Munroe Fund helps undergrads gain STEM research experience

Posted on June 22, 2023

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In the 2022-2023 academic year, the College of Arts & Sciences Office of Research supported 16 undergraduate students with more than $12,000 in grants from the Dorothy Levis Munroe Undergraduate Research Fund.

The fund was endowed by an alumna, Dorothy Levis Munroe, who graduated as a chemistry major from UNCG in 1944. Munroe went on to earn a masters in chemistry, have a career as a high school teacher, and become the first woman to serve on the board of education in Newark, Delaware. In her later years, Munroe endowed a fund at UNCG to help students get involved in scientific research.

All 16 students conducted research in STEM fields: five in Chemistry and Biochemistry, one in Mathematics, and ten in Biology. Students applied for support by submitting research proposal and project budget, and each was awarded between $500 and $1000, depending on their project needs.

These student scientists engaged in a wide range of activities, including:

  • The synthesis of new chemical molecules 
  • The development of transgenic cassava (a root vegetable) to make the plants more nutritious or heat tolerant 
  • The study of iron transport in the crop plant tef (a cereal grass) / developing a means to transform tef to allow for the creation of more nutritious strains
  • The study of how plants grow in microgravity to get an idea of how plants can be grown in space or on the moon or Mars 
  • Testing to see if carbon nanodots can alter the expression of inflammatory genes 
  • The study of Chemistry class pedagogy – how students interpret molecular structures, as well as how professors teach symmetry to Chemistry students 
  • The development of a mathematical model, using machine learning, for determining structural characteristics of data
  • The use of medaka fish as a model to determine if the chemical perchlorate can affect their germline and subsequently negatively affect the health of the fish’s offspring 

Students used funds to buy reagents, to pay for research services (such as DNA sequencing), and/or to attend conferences to present their work. Many of the students also participated in UNC Greensboro’s Undergraduate Research Expo, where they presented posters or gave oral presentations. Read about the experience of one Biology recipient, Shafaq Ahmed, in this recent blog post

The students (and their faculty mentors) were grateful to have these funds to support their work.  Many noted how much they had learned along with a desire to seek out more research experiences. Below are sample of comments from their final reports:

  • “Dorothy Munroe Undergraduate Research Funds were a great help in accomplishing my goals this semester. Overall, my project was successful in the sense that I was able to [do all that was] planned at the beginning of my project.”  
  • “This grant also offered me a great opportunity to learn basic molecular techniques including RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, qPCR, plasmid preparation, and also scientific presentation.” 
  • “This was my first experience attending a large professional chemistry conference. This was an eye-opening experience, allowing me to observe the vast amount of work from many different sub-disciplines of chemistry and helped me put my work into perspective alongside the work of peers. I also had the unique opportunity to attend talks by many renowned chemists such as Professor David MacMillan, the 2021 Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry.” 
  • “I was able to make several connections with other labs and researchers interested in following our lab’s research from these interactions. I also furthered our lab’s relationship with one of our collaborators, Yuri Gravity. At the conference, I spoke with Richard Barker, a data scientist at Yuri Gravity, about a new artificial intelligence software that Yuri Gravity was developing which could be used to expediate lab measurements that are currently conducted manually. From this conversation, I was able to connect with several other data scientists at Yuri Gravity, and I am now testing the first draft of the software for my senior honors project.” 
  • “This grant allowed me to gain experience that allowed me to gain a fellowship at the NIH in the NCI branch. It also allowed me to continue my work in the lab and learning my role in the scientific method.” 
  • “Overall, I’ve learned how to collaborate and communicate with others as a team, as that is something I’ve never experienced while collaborating with other students in the classroom.” 
  • “In conclusion, I would like to thank the Munroe Fund for contributing to my work, and more broadly, for providing support as I begin to lay the foundations for future research at UNCG and beyond.” 

We are thankful Dorothy chose to help UNC Greensboro students pursue their love of science. Undergraduate research is a high-impact practice that is transformative, and we look forward to supporting a new group of students next fall.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Edmonson. Zoe (left, pictured with Dr. Maia Popova, her research mentor) presented research at a chemistry education conference. 

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