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Students share summer projects at inaugural symposium

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REU summer program members Avery Hatch, right, and Justin Neu participate in a lab in the Science and Technology Building at ECU.


ECU News Service

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Students from universities in North Carolina and across the U.S. fine-tuned their research skills with a range of projects — from creating useful organic compounds to detecting concussions through virtual reality — at East Carolina University this summer.

ECU hosted two Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) sites – a new one in chemistry and biochemistry, and an ongoing one in biomedical engineering in simulations, imaging and modeling, both funded by the National Science Foundation.

For 10 weeks, ECU faculty members mentored students from North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia on research, ethics and intellectual property, communication skills and professional development.

Participation is encouraged by students from underrepresented groups in the sciences and those with limited or no access to research opportunities, said Dr. Yumin Li, co-director of the REU in chemistry and biochemistry.

“Our program provides research experiences to those who may not have the opportunity otherwise to encourage students to pursue STEM fields, especially graduate education,” said Dr. Stephanie George, principal investigator of the REU in biomedical engineering in simulations, imaging and modeling.

Both REU programs culminated July 26 with poster presentations during the first Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium at the Main Campus Student Center.

Nearly 40 students, including high schoolers from across the state participating in ECU’s Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics program, presented their research interests and tested their pitches to audiences.

“There are a lot of students on campus over the summer conducting research, but we’ve never had an undergraduate summer symposium before,” said Mary Farwell, ECU’s director of undergraduate research. “We had a great turnout for our first event.”

Student research projects ranged from new optimization processes for biodiesel production to a new type of electric current converter.

However, one project stood out. Davidson College’s Andrea Robinson was named the People’s Choice Award winner for her work using virtual reality with eye-tracking technology to detect concussions.

“When people are concussed, they can’t control their eye movements as much. Using eye tracking will allow us to detect those deficits,” Robinson said. Virtual reality will make the tests more portable, allowing assessments to be conducted on the spot instead of in an office or hospital.

“As an athlete, I’ve had experience with those that have suffered injuries. I want my research to be able to help them,” said Robinson, a rising senior and physics major. “This research was a great way to apply my physics background and interest in biology and computer science and expand my professional network.”

ECU offers multiple research presentation opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars throughout the year. The university’s Capture 180 Research Challenge is open to all undergraduate students, while the Three Minute Thesis Challenge is open to graduate and doctoral students. Each spring, ECU offers presentation opportunities at its annual Research and Creative Achievement Week for students and postdocs.

Skipper inducted as AANP Fellow

Dr. Michelle Skipper, a nurse practitioner and director of the ECU College of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice program, was inducted as a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) at the AANP annual meeting on June 20 in Indianapolis.

Skipper’s contributions to the nursing profession began decades ago, and this honor was cultivated from the services she contributed to in response to Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Florence, in her work as a faculty member for the College of Nursing and in advancing the nursing profession.

The AANP represents a national nurse practitioner community of 99,000 nurse practitioners. The AANP is led by a board of directors that dedicate their expertise to secure a place for NPs’ and their patients’ voices to be heard wherever significant discussions on health care exist. Regional directors and state representatives fighting for health education and advocacy also make up the leadership within the association.

Skipper’s efforts to be an advocate and supporter for people in eastern North Carolina and its communities reflect ECU’s dedication to the East through the Rural Prosperity Initiative — a combined effort to improve life, health, education and employment for all.

Skipper received the Governor’s Award for Public Service for helping St. Pauls residents in the aftermath Hurricane Matthew in 2016. She resumed her hurricane relief efforts to help residents affected by Hurricane Florence in 2018.

As a fellow, Skipper hopes to continue advancing women’s health care as a champion of health care choices in reproductive rights, as well as in academia by helping to find and implement solutions for health care workforce shortages, particularly in rural areas.

ECU team develops cybersecurity game

About 20 computer teaching instructors recently participated in a high-stakes game of cybersecurity during a Competitive Labs-as-a-Service (CLaaS) workshop in ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology.

The workshop introduced a game developed by a team of ECU professors and students that is designed to provide participants a realistic computer network to defend against cyberattacks, while also allowing them to launch attacks against each other. The participants earn points for successfully defending an attack but lose points if they fail.

Though it’s a game, real learning takes place.

“They will get points or they will lose points, but it’s all about cybersecurity,” said Dr. Te-Shun Chou, professor in the Department of Technology Systems who served as the facilitator of the workshop.

Chou led a team that received a $299,745 grant from the National Science Foundation in 2017 to develop the game that is designed to provide cybersecurity awareness education for ECU undergraduate students as well as community college students. The game is designed to help users think critically and solve problems in real time.

Chou said the goal of the game is for students to not only understand how to defend against cyberattacks, but also to understand the behavior of attackers, which can help them employ a defense strategy.

The workshop introduced the game for the first time to community college instructors from throughout the Southeast, with a special emphasis on colleges in rural and underrepresented communities in eastern North Carolina.

Chou said the workshop featured a combination of cybersecurity theory and practice, introducing fundamental concepts and skills to the participants.