University of South Florida


Tremendous turnout demonstrates USF’s growth in undergraduate research

Madison Dowdy, a doctoral student in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, spent 22 days in Malawi providing audiologic outreach services in remote areas alongside her mentor, Michelle Arnold, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. A recipient of the Trailblazers Research Scholarship, Dowdy shared her experience at the USF Sarasota-Manatee conference. | Photo by: Austin Lavoie

Tremendous turnout demonstrates USF’s growth in undergraduate research

By: Cassidy Delamarter, University Communications and Marketing

Nearly 600 undergraduate students across the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses showcased their ingenuity at the university’s OneUSF Undergraduate Research Conference. The 16% increase in student participation from the last year reflected the university’s commitment to fostering collaborative discovery and the pivotal role student researchers play in shaping a brighter future.

“The Undergraduate Research Conference is an exciting opportunity to celebrate the hard work and dedication of student researchers and their faculty mentors,” Provost Prasant Mohapatra said. “The conference provides a platform for undergraduate students to showcase their research and engage meaningful discussions with their peers and mentors. Research experiences support student success through hands on learning opportunities and contribute to our mission as an AAU institution."

  • Posters filled the Marshall Student Center Ballroom at the Tampa conference.

  • The Office of High Impact Practices and Undergraduate Research greeted students as they arrived.

  • Throughout the Marshall Student Center, students could be found helping their peers prepare for their research presentations. 

  • The OneUSF conference marked the second time Anna Alieva presented her research on Cold War propaganda. Now, looking ahead to the future, she is exploring ways to expand the research.

Hosted by the Office of High Impact Practices and Undergraduate Research, the conference served as a platform for students on each campus to present their research and engage in discussion with peers and mentors. The event highlighted USF’s unique effort to offer an abundance of research opportunity to students, representing almost every college.

Elliot Santaella Aguilar, who’s double majoring in psychology and biomedical sciences, fell in love with research his freshman year during an internship at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. Now in his third year at USF, Santaella Aguilar has dedicated his research to opioid misuse in adolescents and is about to submit a research paper to a premiere scientific journal. His research is focused on examining the relationship between different types of supervised activities, such as athletics, hobby clubs and volunteer organizations, and their protective effect against opioid use among juvenile delinquents –  an area that has yet to be tested in the field.

elliot presenting

Santaella Aguilar presenting his research at the Tampa campus conference | Photo by: Cassidy Delamarter

In addition to presenting at the Tampa campus’s conference, he plans to present this summer at the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, one of the most prestigious conferences in the field, according to his faculty mentor Micah Johnson, assistant professor in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

While Johnson says Santaella Aguilar is a superstar, Santaella Aguilar credits his passion and early success to the opportunities with Johnson that he found through USF’s Office of High Impact Practices and Undergraduate Research.

“I am happy that through USF HIPUR, I was able to find this opportunity and learn more about the research field that I am now very passionate about,” Santaella Aguilar said. “The research opportunities available to students at USF are extensive and diverse, making it an exciting environment for prospective students interested in research.”

“I used to think of research as something that typically happens in STEM-related fields, with physical data, gathering and examination. As a non-STEM major, I feel like this is an opportunity that makes research accessible to anyone regardless of their career interests or major and encourages students to make their hard work known.” – Anna Alieva, international studies major 

At the USF St. Petersburg conference, Victoria Drew, a first-year student majoring in biomedical sciences, shared that she has also grown to appreciate the process of research from this experience. As an aspiring anesthesiologist, Drew dedicated her project to examining the impact of various anesthetics and their roles in regulating cancer and preventing neurotoxicity in children and animals.

“Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to look at a patient’s genetic standing, their condition and demographics and create more patient-centered care using anesthetics that work best for them,” she said. Drew’s research won one of USF St. Petersburg’s awards for best project and poster.

The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus expanded the conference by welcoming graduate students. For Leah Burger, doctoral student and research assistant in the College of Education, the opportunity gave her a chance to share her work on expanding literacy and access to STEM knowledge among kids through engagement with virtual reality games – an effort that could lay the foundation for the next generation in STEM.

A recipient of the Trailblazers Research Scholarship, Burger said presenting her findings has provided hands-on experience with the research process.

“I am amazed and honored to have the freedom to see the vast depth of knowledge kids have about their interests and the way their interests can be incorporated into writing games,” she shared. “Research is knowledge creation, and that is not easy. But with this experience, I feel more confident going into my dissertation process."

For students interested in research, information on how to get started is available here, as well as free resources, such as workshops to learn citation management. Several research experiences for undergraduates in chemistry, engineering, geosciences and physics are available to provide students with practical hands-on experience, including one that allows students pursuing weather-related careers to learn about beach ecosystems and hurricane hunting.

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