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Kinesiology juniors Elizabeth Martinez (center) and Aubrey Cervantes (left) present their research at the AHS Undergrad Research Expo on April 24, 2024.
Kinesiology juniors Elizabeth Martinez (center) and Aubrey Cervantes (left) present their research at the AHS Undergrad Research Expo on April 24, 2024.

AHS students present diverse projects for Undergrad Research Week


For a freshman at the College of Applied Health Sciences, Saiesha Bollapragada’s research portfolio is impressive. 

At last week’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, the I-Health major got to present the results from her first research project, “Public Health Preparedness Among UIUC Students During Extreme Heat Conditions,” where she examined students’ awareness and handling of severe heat in the spring semester. 

She completed her study with a push from Students Pursuing Applications, Research and Knowledge, or SPARK, an AHS program that jump-starts incoming undergraduate students research experiences by pairing them with professors in the college. Bollapragada was placed with Recreation, Sport, and Tourism Associate Professor Mariela Fernandez, whose experience with urban environmental injustices fit her research topic perfectly. 

“Professor Fernandez motivated me to start this project on my own,” Bollapragada said. “There’s a lot more reading involved than I thought there was, it was a lot of work preparing for the symposium, but if it’s something you’re interested in it’s a fun process.” 

Students, faculty and staff got a taste of the findings from AHS’ budding student researchers during the AHS Undergraduate Research Expo at Huff Hall on Wednesday, April 24, where a roster of undergraduates gave poster presentations on a diverse range of research topics.

An AHS freshman smiles next to her research poster

Many students spearheaded their own research projects with significant support and guidance from faculty and graduate students. Others, like a group of Speech and Hearing Science students from the Intellectual DisAbilities Communication Lab led by Associate Professor Marie Moore Channell, provided updates on long-range research projects they’ve assisted with on campus. 

Three SHS seniors, Emma Mueller, Abigail Keasler and Liz Gremer, presented initial findings from their glimpse into the Speech Accessibility Project, an ongoing research endeavor looking to make voice recognition software—such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa—more accessible for people with different speech patterns.

Each of the students has helped recruit participants with Down syndrome or aided vocal transcriptions from the samples they’ve collected. Under the leadership of Channell, the lab hopes to collect 240,000 voice samples from 400 participants. 

“Our poster looked into the recruiting process with that population and took a look at patterns of articulation differences exhibited by individuals with Down syndrome,” said Mueller, who transcribed vocal samples for the project. 

All three of the students met in Channell’s lab, and immediately found research responsibilities once the Down syndrome portion of the project came under Channell’s purview. 

“It’s been very rewarding, very interesting and very impactful,” Keasler said. “A lot of families in meetings or over the phone say, ‘Siri doesn’t really understand what we’re trying to say,’ so this is very important and I can’t wait to see the results of it.” 

Coming to a project affiliated with SHS with “so much publicity and so much money coming in is encouraging,” said Gremer, who has helped recruit participants and set up their first meetings for collecting voice samples. 

A man in a blue sweater listens to students give a research poster presentation.

AHS student programs, such as the first-generation focused Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP), were well represented in the research symposium. I-LEAP juniors Elizabeth Martinez and Aubrey Cervantes, both studying kinesiology, brought results from their research collaboration on high-intensity interval training. 

Working within KCH Professor Steve Petruzzello’s Exercise Psychophysiology Lab, the pair analyzed 25 participants’ emotional responses to high-intensity exercise, compared with their scores and symptoms of several mental health qualities: namely anxiety, depression and neuroticism. 

“We were looking at exercise adherence—how can we get more people to get more active—and we were really interested in HIIT exercise, so we put it all together in one research project,” Cervantes said. 

What they found: Participants with more symptoms of depression reported more negative affect responses during the HIIT exercise, while anxiety and neuroticism didn’t show significant predictive power, they said.

“This is my first hands-on [study] that I can call my own and Aubrey’s,” said Martinez, who’s applying to physical therapy schools. “My favorite part is meeting with the participants. It’s so fun getting to know everyone, even if there’s a lot more hours behind the desk just plugging and chugging data.” 

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