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Aimee Martin of Oracle, left, with freshmen researchers Josiane Sanon, Hadeel Aws, Bianca Perilla, and Jasmin Chhim.
June 19, 2017

Showcase affirms UMass Boston’s status as STEM research hub


  • Boston

More than 250 students collaborating on 90-plus research projects presented their findings recently at a public showcase that confirmed UMass Boston’s standing as a hub for high-impact research in STEM disciplines.

The third annual College of Science and Mathematics Showcase, sponsored by Sanofi Genzyme and Oracle, featured research projects at the intersection of science, medicine, education, and the social sciences. First-year freshmen and seasoned doctoral students alike were on hand in the atrium of the Integrated Sciences Complex to discuss the results of their long-term investigations.

Freshmen biology majors Jasmin Chhim, Bianca Perilla, and Josiane Sanon, and biochemistry major Hadeel Aws teamed up to examine the prevalence of “code-switching” among students in the ISC. Code-switching is the practice of changing one’s speech, diction, and vocabulary depending on the audience. The students interviewed their peers in the ISC, adjusting their manner of speech and gauging their subjects’ reactions, then attempted to isolate the reasons underlying the decision to code-switch.

“Obviously if you’re going to be talking to one of your lab mates or lab partners, you’re going to be talking with a little bit more slang,” Chhim explained. “But if you were presenting your lab report or a lab project you were working on, you’d be more structural, more professional, when it’s a large group of people.”

Indeed, the group’s research found that one of a code-switcher’s primary goals is to “amplify or express a point”—a skill necessary when defending research.

Many of the student projects highlighted the college's Sanofi Genzyme and Oracle Fellowships and the Freshman Success Community Program.

Doctoral candidate Gwendolyn Cramer, who presented her research on pancreatic cancer, said she benefited from CSM’s partnership with the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, a longtime supporter of STEM education at UMass Boston. As a Sanofi fellow this spring, Cramer received funding that allowed her to focus on her research without the pressures of a teaching assistantship. That extra time will pay off when Cramer defends her thesis later this month.

“I probably had a lot more time to sit and think about all the projects I’m doing and do more research on them and come up with better experiments,” she said.

David Aldous, associate vice president at Sanofi, said the company supports UMass Boston because of a desire to unlock the potential of STEM learning for students.

“That’s what we want is more people being in STEM and excited about STEM because they’re seeing what their work can do for the community,” said Aldous, a member of the leadership team at Sanofi's research and development hub in Boston. “But I think if we can connect people early to see ‘This is the societal benefit I can have, I can make a difference in people’s lives’—that’s the payback.”

Student researchers at this year’s presentation showed a willingness to tackle some of science’s most vexing problems. Freshmen Marcello Orlando and Patrick Shaw examined genetic testing for Huntington’s Disease, a rare, fatal neurological disorder that is poorly understood by the medical community. Their group examined the current state of testing with the goal of improving early detection. There is no cure for Huntington’s, but many people at risk for developing it express a wish to know their diagnosis as soon as possible.

“Closer in the future, we would want to be able to recognize this disorder very easily and very early. And in the far future, there’s so many ways we could try to find a cure and combat it,” Orlando said.

UMass Boston’s STEM education efforts are also supported by Oracle. Aimee Martin represented Oracle at the event and spoke to several students about their research.

“I think it’s pretty amazing to see the fruits of what Oracle is donating,” she said. “Oracle is big into giving back to the community, and it’s great to see it happen.”