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Press Release

Cal Poly Students Tie for Most Total Awards at 38th Annual CSU Research Competition

Cal Poly student Lily Nielsen presents her work at the CSU Research Competition held on the Cal Poly campus

Contact: Nick Wilson

805-235-8008; [email protected]

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Five Cal Poly student research teams received first- or second-place recognition at the 2024 California State University (CSU) Student Research Competition held on the San Luis Obispo campus April 26-27.

Hundreds of students from across the 23-campus CSU system competed in 10 categories at the 38th iteration of the statewide contest: Behavioral, Social Sciences and Public Administration; Biological and Agricultural Sciences; Business, Economics and Hospitality Management; Creative Arts and Design; Education; Engineering and Computer Science; Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences; Humanities and Letters; Physical and Mathematical Sciences; and Interdisciplinary.

Cal Poly tied for the most awards along with San Jose, East Bay, San Francisco and Sonoma. Student researchers included individual participants as well as teams. Cal Poly students represented the Bailey College of Science and Mathematics, College of Liberal Arts and College of Engineering.

Hector Reyes, Xavier Aguilar and Chanel de Smet took first in the Education category designated for undergraduates. Their study, “Nuestra Ciencia: Empowering bilingual students as scientists,” involved teaching microbiology in Spanish to local bilingual elementary school students. Reyes is an eligible recent Cal Poly alumnus (Psychology, '23) who is working toward earning a master’s degree at San Diego State University.

Cal Poly students Hector Reyes and Xavier Aguilar stand with three Cal Poly representatives
Dawn Neill, from left, Cal Poly’s interim vice president of research; Hector Reyes; Alejandra Yep, biological sciences professor; Xavier Aguilar; and Jane Lehr, Cal Poly director of the Office of Student Research.

Photo by Alexis Kovacevic

“It was one of the best days of my life,” said Aguilar, a first-year liberal studies major from San Miguel, California, of the first-place award. “Being able to represent Cal Poly on the state level and win in the Education category was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.”

Nuestra Ciencia — led by biological sciences Associate Professor Alejandra Yep and liberal studies Assistant Professor Jasmine Nation — aims to inform and empower young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies, or STEM.

“Being a future Latino educator, I was really drawn to this project, as it included two important things to me: Latinx in STEM and having a diverse classroom,” Aguilar said. “Overall, Nuestra Ciencia and this research competition shifted my view on research and opened my eyes up to a new stream of education.”

Lily Nielsen, a fourth-year biological sciences student from Vacaville, California, said the recognition felt rewarding for her first-place award related to HIV research in the undergraduate Biological and Agricultural Sciences category.

“I'm very passionate about the research project, and I dedicate a lot of my time to it,” Nielsen said. “A driving factor behind the research in Cal Poly Professor Michael Black’s lab is to deepen our understanding of HIV as a virus, in hopes of contributing information to the scientific community that’s useful in the effort to create more equitable and effective treatments for HIV/AIDS.”

The team of Harrison Oen; master’s student Izzy Starr of Hood River, Oregon; and Jonah Adams of Tualatin, Oregon, received first place in the Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences category (mixed undergraduates and graduates), working with biomedical engineering Professor Kristen O’Halloran Cardinal. Their study evaluated the effects of silicone blood vessel models, which are used in medicine to remove blood clots causing strokes.

“I am most proud of being able to participate in a project that provides valuable information for companies to improve medical devices, and ultimately, increase patient safety and effective treatments,” said Oen, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major from Issaquah, Washington.

“Fundamentally, biomedical engineers work in this field to make an impact in the healthcare field, and I am fortunate to be able to do so through my research.”

Cal Poly students Emily Prince and Adam Marin walk up to receive their award
Cal Poly students Emily Prince (middle left) and Adam Marin walk to receive their award at the competition ceremony.

Photo by Alexis Kovacevic

Second-place Cal Poly winners included biology students Emily Prince from Portland, Oregon; Serena Jenson of Santa Monica, California; and Chris Athens of Salt Lake City; along with microbiology major Adam Marin from Monrovia, California, for their work studying treatment of urinary tract infections (Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences category for mixed undergraduates and graduates).

Prince, a fourth-year biological sciences major said: “The overarching goal of this research is to develop an innovative therapeutic approach to address UTIs with the intention of reducing the role of their treatments in fueling antibiotic resistance.”

And Anna Dion, a biomedical major from Coupeville, Washington; James Roake, a health major from Cupertino, California; Kate Mayeda of Tustin, California (Public Health, ’21) and Nicholas Elich also took second for their work titled “Chronic Disease Prevalence Among Patients Attending a Free Clinic on the Central Coast of California” (Behavioral, Social Sciences and Public Administration category for undergraduates).

“We discovered that uninsured individuals attending the free clinic experienced a high burden of chronic diseases and that the clinic itself improves patients' quality of life,” said Elich, a third-year statistics major of Cupertino, California.

“Over the two days, CSU students presented 200 projects,” said Jane Lehr, Cal Poly director of the Office of Student Research. “We are grateful to the 61 jurors, the 23 session moderators, and all the staff and volunteers who supported this effort — including folks in the Cal Poly Office of Student Research and the Office of the Vice President of Research.”

Top photo:

Cal Poly student Lily Nielsen presents her research results at the California State University Research Competition held on campus in late April. The event attracted hundreds of CSU students from across the 23-campus CSU system.

Photo by Alexis Kovacevic

Cal Poly students Harrison Oen and Anna Dion stand with university representatives at the CSU Research Competition held at Cal Poly
Dawn Neill, Cal Poly’s interim vice president of research, students Harrison Oen and Anna Dion and Jane Lehr, the university's director of the Office of Student Research.

Photo by Alexis Kovacevic