The inaugural “CALS Grad Slam” was the first opportunity for graduate students across the college’s 10 schools and departments to showcase their research and get feedback from a panel of expert faculty judges.
The idea for the CALS focused Grad Slam came from a graduate student with the idea that a college competition would allow graduate students to “practice their 3 minute presentations, gain feedback from the judges, and feel better prepared for the next round,” explained Kirsten Limesand, who helped get the program off the ground and now serves as the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate College at UArizona.
Both the CALS and campus-wide Grad Slam competitions help students learn how to distill and present their often complex or technical research in a short and concise way – in three minutes or less. These important skills require students “to decide the most critical information of their research project to convey” and communicate it effectively to a diverse audience, according to Limesand.
In line with the university’s role as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the CALS Grad Slam was open to both English and Spanish presentations. We caught up with the winners to hear more about their projects and what their future plans have in store:
1st Place – English
Richard Park is a microbiology major who enjoys working with microbes of different shapes and colors when grown on agar media. Park’s graduate project deals with the “efficacy of ozone against foodborne pathogens in non-traditional sources of irrigation water.” He is specifically interested in how to treat reclaimed, reverse osmosis reject, return flow, and rainwater catchment waters that have been inoculated with Salmonella enterica.
“The ultimate goal is finding alternative water sources that could be used for food production to mitigate the decreasing water supply,” Park said.
With his passion for microbiology, Park hopes to find a postdoctoral position in a laboratory to further his knowledge.
1st Place – Spanish
Andrea Rios is in her third year of her doctoral degree in the Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. Her dissertation focuses on the physiological impact of heat stress on ruminant species.
“When cattle are exposed to high ambient temperatures it is called heat stress,” which can trigger a cascade of physiological events, “beginning with an increase in respiratory rate and a decrease in dry matter intake, resulting in impaired skeletal muscle growth,” Rios explained, who studied the utilization of growth promoters to mitigate the adverse effects of heat stress.
Rios wants to continue to study ways to mitigate heat stress’s negative impact on small ruminants. She expects to have a role in academia, where she can contribute to the fields of education and research specializing in physiological stress in farm animals.
“As a Latino woman in science, I also look forward to the opportunity to contribute to helping minorities interested in a career in science see a path for their dreams,” Rios said.
Jennifer Lindsey Mydosh
2nd Place – English
Jennifer Mydosh is studying microbiology, specifically the bacteria in food that can make us sick.
“The bacteria Campylobacter jejuni is the #1 cause of food poisoning worldwide, leading to over
500 million cases annually,” Myodosh said.
“Despite its nasty reputation, little is known about how it causes disease in humans, and even less is known about why some patients get mild symptoms and others get severe symptoms after infection,” said Mydosh, who is working to understand just that.
When she was younger, Mydosh would hatch different kinds of birds and sell them. She enjoyed finding new incubation techniques and recording what the hatch rate was. This brought her closer to science and helped her realize her love for microbiology.
Mydosh sees herself being a lead research scientist for a microbiology department at a biotechnology company or working with the USDA to develop regulations for foodborne pathogens.
Lina Marcela Benitez Segura
2nd Place – Spanish
Lina Marcela Benitez Segura is getting her master’s degree in Agriculture and Resource Economics, with the goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in Applied Economics.
Her project is focused on “identifying the most vulnerable population affected by water chemical contamination in Arizona at a neighborhood level.”
To do this, Benita Segura is developing an econometric model using census data about socioeconomic characteristics of the population in Arizona and reports of water chemical contamination for arsenic, copper, and lead in community water systems.
“I want to estimate the most significant socioeconomic variables in the affected population,” Benita Segura said. “The purpose of this study is to help the professionals that develop environmental policies to reduce the gap between affected and non-affected communities.”
Bryanne Elizabeth Waller
3rd Place – English
Bryanne Waller is a graduate student studying meat science in the school of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences.
Her research uses “a naturally occurring myostatin mutation to improve the efficiency of beef production from beef-on-dairy cows to improve the offspring’s value, efficiency, and muscling,” Waller said. “Beef-on-dairy crossbreds are the result of breeding beef genetics to dairy cows to improve the offspring's value, efficiency, and muscling.”
By increasing the pounds of meat produced per pound of feed consumed, Waller hopes to lower the environmental impact and improve the sustainability of meat production.
In high school, Waller was a member of the FFA, which introduced her to meat and food science. Her goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in order to teach meat science at the collegiate level.
3rd Place – Spanish
Mariangel Varela is a graduate student in biomedical science, researching fetal sheep to improve our understanding of fetal growth restrictions.
“[fetal growth restriction] affects 10% of all pregnancies and produces children who are small for their gestational age,” Varela explained. These children are more susceptible to metabolic diseases, as their insulin producing cells have been affected by the growth restriction during gestation, according to Varela.
“By supplementing oxygen and glucose to growth restricted fetal sheep, we hope to resolve cell function and growth that has been lost during gestation, “Varela said. “This would mean the possibly reducing the risk for metabolic diseases in children born small for gestational age due to fetal growth restriction.”
Varela has always loved nature and animals. “My fifth grade owl pellet dissection is the
earliest memory I have of falling into forever love with science,” said Varela, who hopes to become a professor to share her love of science and be a role model for her nieces.