working under Professor Shelly Peyton, Nolan started as a lab assistant for one of Peyton’s graduate students studying how cell migration on biomaterial surfaces might relate to what happens in patients during breast cancer metastasis. Because breast cancer is prevalent in her family, Nolan quickly proved herself to be a motivated student. After six months of working in Peyton's lab, she earned the opportunity to continue her work as a National Science Foundation REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) student, where she was able to transition her work to an independent project.

“This is remarkable for a young student working in this area, since she needs to have expertise in biomaterial design, cell culture, as well as microscopy – quite a feat for a junior undergraduate,” says Peyton.

Over the summer, Nolan generated enough interesting data to apply for a presentation to the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, and was accepted. Few undergraduates are given this opportunity.

Curtis Owen '15 is a management major in the Isenberg School of Management. He is described as a multi-faceted student with an especially distinguished record in entrepreneurship and applied research.   

Curtis is the director of product and market development for connectivity company NeuroCrunch and also played an integral role in developing MOMBA, which gives university residents immediate access to products such as over the counter medicines, phone chargers, and laundry detergents, through a vending machine. 

Last academic year Curtis showcased his aptitude for assisting others using his entrepreneurial knowledge by helping several owners of businesses that had burned down in Hadley, Massachusetts. Curtis wrote business plans that allowed the business owners to approach banks for refinancing. 

“I was impressed by Curtis’s undaunted confidence--his belief that he could arrange meetings with the owners, learn about their needs, and construct business plans that would stand up to the scrutiny of bankers,” says  history professor and Dean of Commonwealth Honors College Daniel Gordon.

As a key member of a third company, Curtis was a winner of the UMass Innovation Challenge. The company, Fetch Rewards, seeks to re-invent grocery shopping by providing shoppers with a mobile application that allows them to scan items, pay for them, and obtain coupon benefits.

Now a senior, Curtis is doing an honors thesis on entrepreneurial leadership under the supervision of Professor Anurag Sharma where he will continue to use his research skills and entrepreneurial ability to perform outstanding service for others.  

​D'Andre Quinerly '15 is a senior Public Heath major who has conducted research through both lab and literary methods. Quinerly pursued his honors thesis in the lab of Laura Vandenberg, Environmental Health Sciences.  D'Andre started working in the lab as a summer scholar through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. He spent this time reading literature on endocrine disrupters and the mammary gland, writing his thesis proposal, and learning to use equipment in the laboratory. In just a few short months, D’Andre produced data that will be included in two different publications. His work will be the first to show that developmental exposures to Bisphenol S (BPS), a common plasticizing agent, disrupt mammary gland development at puberty and in adulthood. His findings published in “Plastic Bodies in a Plastic World: Multi-Disciplinary Approaches to Study Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals” and his work on a Commonwealth Honors Thesis project, titled “Examining the Effects of Bisphenol S on the Female Mouse Mammary Gland,” could have a big impact on a number of scientific fields, including chemical risk assessments, since BPS has become widely used as a BPA substitute says Vandenberg.

"D’Andre is thoughtful, honest, intellectually curious, open-minded, and focused. In a short period of time, he has become a dedicated researcher and has made significant contributions to my laboratory’s research program,” says Vandenberg.

Amanda Rutherford '15 is a senior Biology major and Spanish minor in the Commonwealth Honors College. As a freshman, she was selected to participate in the campus's First Year Research Experience, which is offered to a limited number of outstanding incoming students to foster their interest in scientific research. Taking what she learned in her First Year Experience, Rutherford joined the Food Science lab of Professor Yeonhwa Park, where she is now conducting an honors thesis on the determination of insecticide exposures on the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In the spring of 2013, she presented her research findings at the Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference. In addition, she was a co-author for a presentation during the Experimental Biology Meeting 2014, in which an abstract was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. "We are preparing another abstract this month based on findings from her research for the next Experimental Biology Meeting in Boston, March 28-April 1, 2015.

"I would like to emphasize that this conference is an international conference with 5-6 scientific organizations and over 20,000 participants, but only a very small number of undergraduate students participate. Having Amanda as a co-author is representative of her outstanding accomplishments for an undergraduate student to contribute to an active research area," notes Park. “She has a great interest in science and I have no doubt that she is well on her way to be a great independent researcher in near future,” says Park.

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