Undergraduate interns learn to communicate science while researching environmental exposures

Four UNC undergraduate students spent their summer working in UNC SRP Director Rebecca Fry’s lab, building understanding of how environmental exposures to toxic substances are associated with human disease. Louisa Boateng, Victoria Evans, Noemi Gavino-Lopez, and Adriana Ruby Gatona presented their research to an audience of UNC faculty, staff, and students, as well as the public, during the sixth annual Summer Undergraduate Pipeline (SUP) Research Symposium, held virtually this year on Tuesday July 27.

Featuring over 100 undergraduate scholars, the event showcases students’ faculty-led research from the SUP program. In a message from Suzanne Barbour, PhD, Dean of the Graduate School, this program often functions as a “‘taste’ of graduate school, and it is not uncommon for SUP to be the gateway to graduate school.”

All four students conducted their research with day to day mentoring from graduate students and SRP trainees. These undergraduate researchers are also recognized participants in the 21st Century Environmental Health (EH) Scholars, McNair Scholars and Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track (SMART) programs. These three programs have a commitment to promoting research opportunities for historically underrepresented groups in higher education, especially STEM.

We spoke further with two students who were part of this year’s round of presenters from the Fry lab:

Louisa Boetang

Louisa Boateng, 21st Century Environmental Health Scholar, presented on a project titled Examining the Effects of Inorganic Arsenic on Chromatin Accessibility in Placental Cells Using ATAC-seq. This work focused on providing insight into the toxicity of inorganic arsenic (iAs) on human placental cells. Reflecting on the project, Boateng reported “Presenting at the SUP research symposium was an exhilarating experience that taught me about the importance of effective science communication and showing support for fellow researchers. Not only was I able to present, I also learned new ideas from other presenters.”

Noemi Gavino-Lopez

Noemi Gavino-Lopez, McNair scholar, presented on Developing an Environmental Justice Index for Toxic Metal Well Water Contamination in North Carolina. Research involved mirroring the EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Index for well water results in North Carolina communities, which could be leveraged by public health professionals to prioritize remediation efforts in EJ communities that demonstrate excess risk in well water contamination. Of the experience, Gavino-Lopez said “Presenting at the SUP Research Symposium helped me better understand effective research communication among a diverse audience. I had the opportunity to present my research to family members, peers, professors, and researchers in other disciplines.”

Gavino-Lopez continues, “I appreciate the experience the SUP Symposium offered and look forward to one day presenting my research on environmental justice and private well contamination in North Carolina at a national conference.”