Students Take Home Honors for Research Presentations

Undergraduates David R. Jones, Jessica Sood and Janna Rodriguez were awarded outstanding student presentation at the annual SACNAS conference held last month in San Jose.
Three UC Merced students who devoted the summer to research earned top awards for poster presentations at the national conference of SACNAS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing Hispanics, Chicanos and Native Americans in science.

UC Merced undergraduates David R. Jones, Janna Rodriguez and Jessica Sood participated in the annual SACNAS conference held last month in San Jose. Each designed a poster describing their research and also presented their project to judges at the event, and each came home with an award for outstanding student presentation in their respective field.

All three said they received tremendous support from UC Merced professors who provided guidance and helped fine-tune abstracts required to present at SACNAS. Jones, Rodriguez and Sood said they were honored by the resume-building awards and happy to participate in a conference that allows them to network and learn about other academic research.

“The SACNAS recognition helps me show my potential to possible graduate advisers and helps fill out my academic resume, displaying my skills in not only research, but presentation,” said Jones, a transfer student from Tulare.

Jones’ research poster topic revolved around the use of optimization techniques to reconstruct images from a blurry video. He described it as a relatively new area of applied mathematics.

Roummel Marcia, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Sciences, helped hone Jones’ research and presentation skills. Jones said Marcia “always provided constructive criticism, praising me when I displayed a clear understanding and offering other ways of expressing the information if something sounded wrong.”

Rodriguez, a senior from Merced who is majoring in mechanical engineering, presented research on flammability testing of fire-resistant fabrics, her project during a UC Berkeley internship.

At UC Merced, Rodriguez received assistance from engineering professor Michael F. Modest. She said he worked to ensure that she translated information into the proper formats for the SACNAS conference.

“He helped me to improve what I had and put it on paper,” Rodriguez said. “Having the experience was very valuable.”

Although she had participated in other conferences, this was Rodriguez’s first competition and her first win.

Sood, of Yuba City, performed her research in the lab of Rudy Ortiz, an associate professor in the School of Natural Sciences.

In the lab, she assessed the impact that a high cholesterol diet has on increasing blood pressure. Ortiz and his collaborators previously have shown that a cholesterol-supplemented diet causes an inappropriate uptake of sodium, which can lead to volume-dependent hypertension.

Sood, a biological sciences major, said Ortiz helped her grow in her first research opportunity. She’s grateful because “without his guidance and support, I wouldn’t have understood the research I conducted or have as much appreciation for it.”

The SACNAS award holds special meaning to her.

“Being a first-generation college student from an under-represented background and a woman in the sciences, there are so many insecurities and challenges I have overcome,” Sood said. “Achievements like this fuel my passion to aspire for higher education.”

All three students are part of campus programs that support their dreams. Jones and Rodriguez are UC LEADS (Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees) scholars and Sood is part of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program, which prepares undergraduates for careers as graduate students, professors and professional researchers.

Each plans to complete a bachelor’s degree in the next year or two and then enroll in graduate school — perhaps at UC Merced.

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