Clark Scholars Dive into Research Through Summer Program
Arts and technology freshman Emily Risinger hopes her research will help improve the efficiency of sensors in virtual reality technology.
Twenty-three UT Dallas undergraduate students recently presented the culmination of nine weeks of research as part of the Anson L. Clark Summer Research Program.
Students awarded an Academic Excellence Scholarship are eligible to apply for the program. The chosen students collaborate with faculty mentors from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. Scholars are given a stipend and work full time on campus for the duration of the program.
Emily Risinger, a first-year student in the arts and technology program, researched developments in the usability of virtual reality programs. She worked alongside Dr. Ryan McMahan, assistant professor of computer science and arts and technology, in the motion capture lab in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building.
“The way we track movement in the virtual reality environment is by tracking light beams that bounce off the reflectors, and it calculates your relative position in the 3-D space,” Risinger said. “I really liked working in the motion capture space. I liked helping run people through it, and the experience helped improve my organizational skills.”
For many of the participating students, the research program introduced them to their first lab experience.
Computer science major Yibo Yang spent the summer researching improvements in voice command detection for interactive systems.
“It’s really great being in an environment where people are just as interested and enthusiastic about science as you are,” cognitive science sophomore Maisha Razzaque said. “It’s very much a learning environment where people are willing to work with you on your level.”
Dr. Theodore Price, associate professor of neuroscience, has been a program mentor for two years. This year, healthcare studies major Aaleena Zaidi worked in Price’s lab doing research on translation regulation.
“My job as a mentor is to help the student find a project for the summer that they will be passionate about, and then, get out of the way, so they can let their creativity and love for science grow,” Price said. “Aaleena was a joy to work with. She jumped right into the project with a great deal of enthusiasm. She not only learned very quickly how to do very advanced cellular imaging techniques, but also took on leadership skills working with the high school students who were also working on this project in our research group.”
Price said Zaidi will continue to work in his lab this fall.
The research program is led by Courtney Brecheen, associate dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education, Dr. Paul Pantano, the program’s scientific advisor, and Hillary Campbell, program coordinator.
“The combination of the students’ natural intellect and the high expectations of the Clark program’s faculty mentors contributes to an accelerated maturation process for our participants,” Brecheen said. “While a majority of students begin the program quiet and unfamiliar with their research area, at the conclusion of nine short weeks, they are enthusiastically articulating the practical application of advanced scientific concepts and research methods during the research symposium.”
The Clark Summer Research Program is funded by an endowment from the Clark Foundation whose philanthropy has supported scholarly endeavors at several Texas colleges and universities, such as the Anson L. Clark Memorial Lecture and the Clark Presidential Scholarship at UT Dallas.
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