Above, Grace Ngobo Toko Mbonda ’16 explains her research to history professor Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, at last year’s Undergraduate Research Conference. Below, Anthony Cancilla ’15 offers his poster presentation at the 2015 event.

Student Researchers Ready for Signature Campus Event


One of MCLA’s most popular events is our annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC). In what has become a signature event on campus, this conference not only recognizes students for their scholarship and dedication to their academic pursuits, but also the faculty who work with the young researchers and presenters, and serve as mentors as their students develop and share their findings.

“Undergraduate research at MCLA has become woven into the fabric of the curriculum,” said Graziana Ramsden, chair of the Undergraduate Research Council at MCLA. “Faculty at MCLA require research, analysis and presentation across the curriculum.”

With 145 student participants offering 129 presentations – nearly double the number of presentations from the 2015 URC – this year’s event, to be held on Thursday, April 21, on the MCLA campus, will be our largest such conference thus far.

Among the presenters will be Grace Ngobo Toko Mbonda ’16, a biology and chemistry major from Brockton, Mass. Based on her research with Dr. Carolyn Dehner, an assistant professor of chemistry, Mbonda’s chemistry project – to be presented as a poster – centers on thermoregulation of virulence genes in Escherichia coli.

According to Mbonda, the research she’s conducted throughout her MCLA career helped her to believe in her abilities, provided a clearer understanding of what she learned in many of her classes, and ultimately, made her a better scientist.

Kassandra Jernegan ’16, a double major in English and philosophy from Ipswich, Mass., will present her research paper about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his role in the French Enlightenment.

“After reading his work, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, I was curious about what happened in Rousseau’s life to result in his theories on human nature, and what impact it had on the larger movement as a whole,” Jernegan explained.

“While research papers have become a norm in my educational career, presenting at a conference will be a new experience for me,” Jernegan said. “This project will serve as an effective example of my writing and researching skills for a future employer.”

Math majors Ian Angell ’16 of Falmouth, Mass., and Satchel LeFebvre ’18 of Bennington, Vt., will co-present their poster on chemical graph theory and fullerenes – molecules that are composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid or tube.

“This project has helped me better understand molecular structures and how mathematical areas such as graph theory can be applied in modern day science,” Angell said. “I have put thought into working on renewable energy in the future. I think a chemistry background will help with understanding some of the new modern day methods of obtaining energy.”

According to Kathryn Donnelly ’16 of Manalapan, N.J., who plans on a teaching career, this year’s URC will enhance her educational experience. Through the oral presentation of her paper, she will gain yet another opportunity to teach others.

An English literature and secondary education major, Donnelly explores the socio-cultural, historical and political contexts of fairytales in her project, which provides a case study on various iterations of the “Cinderella” story.

“As someone who has aspired to teach since second grade, this will show me a different way of condensing and disseminating information to help people learn about something,” said Donnelly, who ultimately plans to earn her Ph.D. to become a college professor of literature.

“While most people focus on a specific time period or movement, I could use this project to my advantage and become a literary folklorist, which is something I’m considering exploring,” Donnelly said.

“Researching a topic in depth fosters interest and curiosity in students,” Ramsden said. “When asked to present their research, students already know their topic very well and can speak to the details with ease. In addition, as students come to own the information, they can think critically to connect dots and relate to a wider context.”

For more information about this year’s URC, including descriptions of all projects and presentations, go to