The 2021 University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF), held virtually from April 15-19, provided undergraduate students at MSU an opportunity to showcase their scholarship and creative activity. In recognition of their role in undergraduate researcher success, Mentor of the Year awards were given to three mentors for their outstanding assistance to undergraduate researchers. The 2021 mentors of the year were Dr. Amy Nuttall, Dr. Christina Reppucci, and Dr. Sarah Comstock.
Dr. Amy Nuttall
Amy Nuttall, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, won Mentor of the Year for her work mentoring students in the MSU Family Stress Lab. Nuttall supervises undergraduate researchers in alignment with her areas of research by involving them in all steps of her projects.
In her first line of research, Nuttall is conducting two projects focusing on understanding the experiences of typically developing siblings of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her second line of research involves a longitudinal study of the effects of intimate partner violence and stress in pregnancy on early parenting and child psychopathology.
Beyond involving undergraduates in her research, Nuttall encourages students to conceptualize and pursue their own questions as they pertain to Nuttall’s projects. Thanks to this encouragement, her mentorship has resulted in undergraduate researchers publishing their work and leading conference presentations.
“Mentoring researchers is one of the best parts of my job,” Nuttall said. “It is wonderful to know that my students have enjoyed working with me as much as I’ve enjoyed working with them.”
Dr. Christina Reppucci
Christina Reppucci, a Postdoctoral Researcher in MSU’s Department of Psychology Neuroscience Program, won Mentor of the Year — Supervisor for her work in the Neurobiology of Social Behavior Lab, where she supervised and mentored undergraduate students. Reppucci typically supervises 1-2 students at a time, and they work with her anywhere from one semester to multiple years.
Reppucci’s work in the Neurobiology of Social Behavior Lab aims to increase public understanding about the neural systems underlying motivated behaviors and examine whether those neural systems are similarly recruited in males and females. As a supervisor, Reppucci and her students use rodent models to examine these neural systems in the expression of behaviors like social play, social interaction-seeking, and food-seeking.
“I aim to provide my laboratory mentees with a well-rounded experience—teaching them not only hands-on technical laboratory, rodent behavioral testing, and surgical skills, but also an understanding of how the methods they are learning work and why those particular methods were chosen to address the research questions at hand.” Reppucci said.
Students who work with Reppucci typically start by assisting in her ongoing research projects, and as they advance in the lab, eventually gain the opportunity to begin their own independent study with supervision.
“My own career path has been heavily influenced by supportive mentors and by the independent research opportunities I had as an undergraduate student, so it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to pay that forward now,” Reppucci said. “Providing research opportunities to undergraduate students really is a highlight of my position, and I am so honored to receive this student-driven award.”
Dr. Sarah Comstock
Sarah Comstock, Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, won Mentor of the Year for her work mentoring seven undergraduate students during the 2020-2021 academic year.
As a mentor, Comstock assigned each student a project and held weekly meetings to set project goals and assess progress. Under Comstock’s supervision, students also participated in a weekly research group meeting. To wrap up their research, the students presented their projects at UURAF, with some students going on to co-author manuscripts related to their research projects.
Comstock’s research spans two main interest areas through which she supervises undergraduate researchers. Comstock’s first area of interest is the impact of exposures during pregnancy and early life on infant microbiota and immune system development in longitudinal cohorts. Her second area of interest involves identifying food-based nutritional interventions that can positively impact the human microbiota.
“I feel honored to have my mentorship efforts recognized by own mentees as well as by the student selection committee,” Comstock said. “One additional benefit was the slew of emails and texts of congratulations from prior mentees and colleagues providing an opportunity to catch up with many folks that I had not heard from in years.”