UD hosted the National McNair Scholars Research Competition and Graduate School Fair on Oct. 18.

McNair research competition

Four awarded prizes at McNair Scholars competition at UD

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8:42 a.m., Oct. 24, 2013--Joseph V. Kerridge from Breinigsville, Pa., really likes chemistry. It’s wired into him, just like his career goal to become a university professor. 

This past Friday, Kerridge, a junior McNair Scholar majoring in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware, had the opportunity to do what many university professors do: he presented a scientific poster highlighting his research, on bacteria that degrade asphalt.

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The venue was the National McNair Scholars Research Competition and Graduate Fair, an event that UD’s McNair Scholars Program has hosted for the past 11 years. 

UD is home to one of 158 McNair programs nationwide. More than 80 percent of the University’s McNair Scholars enroll in graduate school immediately after bachelor’s degree attainment, continuing their studies all the way through the doctoral degree.

The participants are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. 

“Our goal is to transform talented students into scholars of excellence by involving them in research and other scholarly activities in preparation for doctoral degree attainment,” says Kim Saunders, director of UD’s McNair Scholars Program. “We provide this event annually as a community service for our scholars and other college students, as well as area residents interested in graduate school.”

More than 350 people attended the day’s activities, which included seminars on graduate admissions and a graduate school fair featuring 83 graduate programs from universities in California to Delaware to the United Kingdom.

But the highlight for Kerridge and his co-presenters was the research poster competition. 

Kerridge said he collected bacterial samples from roads around Newark, Del., and then examined them in the lab under the guidance of Julie Maresca, his faculty adviser. He analyzed the bacteria using high-performance gas chromatography to determine what microorganisms were present and to monitor their growth under various conditions. 

“The ultimate goal is to figure out how to modify the bacteria to have them fix the asphalt instead of degrade it,” Kerridge explained. 

Natalie Rivera-Torres, a graduate student in general biology from Delaware State University, is working with Eric Kmiec on the development of gene therapies to treat sickle cell anemia. 

Born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Rivera-Torres said she was attracted to science when she saw scientists “playing around with these cool things in the lab.” 

“I like to learn the why and the what,” she explained.

She also believes in communicating scientific research to the public, saying, “It’s very important to get the public and teenagers involved.” 

Kerridge and Rivera-Torres were among 57 students from UD, Delaware State University, Cheyney University and Wesley College who participated in the research poster competition.

The winners, all from the University of Delaware, shared $1,000 in cash prizes:

Social Science: Alexandra Davis, “Harnessing Entrepreneurial Potential in South Africa’s Townships as a Catalyst for Inclusive Growth: A Case Study of Soweto.”

Humanities: Omar Duran, “Observing Invisible Corpses: Gender and Violence in Teresa Margolles’s ‘Embroidered Fabric.’”

Science: Kimberly Milla, “Reduction of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Processing Time for the Assessment of Leg Muscle Volume in Children with Cerebral Palsy.”

Engineering: Axel Moore, “A Simple Analytical Model for Cartilage Contacts.”

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Kevin Quinlan

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