2021 LASER Training Cohort

In August of 2021, 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 eighteen students completing individual LASER projects and hailing from each of the Graduate School’s four academic divisions (engineering, humanities, social sciences, and science). 

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 2021-2022 LASER participants describe their projects in their own words (edited for clarity): 

Amaryllis Adey - Biological Sciences

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My leadership project is to develop a statistical outreach module related to my research being conducted on Long Lake at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC). This research project on Long Lake looks at how increasing dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in response to climate change are affecting primary production and food web members within lake ecosystems. This outreach module will be geared toward high school students in the local South Bend area, through a collaboration between my lab and Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF). The outreach project will consist of two portions that can be done in series or as individual activities. The first is a classroom module and the second is a field sampling trip. Both will introduce ecological concepts and then provide data collection and analysis activities. The classroom portion will take place over four days that can be broken into two sections. Each section will consist of presentations from the research team and then a worksheet and statistical review. The first section will be an introduction to lake morphology and regression analyses. Then the students will do a worksheet to run a regression analysis. The second section will introduce how DOC concentrations are changing and the implications for lake food webs. Then we will simulate sampling lakes with different DOC concentrations and introduce t-tests and ANOVAs with a worksheet. The field sampling trip will take place at ND-LEEF, where there are man-made watersheds that each have a pond and stream. For this, we will introduce the students to field methods such as collecting benthic invertebrates and zooplankton. The students will record various data related to each of these samplings. Then, we will have them conduct statistical analyses related to these data they have collected. The primary goal of this project is to provide hands-on, real world examples of the usefulness of statistics as well as to introduce high school environmental science students to ongoing research in the fields of ecology and limnology. This project will allow me to develop my leadership and collaborative goals as I work with ND-LEEF and with the high schools where these workshops will be implemented. I will also have the unique opportunity to mentor and collaborate with an undergraduate student to film and create the educational videos of our work at UNDERC. 


Mariana Alifa - Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

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My project will consist of designing and running a “first-year seminar” for incoming graduate students in my department (CEEES). This seminar will aim to give the incoming students a sense of community with their peers as well as a sense of agency over the career they are starting at Notre Dame. The course will mainly consist of a mix of short talks and small group activities on useful topics such as time management, resilience strategies, self-care, leadership development, etc, and also incorporating fun activities for students to get to know themselves and each other better. I hope to create a designated space for new students to both form a support network with their peers and explore all the university's resources available for their success, all without worrying about taking extra time out of their schedules, to help prepare them early on to navigate the potential hardships of graduate level work. 


Will Beattie - Medieval Studies

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Over the last few years the number of people playing Role-Playing Games has increased dramatically, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result there has been a surge of interest in the medieval world. For many, Role-Playing Games and the various films, books, video games, and TV series they inspire are their first point of contact with the Middle Ages. However, RPG games can be sources of misinformation. For my project I intend to engage with the rapidly increasing audience for RPG games and provide engaging, historically accurate resources that players can use to enrich their fantasy worlds. One particular view of the Middle Ages promoted by RPG games is of a world mired in cultural homogeneity and relative isolationism. I want to challenge this view by emphasising the interconnectedness of the medieval world, both locally and internationally. I want players to draw upon the wandering preachers moving from town to town to the vast networks of trade and religion that spanned entire continents. My goal is that these resources will help RPG players to create more diverse and complex worlds and, in the process, understand what Prof. Valerie Hansen calls the process of ‘globalisation’ that began in the Middle Ages. Using historical sources, I will create texts, items, scenarios, and charts that players can use to fully realise traditionally neglected elements of the medieval world in their games. I anticipate working with focus groups, illustrators and other RPG players in the ‘home-brew’ scene while developing these resources to ensure that they are not only novel, but also fun to use in campaigns.


Anna Bryant - Integrated Biomedical Sciences

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Mentorship has been critical to my growth as a scientist, scholar, and human being. I would not be where I am today without the incredible mentors who have walked with me on my journey throughout my academic career. I fell in love with science during AP Biology my junior year of high school and I realize now how fortunate I was to have had such a solid foundation in STEM prior to my undergraduate study. Now as a graduate student in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Program, I am looking forward to accompanying other fledgling scientists on their journeys into the endlessly fascinating realm of STEM. For my project, I will be serving as a Science Olympiad coach at Adams High School for the 2021-2022 school year. The Science Olympiad is a nationwide non-profit organization whose mission is to expand the quality of science education at the K-12 level while bolstering interest and participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. This mission is accomplished through participation in competitive academic tournaments in which students exercise their understanding of scientific concepts while honing their processing, communication, and teamworking skills. I couldn’t be more excited!

Scott Carmichael - Physics

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My proposed leadership project is organizing an event that brings in students from South Bend high schools to tour Notre Dame physics laboratories and learn about interesting aspects of physics. In my personal experience, I’ve found that introductory physics classes rarely discuss the concepts that inspired actual physicists to study the subject.  To remedy this situation, my proposed event will bring a small group of students from South Bend high schools to the Notre Dame physics department. While there, the students will hear talks from graduate students about physics concepts that they find interesting, the scholarships that are available to physics majors, and possible career opportunities. Between talks, they will take tours of the physics labs and learn what it’s actually like to study physics.  The goal of the proposed event is to inspire a new generation of physicists, especially those that would otherwise not have been exposed to the field.


Jaylexia Clarke - Sociology

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For my project, I plan to organize a virtual problem-solving workshop for racially minoritized gig workers. The goal of this conference is to discuss issues at the intersection of technology, work, and structural racism throughout the gig economy. The preliminary agenda includes both action orientated workshops and guest speaker presentation sessions. An example of a workshop session topic would be "discriminatory ratings", wherein presenters would give advice and solutions regarding how to deal with implicit and explicit bias in the ratings system on platforms applications such as Doordash and Uber. I plan to invite organizers from the Gig Workers Collective (https://www.domesticworkers.org/about-us), the NY Worker Institute, and the National Domestic Worker Alliance (https://www.gigworkerscollective.org/home) to lead several workshops at the conference, I believe their experience organizing gig workers in New York and California would be a huge asset to gig workers and activists in attendance. Additionally, I plan to invite local gig workers from the South Bend community to serve as guest speakers at this conference. While the conference is a space for gig workers to connect and collaborate, attendance will be open to other faculty and students interested in this topic. By hosting this conference, I hope to facilitate a conversation about structural racism in the platform economy and create a space for gig workers and researchers to create practical solutions.


Natalie Ehret - Psychology

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For my project, I will help a group of undergraduate students prepare for graduate school. In the Adolescent Socio-Emotional Development Lab, here at Notre Dame, we have several undergraduate students who assist in research each semester and want to pursue their own research project. I will serve as a mentor for these students as they plan and execute their projects. Through these projects, students will get a feel for what life is like conducting research as a graduate student. Furthermore, I plan to host a variety of professional development workshops. These workshops will cover topics such as deciding which schools to apply to, CV development, and tips from current graduate students.


Maggie Fink - Integrated Biomedical Sciences

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My project focuses on social engagement and science communication through the use of art to communicate complex scientific ideas. Currently, my efforts have been focused online through my blog and social media presence, Folding Moonlight; however, as a LASER participant I plan on expanding my work w using science art to develop a series of bi-monthly outreach events for the community that will incorporate an informal “lesson” on some fundamental scientific concepts, especially topics relevant to current events, how vaccines work, different kinds of viruses, and the immune system. These talks will be given by other graduate students at Notre Dame, providing opportunities to increase science communication skills and make further connections with the community. In addition to the talk, attendees will be provided a few art supplies and handout designed to invite the attendee to draw, paint, doodle, scribble during the event. Encouraging people to engage creatively and physically with material that may be intimidating, and overwhelming will help to lower the barrier to entry. The goal of combining art with scientific information will help to educate the community and build bridges between scientists and non-scientists, explore innovative methods of science communication and make science more accessible and understandable to the South Bend community. 


Cristhian Umaña Gamboa - Chemistry and Biochemistry

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I want to encourage the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to have a virtual recruitment meeting for prospective international students, to provide them an opportunity to interact with the faculty and current graduate students. This meeting could provide an excellent opportunity to the prospective students to clarify doubts and get a better view of our University. 


Hansol Goo - Theology


Kathleen Hayes - Chemistry and Biochemistry

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For my project, I will be organizing the 2022 Turkey Run Analytical Chemistry Conference. This is a regional, student-organized conference with participants from Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This meeting provides both academic and professional development opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students in the field of analytical chemistry. Events of the Turkey Run Analytical Chemistry Conference include a poster session, oral presentations, a social, and a keynote speaker, which I will be planning during my time in LASER. The field of analytical chemistry is strong in the midwest, and this event provides graduate students the opportunity to connect with each other and discuss research progress and challenges with some of the top analytical chemistry professors in academia.


Orenella Joseph - Chemistry and Biochemistry

Steven Krieg - Computer Science and Engineering

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My project is to establish a framework that enables community-based organizations, or other groups with limited resources and funding, to make data-driven decisions.


Sehrazat Mart - Peace Studies and Sociology

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Young adult activists have been the backbone of some of the most transformative social movements in recent history. For my dissertation, I study how intergenerational factors shape contemporary youth mobilization against authoritarian oppression in Turkey. My proposed project for LASER involves telling the story of college students who’ve been involved in the current student movement at Bogazici University in Istanbul through a podcast. The Bogazici movement is an eclectic resistance that consists of numerous student initiatives with varying repertoires of contention. The primary purpose of my podcast would be to engage a broader audience than academia and urge people to reflect on how each generation makes sense of social movements differently. 


Preethi Mathew - Chemistry and Biochemistry 

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Graduate students in any discipline are required to be efficient in communicating their research effectively through writing – like publishing their research in scientific journals. However, in general, not much importance is given to improve a student’s writing skills in the research groups they are a part of. For my LASER project, I hope to host an accountability group for graduate students in the College of Science. I will take help from the Writing Center to get inputs for the basics of Scientific Writing. The group will decide on a topic to write on, and each member will make a small write-up on the topic. Then, the group will give feedback on each write-up. I believe this will help graduate students grow confident in writing scientific articles and get better at giving constructive feedback. 


Ansley Nemeth - Chemistry and Biochemistry

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I want to coordinate a new tutoring connection/program through the Chemistry Graduate Student Organization and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Bend. The overall goal of this novel program will allow graduate students to obtain not only volunteer experience, but make connections within the South Bend community. Graduate students will be paired with students at the Boys & Girls Club where they will aid in homework, projects, and general questions the students may have on their studies. 


Oliver Ortega - English

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Oliver's project seeks to bring local-area high school juniors to learn journalism at Notre Dame. This would be done through a collaboration with the journalism program at Notre Dame, local Michiana reporters and media producers, and undergraduate volunteers. The idea is to empower high school students to be able to tell their own stories and to be conscientious, critical readers and producers of media in a variety of forms -- text, photo, video, audio. At a time of ever-pervasive computer technology and social media’s growing centrality, it’s critical that we engage local youth in devising strategies for navigating today’s media ecosystem. After a ten or twelve-week cycle, student work would be published online (and perhaps in print as well). Our space would be a newsroom-classroom.


Iker Soto Santarriaga – Integrated Biomedical Sciences 

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Scientific education can be greatly aided by the creation of spaces where people that share interests can come together to exchange ideas and join forces to achieve common goals. This is because, by its very nature, science is an interdisciplinary and collaborative activity. For example, the fields of biophysics and quantitative biology span multiple departments and areas of research within the university. My project is the establishment of a Student Chapter of the Biophysical Society. In collaboration with other students, I will endeavor to create a student organization where students interested in biophysics can come together to pursue educational opportunities, professional development activities, and the promotion of this field of research within the campus at large. I will seek to implement strategies to promote the growth and consolidation of the chapter, such as community outreach, acquisition of funds, and organization of events. My goal is to help establish a solid foundation for the organization that will ensure its endurance and continued advancement in the long term.