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Five Creighton undergrads to present research at BIG EAST tourney

Mar 6, 2022
5 min Read
Madison Square Garden BIG EAST Tournament

The Creighton men’s basketball team won’t be the only Bluejays vying for a title at Madison Square Garden.

While the BIG EAST Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 9-12) will certainly get the attention, elsewhere in the cavernous Madison Square Garden five other Creighton undergraduates will compete in the inaugural BIG EAST Undergraduate Research Poster Symposium, scheduled for March 12.

The symposium is a Creighton creation, stemming from a proposal by Julie Strauss-Soukup, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate vice provost for research and scholarship. Another Creighton tie is Carol Fassbinder-Orth, PhD, professor of biology and director of Creighton’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, who serves on the symposium planning committee and is judging coordinator for the competing schools.

“This symposium is a tremendous opportunity for Creighton to showcase our amazing undergraduate researchers at a national level,” Fassbinder-Orth says. “Our students are being showcased at Madison Square Garden, the ‘world’s most famous arena.’ It’s a tremendous honor and an opportunity for them to shine.”

The five undergraduates who will present their research posters were chosen by a Creighton selection committee on Feb. 1. All five will arrive in New York City on March 11 and leave on March 13. Travel expenses — air and hotel — will be covered, along with one free ticket to the BIG EAST tournament championship game on March 12.

It’s another example of Creighton’s commitment to providing undergraduate students with research opportunities. But it’s no layup. Competitors must make a 10-minute presentation before a panel of judges, during which they will be judged on the visual quality of their posters, their understanding of their hypotheses, the significance of their findings and the style of their presentations — which is to say the ease and confidence with which they bear themselves and the degree of knowledge they display.

Creighton’s Competitors

Creighton's Competitors
Left to right: Lauren Barbush, JJ Mark, Rhiannon McCracken, Keely Orndorff and Elizabeth Peller.

Lauren Barbush

  • Biology major, mentored by Marisa Zallocchi, PhD, assistant professor with the Creighton School of Medicine. Barbush’s poster topic is “Investigating the Therapeutic Potential of Piperlongumine Derivatives for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.”

JJ Mark

  • Political science major, mentored by Surbhi Malik, PhD, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences. Mark’s poster topic is “A True Story: The Contrasting Literary Ethics of Refugee Novels and Memoirs.”

Rhiannon McCracken

  • Biochemistry major, mentored by Julie Soukup, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. McCracken’s poster topic is “Structural and Functional Analysis of Crassostrea gigas OAZ-PK RNA.”

Keely Orndorff

  • Neuroscience major, mentored by Lynne Dieckman, PhD, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. Orndorff’s poster topic is “The Novel Interaction between Gene Silencing Proteins: Structural Studies of PCNA and CAF-1.”

Elizabeth Peller

  • English and theater majors, mentored by Heather Fryer, PhD, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences. Peller’s poster title is “Razor Women: A Case Study in Using Research and Creativity to Better Understand Historical Figures.”

Mark said his interest in the intersection of literature, society and government spurred him to research the ethical treatment of refugees.

“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and honored to represent Creighton,” he says. “I would like to send a special note of thanks to my advisor, Dr. Malik, as I could not be here without her constant support and advice, and to all who have helped me on my journey.”

The Razor Wars of 1930s Sydney, Australia, and the role played in those turf battles by two female mob bosses, caught the attention of Peller, who wrote a play that was performed at Creighton in September 2021.

“The main focus was to research these women and present them in a way that showed their full humanity,” Peller says. “I am so excited to be presenting my research at the BIG EAST Research Poster Symposium. I love being able to share my research and teach people about these incredible women.”

McCracken’s project involves working with an RNA sequence found in Crassostrea gigas, a species of oyster, questioning whether the sequence constitutes the first known mammalian riboswitch, and if so, assessing the implications for gene expression.

“I am super excited for this upcoming trip,” McCracken says. “Because of COVID, I have had limited opportunities to present my research in person. So, this event is allowing me to gain more presentation experience by explaining my work to an in-person audience.”


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