Announcing the Winners of the Fall 2020 Honors College Research Symposium & UIC Impact Day!

This year’s symposium was a remarkable one with over 200 attendees! A very special thanks to all of our Faculty Judges for their assistance in adjudicating each of the student presentations and selecting our winners!

It is also worth noting that the Symposium featured remarkably strong work from more than 50 undergraduate students  (54 students, 53 presentations), spread across nearly two dozen disciplines and each student was adjudicated by 4 Faculty/Staff Judges (43 in total), which resulted in a fierce competition for the Research Symposium Awards, so fierce in fact that we have a tie for the Award for High Distinction. Thus, winning these awards is no small feat and we hope you will join us in congratulating your classmates on their achievements.

Without further ado, at this time it is our pleasure to announce the recipients of the Research Symposium Awards.


Award for Highest Distinction:

Student Name: Rumi Venkatesh

Project Title: Claiming Roots: A Reclamation of Jewish Identity in Judah Halevi's Kuzari

Project Supervisor: Young Kim

Project Abstract:

Judah Halevi wrote the Kuzari in the twelfth century following the breakdown of the Cordoban Caliphate in Muslim-occupied medieval Spain, also known as al Andalus. The legacy of this “paradise” and its relatively high religious tolerance contributed to a period of flourishing Arabized Jewish culture and a philosophical revival in Spain. Despite some historians’ common perception of the Kuzari as a polemical treatise against Islam and Christianity or a revolutionary explanation of the Jewish religion, we can understand the Kuzari on a deeper level with consideration of Halevi’s sociocultural context as an upper-class member of the Jewish community in twelfth-century Spain. In a society characterized by cultural intermixing and a changing intellectual sphere, Halevi’s Kuzari serves as a reclamation of Jewish identity. Throughout the Kuzari, Halevi establishes the superiority of native Jews as direct descendants of Adam, highlighting the importance of Jewish tradition and the Jewish homeland of Palestine, and he highlights the primacy of the Jewish religion itself. In order to do so, he not only identifies Islam and Christianity as corruptions of the original Jewish religion, but he also depicts philosophical rationalization of spirituality as woefully inadequate. However, as a philosopher himself, Halevi employs logical explanations for many facets of Judaism discussed in the Kuzari. Through the inherent contradiction posed by the use of philosophical methods to reject philosophy, we can see Halevi’s rejection of the “corrupting” influences on Judaism in his society while still being a product of the same society. In his efforts to encourage a return to the roots of Judaism, Halevi works to reaffirm a particular Jewish identity.


Award for High Distinction

Student Name: Srishti Pyasi

Project Title: Investigating Radicalization Pathways in Twitter

Project Supervisor: Chris Kanich

Project Abstract :

Originating from places of congregation, radicalization largely occurs in the virtual world of the internet via social networking platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Given increased screen times amid people staying at home due to COVID-19, this can be problematic, providing a way for people to migrate towards more radicalized Alt-right white nationalist and white supremacist ideas. Our results indicate that there is a pathway from a non-radical to a radicalized account. In the internet age, radicalization largely occurs via social networking platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Given increased screen times amid people staying at home due to COVID-19, this can be problematic. This study shows that a non-radical Twitter account can follow a pathway to radicalization. People may migrate towards the more radicalized Alt-right ideas.


Award for High Distinction

Student Name: Shivani Dhebar

Project Title: Enhancing Immunotherapy with Metformin in Drug-Resistant and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Project Supervisor: Josef Goldufsky

Project Abstract:

Over the last decade, an increased usage of immune checkpoint inhibitors in strengthening tumor-specific T cells has shown promising success, shifting tumor immunotherapy to the forefront of cancer treatment. However, the efficacy of these immunotherapies is still restricted to a small proportion of cancer patients who meet required criteria. Current clinical trials have been using combinatorial approaches to enhance the effectiveness of an immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy against tumors. A major challenge preventing patient responsiveness to ICB stems from the metabolic limitations that the tumor microenvironment (TME) imposes on tumor-specific T cells. Previous studies have demonstrated enhanced responsiveness to immunotherapy by using the known antidiabetic drug, metformin in combination with anti-PD-1 therapy to improve T cell tumor-destroying activity by reducing states of hypoxia in the TME. Our experiment sought to understand how metformin, a complex I inhibitor, directly affects metabolism in human and murine breast cancer lines. Our data demonstrate that metformin specifically reduces ATP production in both mouse and human drug-resistant and advanced metastatic breast cancers, by gradually minimizing the mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation pathway. Additionally, metformin’s anticancer effects include an increase in reactive oxygen species and diminished proliferation of the cancerous cells. While the metformin treatment of mice bearing drug-resistant and metastatic breast cancer showed a delay in tumor growth and progression, there was no synergistic effect of metformin combined with PD-1 blockade observed. The in vivo data obtained in this experiment did not align with previous studies showing metformin’s ability to incorporate anti-PD-1 therapy and drive T-cell abilities in clearance of the tumor. The limitations of metformin illustrate the need for further investigations to determine its ability to enhance PD1 blockade by reprogramming metabolism in the TME and reinvigorating anti-tumor activity of T cells in breast cancer


Award for Distinction

Student Name: Refah Zabin

Project Title: Understanding the role of DCV1 and SLA1 in Yeast Cell Signaling

Project Supervisor: David Stone

Project Abstract :

The goal of this project is to better understand DCV1 and SLA1. It is hypothesized that DCV1 plays a role in membrane fluidity. DCV1 affects the polarity proteins that are responsible for the polarized growth at specific locations of the cell. This project aims to learn more about DCV1 and SLA1 genes though time-lapse imaging using specialized microscope and to categorize and analyze the acquired data.


Roster of Faculty & Staff Judges

John Abbott

Leila Amiri

Nick Ardinger

Annie Armstrong

Bilgay Balserak

Lauren Bell

Abbey Breckling

Bao Bui

Zackery Bulman

Juan Jose Cabrera-Lazarini

Eliza  Callahan

Marcus Casey

Marsha Cassidy

Alan Diamond

Lauren Diegel-Vacek

Asha Eapen

Gail Fisher

Pamela Gampetro

Katey Genrich

Michelangelo Giampaoli

Romi Gomez

Swetha Gowrishankar

Sonia Green

David Greenstein

Nick Huggett

Ashley Hughes

Rohan Jeremiah

Wasim Khan

Vincent LaMotta

Ellen McClure

Neal McCrillis

Chris Messenger

Tyler Nielsen

Sarah O'Brien

Unsal Ozdogru

Eric Pegues

Farideddin Peiravian

Christian Peters

Medha Priyadarshini

Sathya Ravi

Helen Roberts

Anna Roosevelt

Susan Ross

Rachelle Tsachor

Margaret Wardle

Nic Weststrate

Kimberlee Wilkens

Quintin Williams, Jr.

Zeina Zaatari


Roster of Participants

Yasmeen Abdallah

Laith Abuzir

CaraMia Alberga

Nimisha Antony

Jagjit Bhatia

Miranda Bolin

Megan Buduan

Linh Bui Ho Khanh

Caroline Castelino

Marc Cuiriz

Hardik Dabas

Shivani Dhebar

Alaa Elhannouny

Zubia Farooqui

Sean Flynn

Anna Footerman

Kiera Gnatz

Hibah Hassan

Klevi Hazizi

Aaron Hazlett

Eric Hu

Taylor Hutchinson

Nimra Irfan

Pranjal Kadwe

Shaista Khan

Zainab Khan

Ojus Khanolkar

Anjani Maley

Kayla Massey

Nikki Medanovic

Dhruva Mehta

Lora Mickovska

Michael Miklinski

Ananya Mishra

Ayesha Mohammad

Haneen Omar

Dhruvi Patel

Sruchi Patel

Kristina Perchishena

Srishti Pyasi

Angel Rodríguez Vega

Kate Schick

Diana Shlikhtova

Shaniah Singleton

Raeeha Syeda

Nikki Rae Tabliago

Brittany Tamayo

Neil Thimmaiah

Jacob Troia

Rumi Venkatesh

Anita Wary

Samuel Yeo

Refah Zabin