The GRAD event puts university research on full display


Graduate Research Achievement Day features more than 130 students and their research

PhD students and members of the public discuss student presentations at the 2023 GRAD event. AND Today / Walter Criswell.

The Memorial Union grand ballroom was wall to wall filled with posters and people on Thursday, March 2nd. More than 130 PhD students attended to present their research on a variety of topics and to chat about their findings.

Graduate Research Achievement Day (GRAD) is an annual event showcasing graduate-level research at all stages of development.

The event, now in its seventh year, highlights the groundbreaking research of UND graduate students and offers in addition to nine cash prizes of up to $500 based on judges’ evaluations.

Importantly, it also provides an opportunity for PhD students to network and open avenues for expanding research with their peers. This factor is key to the event’s success, according to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Chris Nelson.

“One thing I’ve always liked about this type of event is that it encourages students from completely different backgrounds to talk to each other,” Nelson said. “It helps them see that they all have similar paths and similar problems. We have had several situations where research collaborations have emerged from events like this.”

Kimberly Lucas, a nutrition student, traveled from Hawaii to attend the event. She presented her research results on the effectiveness of vitamin D in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.

“Diabetic foot ulcers are a leading cause of lower extremity amputation, which itself carries a 70% five-year mortality rate,” said Lucas. “Vitamin D can help with that. A billion people around the world lack it, and people with diabetes are at even greater risk.”

Lucas found that patients taking vitamin D showed great improvement in maintaining and healing their diabetic foot ulcers, a revelation for those seeking treatment.

“This could lead to significant personal and financial improvements for people living with diabetic foot ulcers,” she said. “These wounds can cost up to $27,000 and take about six months to heal. But a nine- to 12-month supply of vitamin D costs about $15 and significantly reduces healing time.”

Lucas, first in the Technical, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities category, said the opportunity to present her findings was worth the trip from Hawaii.

“This is my first time in North Dakota, I just flew into Fargo yesterday,” she said. “It was really nice to have the opportunity to come here and meet my advisor and some of my faculty, and the presentation helped me communicate my research in a better and more accessible way.”

Chris Nelson said the refinement of communication was one of the key benefits of hosting the event.

“We want our students to learn this communication practice so that anyone from any background can understand why their work is important,” Nelson said. “This is an important life skill, especially when you are involved in research.”

Additionally, the GRAD event gives students the opportunity to engage with community sponsors and members of the general public in an environment that rewards interactivity and engagement.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase the amazing research we’re doing here,” said Nelson. “It is important that the public see what we are doing for the city, the region and the country.”

The Dean of the UND Graduate School, Chris Nelson, moderated the event’s awards ceremony. AND today / Walter Criswell.

Power engineering student Shabaz Khan, who won the grand prize in the GRAD Engineering category, said this aspect is particularly important to him as he is currently pursuing a patent for his lithium-ion battery research.

“This is my baby,” said Khan, “I welcome any opportunity to present my research. I love it because you get so many different questions and it really helps you understand how to improve your communication.”

Khan said that by researching algorithm development in battery microchips, he found great potential to reduce charging times and degradation of electric car batteries, especially in cold weather.

“Cold temperatures like the ones we find in North Dakota are one of the biggest challenges to EV growth and adoption, and our algorithmic engineering is 10 times faster than the industry standard,” he said. “You’ll be done in 15 minutes.”

Khan mentioned that cold environments are tough on batteries, reducing their usefulness and comfort over time, which has been a handicap for EV manufacturers. But he hopes he can change that.

“Any type of battery begins to crystallize in cold temperatures,” Khan said. “But we found a way to warm it up and reduce the negative effects through this algorithm. Corrosion is greatly reduced and driver anxiety between reloads is greatly reduced.”

Khan was in his element at the GRAD event and enjoyed the opportunity to engage with a public audience. He mentioned that the many discourse venues at UND, such as the Center for Innovation, were essential for him to advance his research beyond academia.

PhD student Olivia Rajpathy presented her research on the mental health of refugee children at this year’s GRAD event. AND today / Walter Criswell.

Cortez Standing Bear, on the other hand, said she was less experienced at presenting her research on public forums. The public health PhD student said she was a little intimidated by the idea.

“Before today, there was definitely a lot of anxiety,” admitted Standing Bear, “but now that I’m here, talking to people and delivering my research, I feel a lot better.”

Standing Bear was there to present her research on racial disparities in health insurance access and its association with coronary artery disease, a topic she hopes can be addressed with more research like hers.

“We found that the only race with a significant association between coronary artery disease and lack of a health plan was Native American,” explained Standing Bear Disease. There’s a big access problem here, and the first step in figuring out how to approach it is doing research like this.”

Standing Bear said that despite her initial fears, she was glad she attended.

“This is an important topic for me, and Native Americans are very underrepresented in research areas,” she said, “I’m glad I had the opportunity to be here.”

The GRAD event attracted around 150 participants to see the varied research results of the UND PhD students.

The event’s outreach is also expanding, as this year will see the launch of a standalone virtual event for distance learners – an event attended by more than 30 students. The public virtual event featured a similar judging model, offering cash prizes for the top three presentations.

Regardless of venue or medium, GRAD remains an integral part of the university’s research-related program of events. Perhaps most importantly, it is a chance for the public to see some of the most fascinating and important academic work the region has to offer.

Here is the full list of winners of the 2023 GRAD event:

On Campus Award Winner

Mechanical engineering:

1st Place ($500) – Shabaz Khan, Energy Engineering

2nd Place ($300) – Hyunsuk Choi, Mechanical Engineering

3rd Place ($200) – Ashraf Al Goraee, Biomedical Engineering

natural sciences:

1st Place ($500) – Mason Clobes, Chemistry

2nd Place ($300) – Oluwatobiloba Aminu, Biomedical Sciences

3rd Place ($200) – Michael Willette, Atmospheric Science

Professional, social, arts and humanities:

1st Place ($500) – Kimberly Lucas, Nutrition

2nd Place ($300) – Michael Herbert, Higher Education

3rd place ($200) – Shakila Parvin Bristy, Psychology

Virtual Program Winner

1st Place ($500) – Allyson Muehlemann, Educational Practice and Leadership

2nd Place ($300) – Terry Rector, Aerospace Sciences

3rd Place ($200) – Stacey Jackson, Aerospace Science

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