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The Faces of Undergraduate Research

By Jay Davis | For Archway

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) is an emerging powerhouse for undergraduate research.

In 2018, WSSU received a university record $2.3 million in new National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, creating additional research opportunities for dozens of undergraduate students and hundreds more students through class projects.

With construction under way on a $53 million sciences building, greatly expanding lab space for research on campus, WSSU is poised for even more on-campus research.

“Research helps students develop and sharpen their critical thinking skills, gain a much deeper understanding of their desired profession, and fosters a mutually beneficial relationship with faculty mentors,” says Dr. Naomi Hall-Byers, interim director of the Office of Student Research and a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences.

At WSSU, undergraduate research also goes well beyond science lab experiments, with work out in the field and in the community.

To look closer, Archway Magazine presents the faces of undergraduate research.

Why Research?

Providing research opportunities for all students is a priority for Winston-Salem State University and identified in the university’s 2016-21 strategic plan.

 Why are high-impact practices like undergraduate research so important to students? Research can help students:

  • Explore career directions. 
  • Build transferable skills and enhance their resumes. 
  • Get a leg up on graduate or professional school. 
  • Impact the world and contribute knowledge. 




Storytelling for Social Justice

Semaj Capers, a junior from Greensboro, and Jabarie Simpson, a junior from Savannah, Georgia, are making history as WSSU’s first Social Justice Fellows. Each received a $2,000 stipend to conduct research this semester with a faculty mentor on projects that connect with social justice. 

Capers, a psychology major, is focusing his research on “fair and racial equity, critical consciousness and educational outcomes among Black students in high school.” His faculty mentor is Dr. Charity Griffith, an assistant professor in psychological sciences.

Simpson, an English major, is focusing his research on “a transnational examination of social justice.” His faculty mentor is Dr. William Boone, chair of the Department of English.






Bringing Biology Back Into the Water

Joseph Lightsey dreams of becoming a wildlife ecologist and owning a chain of zoos and aquariums.

This semester, Lightsey, a junior biology major from Greensboro, is analyzing water quality in streams in Forsyth County, part of a research project being conducted by Dr. Louise Allen, assistant professor in Biological Sciences. 

“This research is giving me valuable experience within the ecology field that I can definitely apply to the work I do in my career,” Lightsey says. “With research, there’s always two parts: the thinking of the experiment and then actually doing the experiment. I love to be out in the field where I can interact with nature and learn things about nature all while doing my research.”




Passionate About Public Health 

Healthcare management majors Diamond Bynum, a junior from Bethel, and Dontae Moore, a senior from Kenansville, are focusing on public health issues on campus and in the surrounding communities as researchers for the Center for Excellence for the Elimination of Healthcare Disparities (CEEHD).  

Among the projects they’ve worked on this semester are student-focused Wellness Wednesdays events, part of CEEHD’s Rams Know H.O.W. Mobile Unit.

In February, Bynum, along with Rams Mobile Coordinator Aaron Jackson and School of Health Sciences Dean Peggy Valentine presented research on community partnerships at a University of North Carolina System conference.

 “In my time with CEEHD, they’ve always had a new project or task that would push me a little further beyond my comfort zone and require me to grow a little more in the process. I’m not going to say that it’s always comfortable, but whenever it’s over and I can look back and see my personal growth, I know that it was worth the work.” 

For Moore, research is about the exposure and the experience.

“Being able to expose yourself and mind to things you once weren’t aware of can really enhance your thinking skills. Experience, being able to look back and say you reached a goal at some point in your life and all the hard work from it, will show.”




The Neuroscience of Poverty  

Psychology majors Destyne Jones, a senior from Danville, Virginia, and Keaira Green, a junior, spent the summer working face-to-face with research participants as part of a study to determine if optimal decision-making and motivation is compromised by poverty. The research was led by Dr. Michelle K. Lewis, associate professor of psychological sciences.

Jones says, “When doing research with people, everyone brings different ideas and perspectives to the table in order to help further the research process. Hearing the different ideas of everyone and seeing them all pull together to analyze research is exciting. I also like working face-to-face with research participants as well.”




To the Bat Cave 

Georgina Dzikunu, a biology major and MARC U*STAR scholar, says research has challenged her to step out of her comfort zone.

“Research has taught me that every detail matters,” she says. “I have become a keen observer because of research.”

Last summer, Dzikunu traveled to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico as a research assistant for a project that aims to better understand the colony size and behavior of bats. The project is led by WSSU biology faculty Dr. Nickolay Hristov and Dr. Allen.

DziKunu says, “I believe that exposure to research has debunked all the myths I have heard about scientists. All scientists do not wear white lab coats and cause explosions in a lab.”

Dzikunu, who is originally from Tema, Ghana, is president of the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students (MAPS) on campus. Her goal is to earn an MD/Ph.D. in global health.




The Heart of Research


Zakiyah Henry, a senior biology major and MARC U*STAR scholar, says she first discovered research as a WSSU freshman.

“I learned that there was so much more to do in science other than becoming a medical doctor or going into any field in health science,” the Nashville, North Carolina native says. “I have come to learn that the opportunities and possibilities are endless for someone with a background in research.”

This semester, Henry is working in the lab with Dr. Tennille Presley, associate professor of physics, to address the influence of heat acclimation on nitric oxide expression in type II diabetes. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a doctorate in toxicology.



Shekinah Bass (left) and Dynasty Parker conduct chemistry through an NSF-funded grant.


Pushing Chemistry to Its Limits


Chemistry majors Dynasty Parker, a senior from Washington, D.C., and Shekinah Bass, a senior from Raleigh, are working alongside Dr. Fenghai Guo, associate professor of chemistry, on an NSF-funded project to develop carbon-carbon bond formation for synthesis of bioactive heterocyclic molecules.   

Parker says: “My research opportunities here at WSSU have prepared me for opportunities beyond my institution, and makes me a competitive scholar for my goal of working in the scientific field.”

Parker has been accepted into the doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Texas-Dallas and plans to begin studies this fall.

Bass says: “This research is providing me the experience and skills I need to efficiently conduct my own experiments for graduate school, and more.”



Left: Patrickson Boan Weinquoi with Dr. Jianghua Zhang; bottom, right: Conner Scott Dragt 


Education in Virtual Reality

How can virtual reality (VR) technology have an impact on computing education? Conner Scott Dragt, a junior from Winston-Salem; and Patrickson Boan Weinquoi, a senior from Charlotte, are investigating three popular mobile VR headsets and developing a VR demo as part of a research project funded through the Collaborative Research Experiences for Undergraduates (CREU) and iAAMCS.

The computer science majors are working with Dr. Jianghua Zhang, associate professor of computer science.

Weinquoi says, “My research put me in the developer seat. My team and I control the creative aspect of development. I love the developing process. We start with nothing to create a marvelous game.”

Dragt says, “Research allows me to actually use my skills, as opposed to a lecture hall or structured labs and such which don’t really give you a taste of how said skills would actually be applicable in real life.”

MORE PHOTOS: Student virtual reality (VR) research




Discovering Cancer Treatments 


The ultimate goal for Christina Harris, the 2018-19 Miss Winston-Salem State University, is to become a pediatrician with her own practice.

As a biology major, Harris, a native of Greensboro, has worked alongside Dr. Stephanie Dance-Barnes, co-chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, in the lab to search for possible treatments and preventative measures for cancer.

“Doing research has allowed me to learn more about the disease of cancer that many people in my family have been diagnosed with,” Harris says. “In our research, we search for possible treatments and preventative measures for this disease, and it’s amazing to know that every little bit of information we gather can be one step closer to the cure.”

After graduating in May, Harris plans to attend Duke University’s School of Medicine Master of Biomedical Sciences program.




Traveling Back in Time

Ty'Quarious Cheek, a junior political science major from Rocky Mount, is contributing to the national dialogue on the prison system in America through a humanities research project. 

The project has Cheek and 34 other WSSU students reviewing documents and photos at library archives to document moments in Winston-Salem’s history, asking the question, "Who is a political prisoner?" 

The project – through “States of Incarceration,” a nationwide public humanities project – is part of a course co-taught by Assistant Professors Tasneem Siddiqui and Meghan G. McDowell. This semester, students are compiling original research from WSSU’s archives, and archives at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and conducting interviews to better tell the city's story. Their findings will be added online and become part of a traveling exhibit. 

WSSU is the first HBCU to participate in the project. 

MORE PHOTOS: Students research in WSSU's Archives