CSA Day 2021: Student Spotlights in Natural Sciences & Math

Updated: Apr 12

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.


Noelia and Kezia standing together
Photo courtesy of Noelia Rodriguez and Kezia Wafula

Noelia Rodriguez and Kezia Wafula

Project title: “How does the effect of sociodemographic factors on maternal and child outcomes differ by GDP?”

Please describe your research.

Through this stratified research study, we aim to look at how specific indicators like urbanity, race, ethnicity, education level and income influence the different maternal and infant health outcomes in the following countries: Haiti, Uganda, Pakistan, Philippines, Peru and the United States.

What inspired your topic?

We were interested in the difference in healthcare in our home countries and the United States. Being students of international backgrounds, we wanted to narrow down why the US system is more effective and what factors specifically influence each country’s systems.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

COVID-19 made it harder for us to meet in person and work together on the data sets and meet up with our mentor and professor, Dr. Perez-Heydrich, if we had quick questions. Meetings had to be through Zoom or email, so we weren't able to “pop” in her office if we had questions or needed help. It was difficult at first, but we've gotten used to it at this point.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

Yes, we are both really excited to have it published, and after all these months of work we really appreciate the fact that Dr. Perez-Heydrich thought it possible. We both know we want to pursue a higher education in programs that are related to public health.


Kelsieanne sitting on a bench with her onyx
Photo courtesy of Kelsieanne Schmidt

Kelsieanne Schmidt

Project title: "Assessing Vaccine Hesitancy Among Undergraduate Students"

Please describe your research.

I worked on this study with Dr. Carolina Perez-Heydrich. It aimed to describe COVID-19-related health belief attitudes among undergraduate students and identify attitudes associated with vaccine acceptance.

What inspired your topic?

When I started this research project in the fall of 2020, COVID-19 vaccines were projected to become available at the beginning of 2021. At the time, there was very little known about college students’ acceptability of a COVID-19 vaccine. My goal was to create a study to further benefit the Meredith community by identifying and addressing perceived barriers towards a COVID-19 vaccine. By understanding attitudes associated with vaccine acceptance, campus campaigns were created to target perceptions and barriers associated with vaccine hesitancy.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

With the COVID-19 pandemic striking at the beginning of 2020, there was not a lot of information or studies conducted that I could work off of. I had to get creative and look at prior studies involved in combating vaccine hesitancy and adapt it to best fit the objective of my study. I would not have had this opportunity to pursue my research if it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

Conducting my research has allowed me to immerse myself in my field of study and expand on material studied in my public health courses. I have learned many valuable and marketable skills that will be applicable to my future career.


Elinor standing outside
Photo courtesy of Elinor Shelp-Peck

Elinor Shelp-Peck

Project title: “Single Cell Transcriptome of Human Endometrial Stromal Fibroblasts”

Please describe your research.

The study's aim was to profile genes involved in decidualization. My work was done once the RNA sequencing was done, and I was in charge of characterizing the most prevalent genes using a literature search. There were 165 genes in total, and I went through and read each of their Gene Reference into a Function database entries, which is a collection of articles that describe the most important aspects of that gene's function. From there, I made tables and did calculations to show how and where each gene is involved.

What inspired your topic?

I have an internship with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Lab, and this is what they were working on when I started. While I do find the research interesting and am grateful to help in the progression of this study, someone else was inspired enough to start the research.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Initially, I was supposed to be doing wet lab research in person at the NIEHS in Research Triangle Park (RTP). Due to COVID-19, the summer portion of the internship was cancelled and everything was moved online. I have still learned a lot from this experience; however, it is a very different set of skills than I was expecting to learn.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I think my involvement in this project has taught me a lot about how to find the sources that work best for a project. I have learned a lot about conducting literature reviews and how to start a project. Research papers and projects take a lot of work and I have definitely learned a lot about that during my time at the NIEHS.


Katie standing outside by flowers
Photo courtesy of Katherine Thompson

Katherine Thompson

Project title: “Retail Sales Forecasting of Lilly Pulitzer Using Time Series and Machine Learning Techniques”

Please describe your research.

My research is in the discipline of data analytics and statistics. I am specifically doing retail forecasting for my favorite fashion brand, Lilly Pulitzer, using time series forecasting and machine learning techniques including ARIMA, SARIMA, SARIMAX and Random Forest models using Python software. My retail forecasting is used to predict sales data with COVID-19 decreasing sales.

What inspired your topic?

COVID-19 inspired my thesis topic as retail sales traffic both in-store and online decreased over 90% in March 2020. Lilly Pulitzer is notorious for having two sales each year, each known as the After Party Sale. However, in 2020, Lilly Pulitzer had a surprise Dressed for Summer Sale to account for the lack of retail sales. Because COVID-19 significantly decreased sales in 2020, I was inspired to predict Lilly Pulitzer's retail sales for 2021 and 2022 and to project the economic recovery for the brand using sales data available from 2011-2020.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Since COVID-19 began, I have become passionate about the trends in our world. My thesis has allowed me to specifically explore the trends within our retail world. I wanted to predict the retail sales for Lilly Pulitzer given these unprecedented times and its recovery over the coming years beyond 2020.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

My thesis has inspired my desire to go to graduate school to acquire a Master’s in Data Science. Machine learning and time series forecasting techniques are fascinating subjects and I want to learn more and explore different models within this area of data science. In addition to wanting to obtain a master’s degree, I want to apply the techniques that I learned in my thesis in the working world. Most of my thesis work was done on an independent learning basis, which has grown my passion for the subject. I want to become a data scientist and apply my independent learning techniques and techniques learned from my thesis into the real world.


Interviews compiled by Ally Cefalu, Staff Writer

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