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Chancellor Blank honors undergraduates for outstanding 2020 research, scholarship

October 7, 2020 By Doug Erickson

The news is filled these days with troubling interactions between people of different races. Could early and sustained parental involvement address children’s racial biases before they become deeply entrenched?

That’s the intriguing question UW–Madison senior Olivia Moens hopes to answer with her research.

“Although the suggestion to involve parents seems reasonable, there is little empirical evidence evaluating the extent to which parental engagement is effective,” says Moens, a psychology major from Green Bay, Wisconsin. “My research hopes to address the question, ‘What is the best way for parents to approach conversations about race with their children?’”

Moens’s research project was one of many honored recently by Chancellor Rebecca Blank. The annual Chancellor’s Undergraduate Awards Ceremony originally was to have been held in April. Due to COVID-19, it was postponed until this fall, then moved online.

In total, the accomplishments of more than 150 students were highlighted.

“Congratulations to all of you and best wishes for this year and for all the opportunities you’ll have this fall,” Blank said in a video to the winners. “We are expecting great things from each and every one of you.”

Most of the awards provide students with funds to conduct research projects in collaboration with faculty members. Other awards recognize impressive academic achievement or community service. Thirteen recipients and finalists of nationally competitive scholarships also were acknowledged.

Moens won a Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship to pursue her project. The award provides $3,000 to each undergraduate winner and $1,000 to the student’s faulty or staff advisor. Psychology Professor Kristin Shutts is serving as the faculty advisor for Moens.

In her research, Moens will provide parents with strategies for addressing issues of race with their children and materials for the parents to practice the strategies at home. She will then test various approaches and evaluate the outcomes among both parents and children, all with an eye toward reducing bias.

Other winning research projects span a wide spectrum, from exploring hearing loss in the Hmong community to investigating factors that lead to Chinese mystery snail invasions in urban ponds. One student is studying pollen quality as a potential driver of bumblebee abundance and diversity in restored prairies. Another is trying to determine whether thermal image analysis can prevent diabetic foot amputation in low-income settings.

In addition to 105 Hilldale Fellowships, other awards honored at the virtual ceremony included Holstrom Environmental Research Fellowships, Sophomore Research Fellowships, and Theodore Herfurth and Teddy Kubly Awards for Comprehensive Undergraduate Excellence.

A full list of award recipients can be found here.