The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) recently announced the recipients of the Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research Scholarship and the Jacklyn W. and William R. Jones, Jr. Experiential Learning Scholarship.

“Both of these scholarships have the important goal of breaking down the financial barriers to undergraduate research and experiential learning projects,” said Keri Swaby, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “As part of the application process, students have to propose projects for the funding, so both these scholarships create opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to these students.”

OUR engages with thousands of students each year to support their interest in research on the Blacksburg campus. More information on the scholarships and application process are available on the OUR website.

The Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research Scholarship

For Alexander Davis, the fall 2021 recipient of the Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research Scholarship, his experience in a chemistry laboratory started years before he stepped on the Blacksburg campus.

At the suggestion of his high school AP chemistry teacher in Powhatan, Virginia, Davis got an internship at a Richmond university, often driving the 40 minutes several days a week to work in an inorganic chemistry lab.

Now a second-year student at Virginia Tech, he continues to gain experience outside the classroom at the Iovan Group, a laboratory in Hahn Hall South run by Diana Iovan, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“The time I’ve spent in the lab at Virginia Tech has been one of the most important experiences in my education,” said Davis, who is majoring in chemistry and chemical engineering. “Because of the financial support I’m getting from the scholarship, I’m less concerned about my financial aid. It’s also really nice to be recognized by people on campus who after getting their degrees have gone on to do exceptional things.”

The Iovan Group studies the possible commercial applications as catalysts of metals like copper, iron, nickel, and cobalt, called “first row” transition metals because of their location on the periodic table. Rare and potentially toxic metals such as platinum and iridium are commonly used in industries that range from pharmaceutical manufacturing to energy development to petrochemical products like plastics, synthetic fabrics, and fertilizers.

If successful, the use of less expensive and more environmentally friendly “first row” transition metals could have wide-ranging benefits, including creating commercial applications for common industrial waste products.

“I’m really excited about the possible applications of the work we’re doing in the lab, as well as the new perspectives and techniques that I typically wouldn’t get to learn as an undergraduate student,” said Davis.

Researchers at the Iovan Group, including Davis, often use a “glove box,” a sealed container with two ports that allow for experiments in a controlled environment, in this case, an inert atmosphere without oxygen or water. The team also uses a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, located in the basement of Hahn Hall, which employs radio frequency waves to “look” at the magnetic fields around atomic nuclei and create a graphed signature for the molecule’s structure. When compared against published data, researchers can see if the desired reaction took place.

“The work Alexander is doing as a second-year student is the equivalent of an advanced inorganic lab and I’ve been very pleased to see how fast he learns things,” said Diana Iovan, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and lead researcher at the Iovan Group. “He’s always excited to come to the lab and do the work. I feel blessed to have him working with us.”

The scholarship was created by Dennis Dean, university distinguished professor in biochemistry, and the former director of the Fralin Life Science Institute. Virginia Tech undergraduates from any major who participate in mentored research are eligible for the scholarship, which is awarded with $1,000 to one student each semester.

Jacklyn W. and William R. Jones, Jr. Experiential Learning Scholarship

Like many students, Mariam Hasan wanted to find a way to connect her education in the classroom with the health crisis and social justice movements of the last 18 months. Now, with the support of the Jacklyn W. and William R. Jones, Jr. Experiential Learning Scholarship, she’s able to pursue that goal by creating an art installation that opens in Blacksburg this winter.

The exhibit, titled “COVID-19 as Social Murder: An investigation of racialized bodies in America,” will use digital displays and projection screens to visualize data describing the health and social disparities during the pandemic and will open at Virginia Tech’s Armory on Jan. 21, 2022.

“My interests lie at the intersection of engineering, medicine, social justice, art, and design - that’s the space I’m exploring with this project,” said Hasan, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. “Art has the power to open a door to the big issues I’m trying to address.”

The concept for the project was drawn from a course on data analytics and health care reform taught by her advisor Nikki Lewis, a collegiate assistant professor at the Honors College, where Hasan is working toward a diploma in Creativity + Innovation. That course led to an independent study on the impact of COVID-19 in marginalized communities.

The work also draws inspiration from Daniel Canogar, a visual artist whose algorithm-driven designs play across sculpted LED screens in the Grand Lobby of the Moss Art Center, said Hasan.

The financial support of the Jones scholarship will allow Hasan to purchase the software and equipment - display screens, LEDs, and an Augmented Reality projector - required to build the installation.

As she develops the exhibit, Hasan will be working with a team of mentors that includes LaDale Winling from the Department of History, Zach Duer at the School of Visual Arts, the Amory’s Director Deborah Sim, and Scott Fralin and Michael Stamper from University Libraries.

“Mariam is a very passionate academic, which I think speaks to the nature of the Jones scholarship and her ties to Virginia Tech’s Destination Areas,” said Lewis. “She’s built an academic experience through this project, undergraduate research, and classes in the Honors College that’s pursuing something that’s not strictly in one discipline, which I think will benefit her professionally.”

Hasan plans to graduate in May 2022 and is looking at graduate programs as diverse as her interests, ranging from a Ph.D. program on medical engineering to a master’s degree at a computer science and data-driven media lab.

The Jacklyn W. and William R. Jones, Jr. Experiential Learning Scholarship, recognizes students who engage in experiential learning opportunities and supports one student each semester by awarding $1,000.

Written by Will Rizzo

Share this story