UURAF First Place Winners Announced

Several College of Arts & Letters students received first-place awards for their research and creative scholarship presented at the 21st Annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF)

Held each spring and co-sponsored by the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Honors College, UURAF offers MSU undergraduate students the opportunity to present their research, answer questions about their work, and receive constructive feedback from judges.

Students presented research, either through oral or poster presentations, on a wide variety of topics, such as improving care in the pediatric emergency department with virtual reality, examining sport-related concussions, napping to mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation, examining reduced juvenile spotted hyena survival in Kenya, and creative expressions of infertility.

This year’s UURAF, which took place April 5 at the MSU Union Ballroom, included nearly 1,000 undergraduate students and 600 research mentors and was the largest forum yet. Of those students, 151 were selected as first-place recipients.

All first-place award winners were recognized at the UURAF Awards Ceremony on April 10 at the MSU Union Ballroom, with each first-place project receiving a $100 prize. First-place award winners are eligible to submit their project for the $500 Grand Prize, which will be determined in late May or early June.

College of Arts & Letters Award Winners


The following are all the projects that received first-place awards that College of Arts & Letters students worked on.

Competition Between the Past and the Perfect

  • Category: Linguistics, Languages, and Speech Category
  • Poster Presentation
  • Student Researchers: Darby Grachek, Linguistics senior; Kerry Berres, Linguistics senior; Jett Hampton, Linguistics senior; Sarah Sirna, Linguistics senior; Sarah Jones, Psychology junior; Hollie Nusbaum, James Madison sophomore
  • Mentors: Cristina Schmitt, Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages; Alan Munn, Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages; Komeil Kolahi, Doctoral Student in Linguistics
four adults standing around a poster who are talking and motioning with their hands
Jett Hampton (right) presenting "Competition Between the Past and the Perfect" at UURAF.


The Present Perfect ("I have jumped") competes with the Simple Past ("I jumped") in many of its uses. Previous work suggests that the Simple Past is taking on more uses than before. For example, the Present Perfect and Simple Past are interchangeable in sentences like "I've already eaten" vs. "I already ate". However, some speakers can use both tenses interchangeably in sentences like "I lived in East Lansing since I was 3" vs. "I've lived in East Lansing since I was 3," while other speakers reject the past tense in this context. In this experiment, the goal was to determine whether Present Perfect in narratives will elicit speakers to use the perfect more often, so as to determine when the present perfect is necessary. Subjects heard two stories: one story had as much Present Perfect as possible and the other had only simple past and present tenses. Participants then had to retell the stories to a third party from memory. The student researchers hypothesized that in a narrative context where the perfect is used extensively, participants would be more likely to use the perfect to retell the story than the story that uses simple past and present. The results showed in what contexts they find it acceptable to use the perfect instead of simple past tense and vice versa.

Comparison in Finding Aesthetic in Poetry: English vs. Non-English Majors

  • Category: Humanities
  • Poster Presentation
  • Student Researchers: Mitch Carr, English junior; Kara Swanson, English junior; Talia Cohen, Education junior; Jasmine Young
  • Mentor: Natalie Phillips, Associate Professor in the Department of English
Photo of four people standing next to each other with the left three people holding certificates
From left to right: Talia Cohen, Kara Swanson, Mitch Carr, and Quinn Moreno, Director of Undergraduate Affairs for the College of Arts & Letters


The Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition (DHLC) lab at Michigan State University is conducting an interdisciplinary study of sonnets seeking to understand the moments in poetry that provide aesthetic pleasure or displeasure by using the brain as an analytical tool. The student researchers compared classically trained English majors to non-English majors, and their preliminary results indicated that English majors experience moments of aesthetic pleasure differently than non-English majors. The implications of these results suggest that the training of English majors influences the ways in which they appreciate literature. Specific to the study, a classically trained English major is a participant who has taken at least nine English credits; and aesthetics is defined as a pleasing, powerful, or profound moment. M. Jacobs' article: "Neurocognitive poetics: Methods and Models for Investigating Neuronal and Cognitive-affective Basis for Literary Reception" demonstrates the way one's brain constructs the world in and around us by the use of aesthetic and emotion theories. This article contributes to this study because it measures the ambiguities (hidden moments) in poetry that only an English major would know, causing them to have a different understanding than non-English majors. This study requires participants to read eight Elizabethan and eight Petrarchan sonnets; each having an overarching positive or negative theme. The student researchers inquired about how each participant feels while reading the sonnets by having them respond to them in several ways. First, participants highlight moments they found aesthetically pleasing or displeasing, next they respond to a scale of 1-10 measuring their feelings, lastly, they filled in open-ended questions. The research team predicted that their research would indicate that classically trained English majors would not only observe the hidden moments in each sonnet more so than non-English majors, but also find more aesthetic pleasure in the negatively themed sonnets.

Establishing the Digital & Community Publishing Collective at MSU Through a Literature Review and Grant Proposal Analysis 

  • Category: Communication Arts and Sciences
  • Oral Presentation
  • Student Researcher: Emily Jenkins
  • Mentor: Kate Birdsall, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
woman who is speaking in front of a tv with a slideshow on it
Emily Jenkins presenting "Establishing the Digital & Community Publishing Collective at MSU Through a Literature Review and Grant Proposal Analysis" at UURAF. 


The implementation of a university press has become standard at major academic institutions. These publishing organizations serve as branches of their universities, specializing in academic articles and other scholarly works. However, many universities offer publication opportunities to students and faculty that do not qualify as acceptable for publication within university press. This prevents non-scholarly publications from attaining the ethos of carrying the university publication name and bars them from becoming a part of the publishing community at their respective institutions. To combat this problem, Michigan State University launched the Digital & Community Publishing Collective to serve as a support mechanism for a wide range of publishing activities, including a monthly magazine, a literary journal, scholarly journals, a community of feminist filmmakers, a collaborative fandom, a blog, and a zine. The goal of this publishing collective is to provide a space for a diverse range of people and publications to build community and participate in a university-sponsored publishing organization. This research first establishes the legitimacy of the
university publishing collective as a concept by performing a thorough literature review and landscape analysis. It then applies this data to the brand strategy for the DCPC and conducts research on grants available that will provide the funding necessary to build a powerful digital space. This research will help the DCPC successfully establish itself within the university publishing community and inform other universities that attempt to implement similar collectives.

The Ding Dongs Scenic Design

  • Category: Visual & Performing Arts
  • Poster Presentation
  • Student Researcher: Brandon Barker, Theatre junior
  • Mentor: Kirk Domer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre

Brandon Barker worked with Professor Kirk Domer on a professional design project. The play they designed was The Ding Dongs or What Is The Penalty In Portugal. They worked with the Kickshaw Theatre, which is a new theater company that does productions that explore human existence. The Ding Dongs is a play about land rights, and the right of possession over things that aren't necessarily yours. Barker worked with Domer to explore the scenic expression of the play. Together, they designed the set by infusing their concept with the physical requirements of the play and space.

Race, Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures

  • Category: Humanities
  • Oral Presentation 
  • Student Researcher: Katrina Stebbins, Professional Writing sophomore
  • Mentor: Kate Birdsall, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Photo of two people standing next to each other with the left person holding a certificate
Katrina Stebbins (left) and Quinn Moreno (right), Director of Undergraduate Affairs for the College of Arts & Letters


As of October 2018, Michigan State University has an enrollment of 50,351 undergraduate students. Students of color make up about 24% of that population (about 10,000 students), which the school has touted as a contribution to the university's "most diverse student body to date." However, within the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) and, more specifically, the Professional Writing major, people of color make up about 12% of the student body (about 20 students). This lack of diversity is stark, and it raises questions regarding causation. Drawing on both published literature in whiteness studies and interviews with people of color within WRAC about their experiences, this research seeks to understand that lack of diversity and its source. The examination and subsequent findings were synthesized in a podcast, which utilizes recorded commentary and dialogue with interviewees. It examines whether there is a stigma of whiteness or white culture surrounding the humanities and how ethnic/cultural identity affects students when selecting a major in order to identify a cause of the absence of diversity in the Professional Writing major and WRAC.

Sparty & "Sparthan": Exploring the Proteus Effect in Virtual Reality and its Correlations with Campus Pride and Misogynistic Attitudes

  • Category: Communication Arts & Sciences
  • Poster Presentation
  • Student Researchers: Ann Desrochers, Experience Architecture sophomore; Ian Crist, Media and Information senior; Whitney Zhou, Economics senior; Stefani Taskas, Computer Science senior; Hanna Wong, Actuarial Science senior; George McNeill, Media and Information junior; Gabriela Gendreau, Media and Information junior
  • Mentors: Rabindra Ratan, Associate Professor of Media and Information, and Taj Makki, Media and Information Studies Doctoral Student
four adults standing around a poster and smiling at the camera
From left to right: Ann Desrochers, George McNeill, Gabriela Gendreau, and Ian Crist in front of their poster presentation at UURAF.  


Prioritizing the health and well-being of sexual assault survivors has been a salient and controversial issue for Michigan State University's administration. To this end, this study utilizes a virtual environment to examine whether sports culture at MSU relates to attitudes about sex-based issues on campus (e.g., the rape myth, sexual assault, sexism, and misogyny) as well as campus pride toward MSU as a whole. This experiment explores this question through the Proteus Effect, the phenomenon that avatar users tend to conform behaviorally to their avatars' characteristics. During the study, users were randomly assigned to play as either Sparty or a less muscular look-alike in simple color variants. Specifically, the team tested whether participants – after playing as Sparty in a virtual environment – exhibited more misogynistic or apathetic attitudes towards sex-based issues than those who played as other variants.

Snares to Wares Giraffe

  • Category: Visual & Performing Arts
  • Oral Presentation
  • Student Researcher: Richard Tanner, Studio Art senior
  • Mentor: Laura Cloud, Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design
Photo of two people standing next to each other with the left person holding a certificate
Richard Tanner (left) and Quinn Moreno (right), Director of Undergraduate Affairs for the College of Arts & Letters


Professor Robert Montgomery in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife who runs the RECaP lab at MSU (The Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey) and Tutilo Mudumba, a Ph.D. Student, are researchers working to stop the steep decline of wildlife populations in East Africa through the Snares to Wares Initiative. Snare wires that trap endangered animals are collected from the bush in Uganda and made into toys or works of art that can be sold to support community members in the village of Pakwach, one of the poorest villages in Uganda. They approached Associate Professor Laura Cloud, Sculpture Coordinator, and the sculpture team to share in a collaborative project with the artisans from Uganda. Richard Tanner was asked to weld an armature for a life-sized male Rothschild giraffe, one of the most endangered subspecies of giraffe in Africa with recent estimates suggesting less than 1,600 individuals remaining in the wild. For three months, Tanner worked with two Ugandan artists, Mutalib Ngomojik and Sophia Jingo. Together they created the full-scale giraffe, and the piece was mounted on a base weighing 1,800 pounds made from five separate trees that had fallen on campus. The finished sculpture was unveiled on April 20, 2018, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum as part of the Snares to Wares Spring Soiree. MSU's Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering commissioned the giraffe where it is now on permanent display in the IQ building’s atrium.

Blurring Binaries: Queering Poetry at the Intersection of the Personal & the Political

  • Category: Visual & Performing Arts
  • Poster Presentation
  • Student Researcher: Cassie Feith, English senior
  • Mentor: Ellen McCallum, Professor in the Department of English, and Divya Victor, Assistant Professor in the Department of English
Photo of a blue and white poster with blue text
Cassie Feith's poster presentation at UURAF


This work is a collection of visual poetry that brings together critical and creative methodologies to undertake the representation of social justice as well as embodied gender and sexual identity. The blurring of binaries (the personal and the political) through content and form is crucial to addressing the violence of homophobia and transphobia, while also taking up space in dominate domains to relay messages of queer love, explorations, and identity. This work develops the theoretical and poetic contributions of Judith Halberstam, Elizabeth Freeman, CAConrad, Audre Lorde, Emji Spero, and others. In conversation with these thinkers and poets, the work engages ideas of queering time and space through the manipulation of form and language, while also recognizing form as a kind of language.