2022 LASER Training Cohort

In August of 2022, the Graduate School welcomed the start of another cohort of Leaders Advancing Socially Engaged Research (LASER). This program is aimed at Notre Dame doctoral students in their third or fourth years of study, and is intended to complement students’ individual research pursuits in their various fields. This year’s cohort consists of nine students completing individual LASER projects who represent the diverse academic programs at the University. 

The cohort kicked off the year by celebrating the previous cohort's successes at the LASER Symposium. LASER is led by John Lubker, the Graduate School’s associate dean for academic affairs. LASER meetings, which take place every three weeks on campus, will feature topics such as self-awareness, values clarification, crucial conversations, social responsibility, and values in research as well as bringing in guest speakers from the community.

Below, the 2022-2023 LASER participants describe their projects in their own words (edited for clarity): 

Joel Devonshire - Peace Studies and Psychology

Joel Devonshire

I am using my LASER experience to build skills and leadership capacity in restorative justice and conflict transformation. My project will center on a partnership with the Center for Community Justice (CCJ) in Elkhart. CCJ provides a range of community services, such as mediation, conflict coaching, and restorative practices. As part of my leadership project, I will become a co-mediator for a variety of family and community conflicts, and I will co-facilitate weekly youth conflict transformation workshops. I will also be crafting a professional development plan to clarify the steps needed to incorporate university and/or nonprofit ombuds work as a potential component of my career. My time in LASER provides a supportive opportunity to intentionally incorporate aspects of peace practice into my academic program in peace studies. It’s a great way to help bridge the theory-research-practice gap that exists in so many fields.

Leah Lund - Chemistry and Biochemistry

Leah Lund

My project for the LASER Program 2022-2023 will be focused on reinforcing the need for women inclusion and recruitment in STEM, as well as the mentoring of young women interested in pursuing a career in STEM. I will be working closely with Dr. Katharine White in efforts to bring the Being Human in Stem (HSTEM) Initiative to the University of Notre Dame. This initiative will include an undergraduate course focused on exploring the STEM experience across gender, class, race, sexuality, and geographic upbringing. Additionally, the course will include collaborative class engagement in the effort to implement projects designed to increase experiences, opportunities, and resources for women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. Beyond the HSTEM Initiative, I will also be involved in mentoring students at St. Mary’s with a STEM major through weekend seminars and round table discussions.

Mayesha Sahir Mim - Biological Sciences

Mayesha Sahir Mim

With the comfort of being on an inclusive campus such as ours, we often take for granted the struggles of the diverse population just to get here. As an international female graduate student, I have had my fair share of conundrums that spanned from something as trivial as debating over what spices to bring from home up to the social and cultural stigma of traveling two continents away to pursue a Ph.D. in Engineering as a female student. For my LASER project, I want to contribute to making the journey to Grad School easier and resources more accessible for two populations: 1) International students planning to pursue and pursuing Grad school at ND and, 2) female students aspiring to build a career in STEM. To achieve this, I will be utilizing my position as a member of the University Committee on Internationalization and working closely with International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) to provide peer-level perspectives for establishing a more effective outreach structure during the Graduate Orientation arranged by Grad Life for incoming students, and throughout the year for the benefit of all international students at ND. As for my second goal, by mentoring high-school and undergraduate-level female students at my research lab and by serving as the Secretary of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE), I want to assist aspiring female scientists and engineers on a personal and community scale by providing them with the correct tools to pave the way to a successful career in engineering.

Matthew Mullin - English

Matthew Mullin

Recognizing the transformative power of education in his own life and the lives of several close friends, Matthew's project seeks to expand the opportunities for Notre Dame students and faculty to participate in the Moreau College Initiative (MCI), a program in which inmates in the Indiana State Penitentiary are able to earn a bachelor's degree from Holy Cross College. While Notre Dame has been committed to the success of MCI from the beginning, Matthew believes much more can be done to further the success of MCI, through Notre Dame's rich resources of human and financial capital. To this end, Matthew's project seeks to enhance the pipeline of resources flowing from Notre Dame to MCI, helping even more convicts become scholars, and benefiting society as a result.

Arpitha Mysore Rajashekara - Biological Sciences

Arpitha Mysore Rajashekara

When it comes to physical and mental health, I believe that we are what we eat & we are what we absorb. Good, healthy food choices are vital for maintaining one’s gut health which in turn contributes to physical and mental well-being. I work on Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) in Dr. David Boone’s lab which focuses on studying Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Aside from genetic risks and environmental factors, healthy gut and a strong immune system are critical for regulating intestinal inflammation and preventing IBD. In the recent years gut health has gained tremendous importance. The increasing research on gut microbiome, intestinal inflammation, and gut-brain connections has continued to emphasize the significance and benefits of maintaining a healthy gut. Adults with IBD are more prone to developing chronic conditions like heart disease, lung disease, ulcers and arthritis. IBD patients live with chronic inflammation that translates to chronic pain and children especially have a hard time coping with the pain. This makes leading a normal day to day life challenging to these patients. Current treatment options utilize an understanding of cellular mechanisms to combat inflammation and reduce chronic pain, but there is no cure to IBD. The research that I do is aimed at developing effective IBD treatment and possibly a major step towards finding a cure. Creating awareness about IBD can go a long way in educating people about taking care of their gut health, being compassionate and supportive of people suffering from IBD and informing people of available treatments including any new effective treatment options, about significant strides in IBD research.

My proposed plan is to organize a lecture series for the local and Notre Dame community that addresses IBD and gut health in a publicly accessible way. The FAQs sheet and lecture recordings will be made available at the end of the series. This experience will better prepare me to communicate both the complex science of IBD and the real-world applications to the children at Camp Oaisis, where I would be volunteering during the summer.

Tatiana Rosales - Biophysics

Tatiana Rosales

There is currently a large gap in the way academic researchers are taught to present their findings, and the way information is ingested and understood by the public. My goal is to help begin to close this gap in scientific communication through a series of workshops that facilitate conversations between current experts available at Notre Dame and the larger community. In the past, the university used to host "open to the public" symposiums where a postdoctoral student would present a broad concept (ie. viral immunology, particle physics, artificial intelligence) at an event for anyone interested from the South Bend community. I believe revamping these types of talks would allow current researchers to hone their ability to relate to audiences who are not versed in their subjects while giving the audiences the chance to pose questions that truly help them understand these expansive subjects. Additionally, my hope is that these kinds of friendly discussions can help to bridge the divide between the academic community and both the younger and older generations.

Agboola Suleiman - Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Agboola Suleiman

An individual development plan (IDP) has been shown to be a valuable tool for graduate student training and career development. It was reported that graduate students with IDP had greater career satisfaction, enhanced productivity and effectiveness, and enriched interactions with mentors and peers than graduate students who do not. IDP is a functional self-evaluation and career exploration resource for skills development and career planning, it could be used as a private written list of objectives mapped to different timelines during the graduate program. The first part of my LASER project will focus on communicating the benefits of this powerful resource to 1st and 2nd-year graduate students and directing them to appropriate graduate school personnel toward developing such a peculiar and dynamic framework. While the second part will focus on spotlighting certain professional development opportunities and sharing them with target groups that are likely to find them useful.

Ariel Thelander - Chemistry and Biochemistry

This year, I am developing a brand new branch of Notre Dame Graduate Student Government (GSG) focused on issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). I drafted the language to create this role during the 21-22 AY and was selected as one of the inaugural co-chairs. As this is a brand new branch of GSG, I will pioneer the mission & vision as well as the practicalities of such a large-scope mandate. I am reaching out to campus partners to get valuable input on how we can make the most impact for graduate students and set up systems for this branch of GSG to continue making positive change for years to come. One sub-project I'm highly invested in is developing a more universal set of TA trainings so that graduate students are aware of their rights & responsibilities, feel empowered to address any ethical or legal concerns that arise, and have easy-access resources to utilize in scenarios that are beyond the scope of a TA.

Chris Winski - Biological Sciences

Christopher Winski

My project will aim to foster leadership through a community outreach activity. Specifically, using my position as the president of the Society of Schmitt Fellows this year, I have set the goal of getting the Society more involved both on campus and in the South Bend community. The Society of Schmitt Fellows is a group of STEM graduate students who were awarded the Arthur J. Schmitt Presidential Leadership Fellowship upon entering graduate school. As such, the University of Notre Dame graduate school sees potential in all the members of the Society and I want to give my fellow peers and I the opportunity to tap into that potential and provide leadership and intellectual insight to others thus fulfilling the mission of Arthur J. Schmitt. Some ideas include serving as mentors to students on campus or at local high schools or volunteering with Cultivate Food Rescue in downtown South Bend. Finally, I hope to use what I learn during LASER to become a better leader myself and use the subsequent knowledge and skills to successfully lead the Society of Schmitt Fellows.