New McNair Scholars

Zeb Arshad

Zeb Arshad
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2026

Victoria Guerrero

Victoria Guerrero
Hometown: Flatonia, TX
Major: Global Studies
Graduation: Spring 2025

Katelyn Perez

Katelyn Perez
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2025

Katia Rivera

Katia Rivera
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Global Studies
Graduation: Spring 2025

Isaac Cavazos

Isaac Cavazos
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2025

Jeila Rios

Jeila Rios
Hometown: Manchester, MD
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2025

Nereida Carrillo

Nereida Carrillo
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2025

Jackie Guajardo

Jackeline Guajardo
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major:Political Science
Graduation: Fall 2024

Lor Smith

Lor Smith
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2025

Tatiana Ruvalcaba

Tatiana Ruvalcaba
Hometown: Edinburg, TX
Major: Biology & Chemistry
Graduation: Spring 2026

Lizzie Guzman

Lizzie Guzman
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2025

Current McNair Scholars

Aaliyah Gutierrez-Cano headshot

Aaliyah Gutierrez-Cano
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2024

"Producing Ethanol Tolerant Mutants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae 09-448 Using a UV Mutagenesis Protocol"

Research directed by Dr. Claire Edwards,School of Natural Sciences

The collapse of numerous ecosystems as a result of climate change prompts society to stop using fossil fuels as an energy source and, instead, use alternative fuels, like biofuels that are made from the fermentation of biomass, such as pectin-rich biomass. Although the fermentation of pectin-rich biomass is costly, the overall process can be made more inexpensive with the use of Saccharomyces cerevisiae 09-448, a yeast strain that produces its own pectinase and obviates the need for some commercial enzymes that are used to catalyze the breakdown of polysaccharides found in the cell wall of pectin-rich biomass into monosaccharides for yeast to ferment. However, 09-448 cannot yet be used industrially because it cannot withstand common industrial stressors, such as increased ethanol concentration, temperature, osmotic pressures, and changing pH conditions. To produce an ethanol-resistant mutant capable of surviving under fermentation conditions, 09-448 was exposed to UV radiation for up to three minutes. Potential mutants were then screened for ethanol resistance by measuring their growth with a plate reader in ethanol concentrations up to 6%. Of all 12 mutants that were screened, eight performed better than 09-448 at both 4% and 6% ethanol concentrations. Mutant 12 seemed the most promising with a final OD of 1.15 au and a minimum generation time of 65 minutes compared to the wild type with a final OD of 0.633 au and a minimum generation time of 70 minutes when grown at an ethanol concentration of 6%.

Ana Rodriguez

Ana Rodriguez
Hometown: Pflugerville, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Fall 2023

“Emotional Labor in Parental Relationships and its Effects on College Student’s Mental Health”

Research directed by Dr. Adam McCormick, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Emotional labor, in terms of relationships, is the emotional workload used to upkeep and maintain a healthy connection with another person. Unfortunately, there is not currently a lot of research on how emotional labor affects one’s general well-being. Romantic relationships have been heavily studied however, other relationships, such as familial ones have not. This study aimed to research both of these facets of emotional labor by conducting an online survey. This was a correlational design that surveyed students from a small liberal arts college in Central Texas. The purpose of this survey was to measure how much of a correlation, if any, there is between college student’s mental health and emotional labor in parental relationships. The survey provided participants with ten statements about their relationship with a caregiver/parental figure and then asked participants to rank to what degree they agreed with these statements using the Likert Scale. Then the survey provided ten statements from the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS) and asked to rank those statements similarly. These questions provided a general overview of participants’ emotional labor in parental/caregiver relationships and general mental health. It was hypothesized that there will be a strong negative correlation between one's emotional labor in parental relationships and their score on the DASS.

Stephanie Montero

Stephanie Montero
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Major: Management
Graduation: Spring 2024

"The Impact of Retail Management Practices on Employee Well-being and Performance"

Research directed by Dr. Kathleen Wilburn,The Bill Munday School of Business

The aim of this research was to investigate the impact of retail management practices on employee well-being and performance and to provide empirical evidence and insights into the effects of these practices. The research will contribute to the existing literature on retail management practices. A comprehensive literature review of past research papers and scholarly articles was conducted. This literature review served as the foundation for the subsequent stages of the research design, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge in this field with a focus on examining the impact of retail management practices on employee well-being and performance. In this study, well-being was defined as a holistic concept encompassing physical, mental, and emotional aspects of an individual's overall health and satisfaction with their work environment and includes factors such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, stress levels, and overall happiness in the workplace. Performance, in the context of this research, was defined as the ability of employees to consistently meet or exceed performance expectations, achieve work-related goals, and contribute positively to the organization's overall success. Based on the reviewed literature, it was hypothesized that the implementation of effective retail management practices positively impacts employee well-being and performance.

Sofia Flores

Sofia Flores
Hometown: El Paso, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2024

“The Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in the Young Adult Student Population”

Research directed by Dr. Adam G. McCormick, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The psychological distress from an emotionally unavailable caregiver can have the tendency to follow a person well into adulthood. Scholarship indicates that individuals who experienced childhood emotional neglect and did not feel supported throughout their upbringing are at greater risk for substance abuse and violence as adults. This type of childhood adversity can establish a life-long environment of loneliness and isolation, potentially causing post-traumatic stress, and can make it difficult to navigate emotions in social settings and in intimate relationships. The study aims to examine the effect of childhood emotional neglect on adult students’ college experience. More specifically, it aims to understand the rate and severity of which these college students have been affected by the behaviors of emotionally unavailable and underdeveloped caregiver(s) during their upbringing. The survey begins by asking questions pertaining to demographics before proceeding to Likert-type questions relating to the participants’ childhood experiences in order to examine the effects of internal (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity) and external variables (e.g., caregiver behaviors) on their college experiences and behaviors as adults. This study could potentially provide further information on how to approach effective ways of utilizing therapy techniques that can guide adults who experienced emotional neglect in childhood to understanding the deeply rooted causes of their behaviors.

Pedro Galvan

Pedro Galvan
Hometown: Harlingen, TX
Major: History
Graduation: Spring 2024

“A Hierarchy of Hate: The Social Hierarchy of the 1920s KKK in Texas”

Research directed by Dr. Christie Wilson and Dr. Laura Wood, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences and History/Government, Tarrant County College Northwest

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed in December of 1865, becoming the most violent hate group in America. The Klan had notable individuals in high leadership positions. With leaders sharing a common community status, there’s a question of why they were chosen. This research analyzes the social hierarchy of the KKK in Texas during the 1920s to see if those who were chosen to lead were qualified based on their dedication, or their social status within the community. Methods used to conduct this research were the analysis of primary sources that included newspapers, chapter documents, and national papers from the chapters in Texas. Secondary sources included books, articles, and academic journals about the Klan’s influence both in Texas and the U.S. The results indicate that the KKK based their leadership titles on those who held a high social status. The purpose of this was to find individuals that can have an influence within the community and use that for the benefit of the Klan. Klansmen who didn’t hold this status didn’t get the chance to lead. This study concludes that Klansmen who had a high status crawled up in the ranks, leaving others behind.

Danna Perez

Danna Perez
Hometown: Spring, TX
Major: Criminal Justice
Graduation: Spring 2024

"Does Race, Gender, and Socioeconomic Class Affect One’s Attitude Towards Crime?"

Research directed by Dr. Lisa L. Holleran, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

As people fight for equality and opportunity there are oftentimes discussions about the structural inequalities found throughout American society and reinforced through the minds of people who judge crime. Race, gender, socioeconomic class in relation to crime is a topic that many refuse to talk about due to its sensitive nature. Despite prior research suggesting there were certain motives for people to commit crimes in the past, our research looked into the current reasons people from different types of backgrounds commit crime today and examined whether crime is committed based on necessity, opportunity, or both. As time progresses, it is crucial to inform people about the reasons different groups of people commit crime today with more current and previous studies. In this research, we explored what factors might motivate these groups to commit crime. Using data collected from students at a private liberal arts university in Central Texas, we took a unique approach to examine the main reasons why people of different races, socioeconomic classes, and genders commit crime today and determine if their background has an influence on it. The main purpose of this study was to add to existing research and theories with current data.

Jessica Gallardo

Jessica Gallardo
Hometown: Dripping Springs, TX
Major: International Business and Marketing
Graduation: Spring 2025

"Foreign Aid Allocation: USA vs. Germany, the Top Two International Donor Countries"

Research directed byDr. Angela Ju,The Bill Munday School of Business

This research analyzed the impact of foreign aid and its influence on government corruption. It aimed to answer the main research question: how do donor countries such as the United States and Germany allocate and leverage foreign financial assistance or support? Foreign aid has a track record of having been praised for lending a helping hand to underdeveloped countries and their citizens. However, various international aid case studies demonstrate how both historically and currently, foreign aid has been detrimental to the development and growth of foreign governments. This research analyzed why foreign donors are so eager to donate and investigated their underlying intentions behind donating through a case study of both the United States and Germany, the top two international donor countries.

Makena Gonzalez

Makena Gonzalez
Hometown: Georgetown, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Fall 2023

Learning to belong again: University belongingness in a post-pandemic society

Research directed by Dr. Jessica Boyette-Davis, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Belongingness refers to a feeling of connectedness and acceptance. In a university setting, feeling a sense of belonging can influence a student's attitude about their university and their experiences while enrolled there and is implicated in several factors related to student success. Many factors can influence university belongingness such as peer and faculty interactions. These factors were clearly disrupted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when classes abruptly went to an online format, which was shown to negatively influence belongingness. This current study aimed to understand how the return to in-person classes from online/remote classes has impacted belonging. Using the College Belongingness Questionnaire and the Expectancy-Value-Cost Survey of Student Motivation, students were asked to reflect on their experiences during the period of remote learning (2020-2021 academic year) and the year during which all in-person classes resumed (2021-2022). Using paired sample t-tests, belongingness and motivation significantly increased in the 2021-2022 school year from the year prior; however, none of the captured demographic variables were able to explain this increase (e.g., age, gender, living situation, university size, etc.). These results suggest that in-person classes are beneficial to student success, but more work is needed to identify the factors that mediate this relationship.

Karen Denova-Mondragon

Karen Denova-Mondragon
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Summer 2024

“Substance Use Frequency in Avoidant Attachment”

Research directed by Dr. Moira Martin,School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

After Ainsworth’s Strange Situation experiment was developed, information collected on attachment styles has helped gain understanding of how attachment may be seen throughout different points in life and made remarkable research in the field of Psychology (Berlin et al., 2022). This research in particular is focused on the frequency in substance use between Hispanics and non-Hispanics who have an avoidant attachment. Attachment style was determined using the Adult Attachment Questionnaire (AAQ) that was created in 1996. The use of attachment helps individuals learn about themselves including knowing how to navigate ways to form relationships with others. Attachment impacts all relationships throughout an individual's life (Fitton, 2012). Participants in this study are adults who took an anonymous online survey and have been asked about their attachment tendencies such as their ability to get close to others, and fear of abandonment. Additional questions regarding relationships with biological parents, and substance use were also asked. The purpose of this study is to acquire substantial knowledge about the association between attachment and substance use, in Hispanics and non-Hispanics. Results conclude that Hispanic participants had relatively the same frequency levels of substance use regardless of what their attachment style resulted in. Non-Hispanic participants reported lower levels of substance use with high levels of avoidance attachment, and higher levels of substance use with lower avoidant attachment.

Milo Dufresne-MacDonald

Milo Dufresne-MacDonald
Hometown: Round Rock, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2025

“The Issue of Diversity and Multiculturalism in Undergraduate Psychology Curriculum”

Research directed by Brittney Johnson,Munday Library

A continued lack of diversity in psychology curriculum perpetuates the marginalization of minority groups in society and conveys that the field of psychology places secondary importance on diverse perspectives of psychological issues. There has been consensus regarding increased inclusion of diversity in psychology (Boysen, 2011; Dingel & Sage, 2020; Simoni et al., 1999), but efforts to improve psychology curriculum has remained at the graduate level, despite recommendations and support from the APA to feature diversity in undergraduate curriculum (APA, 2022). Effective methods for how to incorporate these elements remain obscure, and there is a lack of studies outlining empirically tested teaching practices and assignments that have resulted in increased multicultural awareness among students. The objective of this study was to explore the current inclusion of minority sociodemographic factors within undergraduate psychology curriculum at a small, private, liberal arts university and how students and faculty perceive their integration. A mixed-methods survey approach was used to gather data from faculty and student participants in order to identify gaps in diversity and reveal how minority sociodemographic factors were discussed. Visibility and intersectionality theories were used as frameworks to analyze the survey data collected from participants, as well as syllabi collected from faculty, to reveal where minority sociodemographic factors are salient and where there might be gaps. Differences between student and faculty perceptions in undergraduate psychology curriculum revealed the need for effective strategies for teaching diversity that will guide the field towards best practices for educating future psychologists on the important issues of intersectional diversity.

Mia Sanchez

Mia Sanchez
Hometown: Round Rock, TX
Major: Environmental Biology and Climate Change
Graduation: Spring 2024

“Isolating discrete life cycle stages of a cockroach-infecting Gregarine for gene expression”

Research directed by Dr. Daniel A. Gold, School of Natural Sciences

Gregarines are protistan parasites in the phylum Apicomplexa that parasitize the intestinal epithelia of nearly all invertebrate clades. Blabericola migrator is a species of Gregarine that solely infects Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Gregarines are most closely related to Cryptosporidians, which infect vertebrates and most notably cause cryptosporidiosis in humans. Gregarines’ similar lifestyle and life cycles to Cryptosporidians, allow the largely understudied parasites to serve as a model for these human infectious parasites. Like Cryptosporidians, Gregarines have distinct internal stages: the sporozoites, trophozoites (immature and mature), and those in syzygy. To date, RNAseq analysis has only been completed on Gregarines in a mixed population of internal stages mainly comprised of trophozoites. This generalized transcriptome fails to distinguish between the specific genes expressed at each internal stage; therefore, to develop a stage-specific Gregarine transcriptome, we isolated three distinct subpopulations of internal stage Gregarines: (1) immature trophozoites attached to host epithelial cells, (2) mature, unattached trophozoites, and (3) those in syzygy. We isolated RNA from 4 biological replicates of each subpopulation and submitted the samples for mRNA sequencing. Each subpopulation’s transcriptome will be compared to one another and to the recently published mixed internal stage’s transcriptome to identify how gene expression is altered throughout the maturation of internal Gregarine parasites. Alongside Dr. Charles Hauser, mapping and analyses of stage-specific gene expressions are underway. Preliminary results show success of RNA extraction with quality scores estimating 99.9% -99.99% correct base sequence and error rates ranging from 0.02% -0.03% for all samples.

Maria Baltazar

Maria Baltazar
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Major: Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2024

“Affordable Housing and Failing Housing Models: Implications of Opportunity

Research directed by Dr. Brian Smith,School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Assisted housing programs in the unites states aim to provide decent, safe, and affordable housing for low in-income households. Increasingly, policymakers have increasingly recognized the importance of these programs in facilitating access to neighborhoods in the United States with lower poverty rates, greater income diversity, and improved opportunities. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) currently employs two strategies to achieve these goals. Firstly, place-based programs involve fixed subsidies tied to specific housing units, aiming to revitalize distressed neighborhoods while offering access to higher-opportunity areas. Secondly, people-based assistance, such as housing vouchers, enables recipients to rent housing in the private market, thereby facilitating moves from high-poverty, low-opportunity neighborhoods. Given the current national focus on housing priorities, it is crucial to understand the effectiveness of each approach. This paper will synthesize existing research on housing vouchers, zoning, and land regulations, preservation of affordable housing, integration and opportunity, and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Furthermore, it reviews the limited literature available on the implications of opportunity to affordable housing recipients and current housing models, rather than solely focusing on individual outcomes. The findings of this research help propose a new policy initiative focused on an adaptive reuse and mixed-use-development model.

Cameron Crowder

Cameron Crowder
Hometown: Jersey Village, TX
Major:Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Spring 2024

“Effects of Biochar-Compost Product Blends on Switchgrass Growth Rates”

Research directed by Dr. Amy Concilio,School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Natural soil amendments, including biochar, compost, and compost tea, have become increasingly popular methods for promoting plant growth in restoration projects due to their effectiveness, broad range of benefits and uses, and low-cost production. Past research has found that these products can increase soil fertility, disease resistance, and drought tolerance, among other benefits, but questions remain about best practices for their application. This research aims to understand whether there are synergistic effects of combining biochar with compost products, and to identify best practices for increasing survival and growth of switchgrass in restoration plantings. In June 2023, we transplanted switchgrass plugs in groups of 2-3 individuals per plot in a randomized block design on the ϲʿ’s University campus (5 blocks, 4 treatments per block, 20 plots total). Treatments included application of biochar and compost (BC), biochar and compost tea (BT), and biochar, compost, and compost tea (BCT), and a no-amendment control. We surveyed plots weekly over the first month and then monthly thereafter for survival and growth (height and width of tallest culm). Mortality rates were low, but growth rates were also slow during the dry summer of 2023. Preliminary results indicated that switchgrass growth rates were highest in the biochar-compost treatment (BC), but differences were not significant. We will continue to monitor plant growth and anticipate that differences will emerge over time. Research results will be used to inform a grassland restoration project on the ϲʿ’s campus, and shared more broadly so that other practitioners in the region may benefit from our findings.

Sara Moreno

Sara Moreno
Hometown: Edinburg, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2024

"Impostorism and Family Achievement Guilt in College Students"

Research directed by Dr. Kadie Rackley, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The purpose of this study was to contribute to the ongoing conversation of how psychological phenomena, such as impostorism and family achievement guilt potentially impact student’s feelings regarding their college experience. Our goal was to reveal any relationship between these two phenomena, specifically analyzing whether the appearance of one phenomenon suggests the proneness of another, and whether certain social groups are more likely to experience these phenomena than others. Our targeted study sample consisted of mostly undergraduate students, with some graduate students from a small liberal arts college in Central Texas. We anticipated a higher, positive correlation between family achievement guilt and impostorism in first-generation college students, non-white students, and students who moved away to attend college, than in continuing-generation college students, white students, and students who remained living in their hometowns to attend college. In an online survey, participants were asked multiple demographic questions identifying their current dispositions pertaining to their college enrollment. Then, they were asked questions from the following scales: Clance Imposter Syndrome Scale, Family Achievement Guilt Scale, Sense of Belonging Scale, and Mental Health Inventory - 5.

Diogo Ledesma

Diogo Ledesma
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Biochemistry
Graduation: Spring 2025

"Adhesion of Metal-Complex Particle Free Inks Using Low Temperature Cures on Polyolefin Substrates"

Research directed by Dr. Bilal Shebaro, School of Natural Sciences

Metal-complex particle free conductive inks are a new class of conductive inks with applications in printed circuits, displays, and wearables. These particle free inks hold an advantage over the current generation nanoparticle inks since they can achieve conductivities as high as 90% of bulk silver with annealing temperatures as low as 40 C. In this study, the adhesion and resistivity of a screen printable metal complex ink was investigated based on the surface chemistry of the substrate used during printing. A 1.5-micron layer of silver was deposited and cured at temperatures as low as 60 C. Using ASTM Tape test, profilometer, and multimeter, the resistivity and adhesion of the particle free ink on each type of substrate was analyzed. The type of substrate printed on was found to largely affect adhesion and resistivity of the ink with certain polyolefin substrates showing a resistivity of 20 uohm-cm with adhesion at 60 C. This study offers an insight regarding which substrates offer the best adhesion and lowest resistivity values when printing conductive inks. Further studies are needed to evaluate the long-term adhesion and resistance values of the ink prints.

Janiece Jefferson

Janiece Jefferson
Hometown: Houston, TX
Major:Biology
Graduation:Spring 2025

"Measuring Grassland Ecosystem Productivity: Assessing the Effects of Invasive vs Native Grass and Forb Dominance in the Texas Hill Country"

Research directed by Amy Concilio,School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Native prairies in Central Texas once harbored a vast diversity of plants and animals, but many have experienced declines due to exotic species invasion and woody encroachment (Naeem 1999). Prescribed fire and seeding treatments are being used on private and public land in the Texas Hill Country to restore grassland communities. Ecosystem services and functions, such as productivity, disturbance regulation, nutrient cycling, and soil erosion control can be improved through restoration efforts (Benayas 2019), but these functional responses have not yet been quantified at many sites. With this research, we wanted to answer the question: how does vegetative cover affect grassland ecosystem productivity?

Ellyzabeth Morales-Ledesma

EllyzabethMorales-Ledesma
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience and History
Graduation: Spring 2024

"Reproductive Rights for Agricultural Workers: The Effects of Pesticides on the Menstrual Cycle"

Research directed by Dr. Emily Hilz,Pharmacology and Toxicology, The University of Texas at Austin

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) disrupt the normal function of the endocrine system and can subsequently result in long-term and multigenerational adverse health effects. Many pesticides used in agriculture are EDCs; farm laborers and their children are uniquely vulnerable to these EDCs because of their prolonged exposure to pesticides. Despite this, little extant research has considered the reproductive health effects of pesticidal EDCs on farm laborers and their children. Participants in this study completed an online quantitative survey with up to 42 questions that meant to assess their menstrual health and agricultural practices. The survey included questions about pesticide handling practices, frequency and duration of exposure, types of pesticides used, and details about menstrual cycle characteristics such as cycle length, regularity, and symptom severity. Subjects were female-assigned at-birth both children of farm laborers and not. It was hypothesized that there would be a higher prevalence of menstrual irregularities among children of farm laborers compared to controls. Factors such as duration of pesticide use, personal protective equipment, and generational pesticide exposure were considered in the analysis. The findings of this study will provide valuable insights into the potential impact of pesticide exposure on menstrual health by identifying potential risks and trends, thereby informing future interventions and policies aimed at protecting the reproductive health of women in agricultural communities.

Mia Dean

Mia Dean
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Summer 2024

"A Degradation of Social Dynamics: The Long-Term Impacts of Isolation During the COVID-19 Pandemic on Psychological Well Being"

Research directed byDr. Emily Barton,School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted society globally, affecting the financial, emotional, and physical wellbeing of people. This study investigates the long-term impacts of the social isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic on general psychological well-being, along with its correlation to social anxiety. It was hypothesized that individuals who experienced substantial isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic will now demonstrate a decrease in psychological wellbeing. An online questionnaire was conducted, with a random selection of participants who completed the survey.