As an undergraduate at the University of Florida, I sought out several research opportunites within my college and within my community.
Graham Center Civic Scholars:
From February 2014 until November 2015, I served as a Graham Center Civic Scholar with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. My first assignment with the program was to write a report on aging infrastructure in Gilchrist County. In order to accomplish this I had to perform research on issues that occur due to decaying roads, water distribution systems, and other aging infrastructure. In addition, I had to interview two county officials and discuss with them what they thought were the most pressing aging infrastructure concerns within the county and how they planned on resolving them. Combining my individual research with their testimonies, my publication clearly stated the problem, why it exists, and what can be done while taking into account the difficulties associated with these solutions, thus providing the public insight and possible actions they can take to remedy the issues.
I was one of fifty students selected to write a report on a county or regional planning council (RPC) in Florida about their aging infrastructure. After completing the report on Gilchrist County, I was picked to compile a summary of all the documents associated with the program. All in all, I had to summarize approximately 45 reports into one comprehensive document that fully accounted for the main aging infrastructure concerns within Florida: lack of funding and management, water supply and distribution, an unaware and growing population, and inadequate public transportation systems.
I was fortunate again to be chosen to investigate food insecurity within Union County for the 2015 Graham Center Civic Scholars program. Below is the final report!
My participation in the 2015 program also included writing a public policy brief on researching and using nanotechnology infused food packaging as a means to resolve food insecurity throughout Florida.
University Scholars Program:
I had the honor of being one of 200 students chosen throughout UF to participate in undergraduate research for the 2015-2016 academic year. My research focused on comparing FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) and Boehm titrations in analyzing activated carbon (AC) functional groups. The objective of this research was to determine if there was a correlation between these two methods and figure out if FTIR can be used solely or at least most of the time for this process in order to save time and retrieve more accurate results.
I began first with a literature review of works performed using Boehm titrations and FTIR along with the physical and chemical principles underlying these techniques and, of course, AC itself. Soon, I was learning the fundamentals of working in a laboratory environment including proper equipment handling and cleanliness along with safety protocols. Before I knew it, I was performing Boehm titrations and FTIR on my own.
A Boehm titration setup.
A FTIR spectrometer.
Here I learned that research can be a trial-and-error process. My results with untreated AC were inconclusive in validating a correlation between both test methods. To try and resolve this, I tested AC treated with varying concentrations of nitric acid solutions. Previous works showed that the number of oxygen functional groups increase when treated using nitric acid. Still, I could not determine any clear relationships from this new data. Undeterred, I concluded that my procedures must be modified to accurately account for the physical and chemical properties of AC.
From the beginning of my research experience, I wanted to explain the work I was doing and why it mattered. In October 2015 I had the privilege to present at the Center for Undergraduate Research Board of Students (CURBS) Research Symposium to disseminate my research and learn more about the other studies being done around UF’s campus. Again in 2016, I had multiple opportunities to present at the ESSIE Research Symposium at UF, the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC) at the University of Tampa, and the Undergraduate Research Symposium also held at UF. This work culminated in submitting an article for publication in the Journal of Undergraduate Research (JUR) and also served as my honors thesis to graduate with Summa Cum Laude honors. A very special thank you to Dr. David Mazyck and Regina Rodriguez for their mentorship and guidance throughout this endeavor!