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May 5, 2014

Undergraduates present research to members of Congress at annual event

Two undergraduate students represented Purdue on Tuesday and Wednesday (April 28 and 29) at the 18th annual Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C.

Haefa Mansour, a junior in the College of Engineering, and Kathryn (Katie) Reinhart, a sophomore in the College of Science, presented their research at the event, which was hosted by Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) to give members of Congress the opportunity to see the undergraduate research and education programs they fund. Federal funding agencies, nearby foundations and Congress members attended the poster session, where undergraduates showcased their research projects.

Mansour and Reinhart, both Purdue Stamps Scholars who are pursuing honors curriculum in addition to their disciplinary college plans of study, were encouraged to pursue the opportunity by a staff member within Purdue's Honors College. The Honors College, which is a member of CUR, covered Mansour and Reinhart's travel costs. Catharine Patrone, director of student services in the Honors College, attended the trip with the students along with Alyssa Gleichsner, graduate student advisor for Reinhart.

Mansour presented her research on a protein that can be used as a surgical adhesive alternative to stitches or staples. She worked with Julie C. Liu, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Janie Brennan, a graduate student in the College of Engineering.

A chemical engineering major, Mansour enjoys the challenge of explaining her research to nontechnical audiences.

"I feel very passionate about my work and enjoy talking about it with others," she says.

In addition to the Posters on the Hill event, Mansour has presented her research at several conferences in the past including the Biomaterials Day Symposium at Case Western Reserve University and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Before leaving for Washington, D.C., she expressed her hopes for making an impact on the nation's lawmakers.

"I hope to be able to demonstrate to our congressmen the positive impact that my research experience has had on me," Mansour said. "I would like to encourage them to continue to fund undergraduate research."

Reinhart's research presentation focused on a disease caused by parasites that affects over 200 million people around the world. Reinhart worked with Dennis Minchella, associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Science, and Alyssa Gleichsner, a graduate student studying biological sciences, to research the effects of genetic diversity in infections caused by the parasite Schistosoma mansoni.

"This conference is a really important opportunity for me to communicate with people outside my specialty about what we're doing," Reinhart said before leaving for the event. "I hope to make as much of a positive impact as I can on national undergraduate research funding, and I look forward to learning from the experience."

This was Reinhart's first experience presenting her research, but she had positive feedback from her advisors and peers that gave her confidence going into the presentation.

"Though it will be my first presentation, I feel well-prepared and enthusiastically up to the task," she said.

Writer: Hannah Harper, harper4@purdue.edu