Several of the 22 undergraduate students who received the 2019 Order of the Pegasus award, the university’s highest student honor, have participated in research during their time at UCF. This year’s Pegasus award honorees marks one of the most active classes to be involved in undergraduate research, says Aubrey Kuperman ’13, assistant director for the Office of Undergraduate Research.

With interests spanning from environmental to health issues, some of this year’s Order of the Pegasus students share details on their research work: 

Maria Bower

“I have gained critical-thinking skills [through research] that have helped me to apply my knowledge outside of my classes.” – Maria Bower, environmental engineering

Major: Environmental engineering
Research interest: Coastal; evaluating when tidal flooding will occur in different places globally.
Graduation year: 2020
Tampa native Maria Bower knew she wanted to be involved in research as an undergraduate, so she reached out to the Office of Undergraduate Research to find the right field to explore. The department helped connect her to Thomas Wahl, a civil engineering assistant professor and coastal engineer at the university. Bower also participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Burnett Research Scholars program, and presented at the American Geophysical Union 2018 fall meeting and the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference.

“I have gained critical-thinking skills [through research] that have helped me to apply my knowledge outside of my classes. I have learned how to communicate my research in an understandable way, and I have also connected with other researchers both in my field and in other fields,” Bower says.

Julia Carlin

More than anything, [research] has showed me that through resiliency, passion and education we truly do have the ability to create real positive change in the world around us.” – Julia Carlin, biology student

Major: Biology
Research interest: Conservation and veterinary medicine; identifying and quantifying plastic pollution in birds of prey.
Graduation year: 2019
Originally from Wellington, Florida, Julia Carlin aspires to be a conservation veterinarian. To gain experience in the field, she serves as president for UCF’s Pre-veterinary Society.This position allowed her to connect with the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland to conduct her research. Carlin’s research has opened up opportunities for her to present at the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium and become a national scholar with the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association. She’s also won scholarships and UCF’s Distinguished Undergraduate Researcher Award. The Burnett Honors Scholar says she believes her research work also played a major role in her acceptance to the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, where she was one of 20 students to be accepted this year.

More than anything, [research] has showed me that through resiliency, passion and education we truly do have the ability to create real positive change in the world around us,” Carlin says.

Yanelis Diaz

“Overall ,[because of research] I feel I am a better communicator and scholar.” – Yanelis Diaz, health services administration and biology student

Major: Health services administration and biology 
Research interest: Global health; understanding how universal insurance coverage impacts health outcomes and urbanization’s effect on disease prevalence.
Graduation year: 2019
Yanelis Diaz came to UCF from Miami to gain access to opportunities that would allow her to create an impact. Her interest in research developed after working on an honors in the major thesis for her health services administration degree with health management and informatics Assistant Professor Latarsha Chisholm. Under medicine Associate Professor Mohatshem Samsam, the Burnett Honors Scholar has worked with a Global Medical Brigades research team. In August, Diaz will travel to Ghana to further her research by conducting lifestyle and health metrics surveys.

“[Research has taught me] how to disseminate complex information to all kinds of populations and mentor others with their own approaches to research interests. Overall, I feel I am a better communicator and scholar,” Diaz says.

Zach Good ’18

“Being accepted to the Honors College and LEAD Scholars Academy before making my college decision made me feel like I already had a place on campus.” – Zach Good ’18, political science student

Major: Political science
Research interest: Political science and ecology
Graduation year: 2018
Before North Carolina native Zach Good came to UCF, he already established connections that made him feel like he could make an impact. In 2017, the Burnett Honors Scholar joined the Political Ecology Lab under global environmental politics and sustainability Professor Peter Jacques. Good’s research project focused on the values debated in the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil development. Since graduating in December with a degree in political science, he has relocated to Tallahassee to complete a Florida Gubernatorial Fellowship with the state government.

“I came to UCF because I felt more established here than at any other institution. Being accepted to the Honors College and LEAD Scholars Academy before making my college decision made me feel like I already had a place on campus,” Good says.

Latifah Maasarani

“[Assistant Professor] Ryan Gelfand provided me with an environment where I could thrive and allowed me to focus my research on a topic of my own choosing.” – Latifah Maasarani, photonic science and engineering student

Major: Photonic science and  engineering 
Research interest: Developing optical methods for single protein research; using photonics to detect and monitor diseases.
Graduation year: 2019

Ohio native Latifah Massarani completed a National Science Foundation Research Experience before coming to UCF in 2016. Now she is an undergraduate research assistant at UCF’s NanoBioPhotonics Lab.  Massarani says Assistant Professor of Optics and Photonics Ryan Gelfand has encouraged her work on challenging research topics, such as developing optical methods for single protein research. Massarani has presented her work at national conferences and the UCF Chapter of the National Academy of Inventors Third Annual Gala and Induction Ceremony. After she graduates from UCF, she’ll pursue graduate studies at Duke University, where her work will focus on translational research by developing low-cost biophotonic point-of-care systems that detect and monitor various diseases.

“[Assistant Professor] Ryan Gelfand provided me with an environment where I could thrive and allowed me to focus my research on a topic of my own choosing,” Maasarani  says. “I greatly appreciate the trust he has always had in my abilities as a researcher and the contributing role he encouraged me to play in the lab in preparation for my graduate school studies.”

Adam Searles

“I can’t thank UCF and its faculty enough for my success.” – Adam Searles, biology student

Major: Biology
Research interest: Marine and coastal life; oyster reef ecosystems
Graduation year: 2019
Growing up in Palm Bay, Adam Searles spent a lot of time outside, which is when he says he fell in love with marine ecosystems. He came to UCF for access to opportunities to learn about and help solve environment issues in the Indian River Lagoon. As a first-year student, the Burnett Honors Scholar reached out to biology Assistant Professor Geoffrey Cook and has worked with him since on various projects. He also credits the Office of Undergraduate Research with helping him to secure grants and fellowships for his work. Searles’ work has been used to inform resource managers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. His research has also earned him awards at the Indian River Lagoon Symposium and the SHORE conference and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings scholarship.

“From my time in the UCF biology department, NOAA and the FWC, I’ve gained an invaluable network of friends and fellow scientists. These types of personal networks are essential to scientific collaboration and I know will be invaluable in the future. I can’t thank UCF and its faculty enough for my success,” Searles says.

Mansoor Qureshi

“My involvement in research has been the backbone for much of my growth during my undergraduate years.” – Mansoor Qureshi, biomedical sciences student

Major: Biomedical sciences
Research interest: Health; migraine headaches
Graduation year: 2019

After attending the Summer Research Academy following his freshman year, Orlando native Mansoor Qureshi gained the knowledge needed to begin exploring research – and he even returned to the program to serve as a mentor last summer. Qureshi  has worked with medicine Associate Professor Mohatshem Samsam on studying how pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments can be used to improve quality of life in patients with migraine headaches. As a Burnett Honors Scholar, the Office of Honors Research has helped him by offering guidance and workshops on the process of writing a thesis. Although his work is still in the early stages, he has presented at the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence.

“My involvement in research has been the backbone for much of my growth during my undergraduate years. I have learned the importance of persistence, even when results don’t match our initial predictions. Failure is an essential prerequisite for progress, because our failures allow us to adjust our approach and continue moving forward,” Qureshi says.