Midwest/West URSCA 2023

Welcome to the 2023 Midwest/West Regional Undergraduate Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activity Virtual Conference, hosted by Sonoma State University! We’re thrilled to have a wide variety of topics and themes represented here. Please take some time to view the presentations before the live Q&A sessions on 4 November (schedule below).


Saturday, November 4, 2023

Session 1
11:00-11:20 am Central/9:00-9:20 am Pacific

Effect of Wall Protein Glycosylation on Candida albicans Cell Surface Hydrophobicity

Nasiha Khan, Midwestern State University

Faculty Mentor: James Masuoka


Candida albicans colonizes human mucous membranes and opportunistically causes mild to severe disease. Increased surface hydrophobicity facilitates colonization. Surface hydrophobicity correlates with cell wall glycoprotein conformation. The outermost sugar branches attached to these proteins are composed of -1,2-oligomannosides. These outermost branches are longer in hydrophobic cell proteins than hydrophilic cell proteins. We hypothesized that this glycosylation change directly influences surface hydrophobicity when the longer -1,2-oligomannosides interact with each other. This interaction causes the observed change in conformation. We compared the hydrophobicity of wild-type strains with glycosylation defective mutants. Initial findings indicate that altering tertiary branch length does not significantly affect hydrophobicity, suggesting a more complex relationship between glycosylation and hydrophobicity. Ongoing research with additional strains aims to validate these findings and improve our understanding of C. albicans interactions with host tissues and colonization mechanisms.

Nasiha Khan was born in Los Angeles, California and brought up in Bangalore, India. Currently a senior at Midwestern State University, Khan is majoring in Biology and Minoring in Chemistry, and after graduation will be studying for the MCAT for further studies in medicine.

Positioning of Homologous Chromosome 15 in Bloom's Syndrome

Christian Quintero, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Hua


Bloom’s Syndrome (BS) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by immunodeficiency, sunlight sensitivity, and predisposition to cancer. Chromosomal aberrations such as quadriradials, abnormal chromosome structures that are implicated in crossover and recombination, have been previously reported in BS cells with chromosome 15. Loss of function mutations on the BLM gene, localized on chromosome 15, coding for a RecQ helicase, may give rise to unregulated homologous recombination and chromosomal aberrations. However, it is unknown whether abnormal homologous chromosome 15 pairing is correlated with quadriradial formation. By using high resolution confocal microscopy, and chromosome painting for 15, our preliminary results show abnormal pairing of homologous chromosome 15. This suggests abnormal pairing of chromosomes may be correlated to quadriradial formation that leads to mitotic recombination. Findings of our project will provide an understanding of chromosome organization and its implications in human disease.

Born in Napa, California, Christian Quintero is an undergraduate biology researcher under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Hua. Quintero strives to take his passions to either medical school or graduate school.

Traditional and Remote Sensing-Based Above Ground Biomass Estimate for North Texas Tree Species

Elizabeth Elkins, Kashif Mahmud, and Timothy Pegg, Midwestern State University

Faculty Mentor: Kashif Mahmud


In order to quantify the amount of carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems, improving the monitoring of tree above ground biomass (AGB) is essential. Several studies have recently revealed that terrestrial Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing technology could be a more accurate alternative approach to estimate tree AGB. These advancements in LiDAR allow for three-dimensional (3D) models of individual trees on a centimeter-scale. Algorithms have been developed that create a volume reconstruction of point cloud data. We can calculate AGB in a non-destructive and possibly more accurate way compared to current forestry practices. We will collect tree point clouds within Midwestern State University campus and analyze the data with multiple tree segmentation/modeling algorithms. This project will evaluate the accuracy of high-resolution LiDAR data and the state-of-the-art digital tree segmentation algorithms to quantify aboveground tree volume of numerous North Texas tree species.

Session 2
11:20-11:45 am Central/9:20-9:45 am Pacific

Improving the Performance of Quantum Computing Simulation

Brennan Freeze, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Suzanne Rivoire


Quantum computers are exponentially faster than classical computers for certain types of computation and will be a breakthrough for machine learning practices. However, since classical computers are much more widely available, they are often used to simulate quantum computation. This task is inherently a losing battle, but various optimization techniques from classic linear algebra such as parsing of matrices, to domain-specific strategies exploiting the properties of quantum circuits can vastly expand what is feasible. These improvements vary in complexity to implement, however are necessary for rational runtimes. We demonstrate how a selection of these techniques can improve the performance of QC.py, a simple and flexible quantum simulation and visualization tool designed for education. These optimization practices in the future can possibly be used to find conjunctions of quantum and classical computing to create more efficient computing techniques.

Brennan Freeze is from San Jose, California. Freeze is a computer science major and intends to pursue a Ph.D in computer science after graduation.

A Comparative Study of two Matrix Multiplication Algorithms Under Current Hardware Architectures

Samuel Olatunde, Midwestern State University

Faculty Mentor: Eduardo Colmenares


A widely used and computationally intensive scientific kernel, the Matrix multiplication algorithm has seen few improvements over the years. A notable one is the Strassen variant, which uses a divide and conquer approach, reducing the number of multiplications while multiplying 2 x 2 matrices to 7, yielding a more asymptotically optimal Θ(n^2.81 ) algorithmthan the standard primitive Θ(n^3 ) version.

The goal of this research is to study, implement and compare Strassen’s algorithm against the traditional dot product matrix multiplication algorithm. It assesses their performance on two prominent high-performance computing architectures available at the Lonestar6 cluster at TACC: multi-core (CPU) and many-core (GPU). Implementation is carried out using C and CUDA-C for the respective architectures. The correctness of mathematical approaches is verified, and performance benefits are evaluated across various problem sizes.

Samuel Olatunde was born in Kaduna State, Nigeria. He is a Computer Science and Mathematics major and plans to pursue a career in High Performance Computing after graduation.

Network Improvement Through Phase Intercepting Controller (NITPIC)

Christian Sanchez, Ceara Sullivan, and Alexandria Walker, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Mohamed Salem


The Network Improvement Through Phase Intercepting Controller (NITPIC) focuses on improving sustainability for internet-connected devices used in environments with multipath interference. We are focusing on warehouses with 4G/5G connectivity as they need consistent internet connection in their building. We aim to reliably connect to the internet by adding dynamic beamforming capabilities to the radios, thereby reducing signal loss. We are still in the research phase of our project where we are focusing on phased array designs with parallel signal sampling and signal power analysis. Our proposed timeline is to have a partial working prototype that can successfully identify the optimal signal path by November 2023 and a fully functional prototype that will be able to successfully stay on the path of strongest signal while the device moves around by April 2024.

Ceara Sullivan was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California. She is an electrical engineering bachelor’s student in her last year and plans to obtain higher education after graduation in 2024.

Christian Sanchez was born and raised in the Central Valley in Tulare County, California and is a senior studying Electrical Engineering and pursuing a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. His future goals are working in communications and energy transmission.

Alexandria Walker was born in Santa Rosa, California. She currently is a senior in the Electrical Engineering program with future goals to continue in RF satellite communications.

Bringing Online Sexual Assault Bystander Intervention Into the Twenty-First Century

Bryan Carreto, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Heather Smith


To reduce rates of sexual violence and harassment on college campuses, many colleges and universities have adopted sexual assault bystander intervention trainings. However, the effectiveness of these programs varies widely. As a result, we compared the efficacy of an online video game-based bystander training with an online PowerPoint presentation of the same information. We randomly assigned 105 participants who identified as men and women to either play the game or watch the presentation. Participants who played the game were as likely to remember the bystander intervention as those who watched the presentation, and reported similar levels of bystander efficacy. Additionally, men reported less frustration after playing. However, students who played the game were less likely to mention their university affiliation or involvement for the university bystander intervention program. Therefore, we aim to test whether affirming the university prior will improve the connection between learning strategies and protecting fellow students.

Born in Napa, California, Bryan Carreto is a senior at Sonoma State University. With a specific interest in Industrial psychology, Carreto hopes for further education at a graduate level.

Session 3
11:45 am-12:10 pm Central/9:45-10:10 am Pacific

The Trickling Effect of Immigration Policies on Unaccompanied Children in The U.S.

Joselyn Serrano Gutierrez, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Natalia Villanueva-Nieves


This project focuses on some of the most vulnerable migrants, unaccompanied youth. They are the shadow that hides behind immigration itself. Unaccompanied youth currently have immigration policies such as special immigrant  juvenile status policies and sponsorships that benefit them. However, the research behind implementing these policies and their effectiveness is minimal. This project fills the gap by examining the minor migrants' experiences regarding the implementation and effectiveness of current special juvenile immigrant policies and sponsorships. The research is currently in progress: data has been collected from the U.S. Department of Labor and other government sources, and policies and their qualifications have been researched. Future plans include collecting testimonios from former unaccompanied migrant children and attorneys specialized in SIJS. Preliminary results of the project are presented here.

Joselyn Serrano Gutiérrez is majoring in Latino and Chicano Studies at Sonoma State University. Serrano Gutiérrez plans on obtaining a PhD in Public Policy with a focus on immigration.

Political Efficacy and Perceived Influence of Urban and Rural Residents

Emily Rowland, Midwestern State University

Faculty Mentor: Juheon Lee


While political scientists have long studied American citizens’ political efficacy as an important indicator of attitude toward government, less attention has been paid to their efficacy as rural or urban residents. This study analyzed the 2020 American National Election Studies to examine how urban and rural residents perceived their group influence on government and how such perceptions were associated with their own political efficacy to provide insights into the intensifying rural–urban divide in American society. The results showed that (1) residents of cities and suburbs believe that small towns and rural areas had much influence on government, while the residents of small towns and rural areas disagreed, and that (2) small towns and rural areas demonstrated lower levels of external efficacy than cities and suburban areas; however, (3) people who believed that small towns and rural areas have much influence on government showed higher levels of external efficacy.

Emily Rowland is from Crowell, Texas. Majoring in political science, Rowland plans to attend law school after graduation.

Refusing to “Just Survive”: The Experiences of Chicana Activistas in Higher Education

X’andrí D.G. Bautista, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Patricia Kim-Rajal


This research focuses on the experiences of undergraduate Chicanas at a predominantly white university. It documents their work in instilling systems of healing through student-led activist diversity initiatives. Our identities as scholars are not objective, they are shaped by the politics and culture we reside in. This project documents the institutional barriers and exclusion experienced by first generation Chicana students. The Chicana student experiences vary depending on their income, gender, sexuality, cultural identity, and immigration status, factors that impact the retention, graduation, and continuation of Chicanas in higher education. This project recounts Chicana Scholars’ experience of endured physical, psychological, and emotional burnout. The oral histories and open-ended semi-structured interviews that comprise this research center their perceptions of the colonizing university institution as well as their efforts of carving space for institutional healing, joy, and emotional fulfillment given their experiences of unbelonging and exclusion within higher education.

X’andrí D.G. Bautista is a first generation chicane scholar born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley, proud to call Sonoma County home, and working to obtain a degree in Chicano Latino Studies with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Bautista engages in community work in the nonprofit sector, elevating and uplifting historically disenfranchised communities through cultivating spaces of belonging, and addressing the multidimensional struggle endured as members of diverse communities.

The Importance of Indigenous Languages in Healing Socio-Ecological Relationships

Edgar A. Munoz Corona, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: James V. Mestaz


Language shapes perception and influences human socio-ecology. Indigenous languages play a crucial role in healing these socio-ecological relationships that have been fragmented by linguistic imperialism that colonialism and capitalism aggrandize. By revitalizing and promoting the use of indigenous languages within environmental education, we can foster a greater understanding of a worldview that appreciates the interconnectedness between place, humans and non-humans. Indigenous languages contain untranslatable wisdom. Through an exploratory approach this research in progress finds that the current dominant solutions for the climate crisis does not mention indigenous language revitalization and incorporation into the environmental curriculum as a way to address the root of the problem. Through this exploration, indigenous languages offer a holistic approach to addressing the socio-ecological collapse, where indigenous perspectives are not only valued but integrated.

Edgar A. Munoz Corona was born in Autlan, Jalisco, Mexico and is majoring in Geography, Environment, and Planning. The post-graduation plan is to get into a Social Science PhD program that is involved in amplifying indigenous voices.

Session 4
12:10-12:30 pm Central/10:10-10:30 am Pacific

Queer Lit on P.A.R: The Positive Assimilation Rubric for YA Literature

Brandon Goins, Midwestern State University

Faculty Mentor: Peter Fields


1969 saw the birth of LGBTQ literature for young adult audiences. Since then, it has grown, developed, and expanded from a niche subset, often depicting non-heteronormative sexualities as mere phases to be punished, into a thriving, representative genre. It supports queer young adults through difficult stages of their lives. Considering its importance, it is vital to ensure that the literature inspires hope in YA readers rather than simply aiming for literature that is not controversial. My creation, the Positive Assimilation Rubric (PAR), provides standards for judging the quality of queer representation in YA literature, laying out a middle ground between the ideas of queer isolationism and total assimilation. This paper explains the classifications within PAR and applies them to several modern examples of popular young adult literature with queer representation.

Brandon Goins is an English Major at Midwestern State University from Chillicothe, Texas. He plans to pursue a masters in YA Literature and a Ph.D. in Queer Literature.

Effects of Home-Based Exercise Program on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors in Older Adults with Intellectual Disability

Ashleigh Allen and Kermena Yousif, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Poram Choi


This study aimed to investigate the impact of an eight week fall prevention exercise program on sedentary behavior and physical activity levels among adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). 22 participants comprised of 14 males and 8 females with an average age of 50±15, residing in group homes, engaged in this program, which featured strength, balance exercises, and educational sessions. Conducted once a week with instructors and supplemented by DVD sessions four times a week, participants were monitored using ActiGraph wGT3X-BT activity monitors before and during the program. Statistical analysis with SPSS version 29, utilizing a two sided paired test (p <0.5), revealed that the program led to an increase in both sedentary break time and moderate physical activity among adults with ID. This study demonstrates the positive effects of the fall prevention program in promoting greater physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors in this population.

Kermena Yousif, originally from Egypt, is a senior majoring in Kinesiology with a concentration of Exercise Science at Sonoma State University. After graduation, she is planning to a pursue a doctorate in Physical Therapy, where she aspires to help individuals recover from injuries and improve their overall physical well-being.

Ashleigh Allen grew up in Sonoma, California. She is currently in her senior year at Sonoma State University pursuing a degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science. After graduation, Allen aspires to get a doctorate in physical therapy in hopes of working with the aging population to better their healthspan.
Ashleigh Allen grew up in Sonoma, California. She is currently in her senior year at Sonoma State University pursuing a degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science. After graduation, Allen aspires to get a doctorate in physical therapy in hopes of working with the aging population to better their healthspan.'

EMOTE: A Wearable Device for Emotion Estimation and Classification

Jorge Romero and Oscar Avendano, Sonoma State University

Faculty Mentor: Mohamed Salem


Non-verbal individuals on the autistic spectrum, along with caretakers, suffer from communicating on a daily basis. We developed a non-invasive wearable device to estimate and classify emotional states to address those needs. Our project goal is to determine the accuracy of its application and develop a system that interprets data trends in four vital signs: heart rate, skin conductance, skin temperature, and blood oxygen saturation, to detect primary emotions. Experimental data are collected from volunteers, who were subjected to various visual and auditory experiences to stimulate different emotions. The collected data are processed to establish correlations between emotions and deviations from baseline readings. Heart rate and skin conductance proved to be easier to analyze since they showcased the greatest change in values in contrast to the other two. The designed non-invasive wearable device showed great potential in helping behavior specialists to interpret the emotional states of individuals with communication difficulties.

Jorge Romero is a Senior undergraduate student from San Rafael, California pursuing a Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. His current post-graduation plans are to work as a hardware engineer for a tech industry.

Oscar Avendano is from Freestone, California and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. His post-graduation plan is to work as a hardware engineer for a tech industry, specifically in renewable energy.