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Berks students receive Erickson Discovery Grants

By Penn State Berks

Berks students receive Erickson Discovery Grants

WYOMISSING, Pa. — This year, four Penn State Berks students received the University’s Erickson Discovery Grant for summer 2020, through the Office of Undergraduate Education. The grants allows them to conduct research over the summer in the field, lab or studio under the direct supervision of a faculty member. The grants can be used for all facets of scholarship and creative process, including conceptualization, proposal writing, identification and implementation of methods and communications of results. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some student research has been delayed.

The Penn State Berks student awardees include: 

— Serenah Pauliuc, “Effect of Moisture on the Tensile Properties of Composites with Bio-based Fibers and Matrix”

Pauliuc, a junior mechanical engineering major from Reading, Pa., worked with two faculty advisers: Dr. Amir Barakati at Penn State Berks and Dr. Charles Bakis Penn State University Park. The purpose of her research is to evaluate the quasi-static tensile behavior of composites made with different combinations of fibers and matrices in the as-received condition and following a 24-hour soak in water. 

When asked about the grant and research experience, Pauliuc states, “Berks is home to professors that inspire students to expand their horizons while providing the knowledge and tools to succeed.”  

— Jenna Phillips, “Sensor Placement for Monitoring Both Equine and Rider Activity” 

Phillips, a senior kinesiology major from Mohrsville, Pa., explains that her research project focuses on horseback riding, a nontraditional form of physical activity, and aims to validate it as an alternative method of exercise that can be introduced to more people within the community. Her project required knowledge and collaboration in both kinesiology and engineering in order to gain awareness of the physical benefits of horseback riding, while also confirming the validity of the scientific equipment being used. She worked with faculty adviser Dr. Praveen Veerabhadrappa,

Phillips states, “I am very grateful and extremely blessed to have been gifted this grant and the opportunity to conduct research at Penn State. I cannot think of a better project combining both my love for academics and horseback riding. I am so excited to share my research experience with the Penn State and science communities.”

— Serena Schade, “The Effects of Fitbit Groups on College Students’ Attitudes Towards Physical Activity”  

For Schade, a senior life science major from Reading, Pa., the purpose of this study is to assess the effect of online groups on college students’ attitudes towards physical activity and their physical activity levels using wearable technology. The study is being conducted using Fitbit devices and Fitbit’s mobile application. She explained that given the prevalence of online social networks, it is important to understand how they can be utilized as tools to increase student’s activity levels. She worked with faculty advisers Dr. Praveen Veerabhadrappa and Dr. Andrew Friesen.  

“I’m very grateful and excited to have received the Erickson Discovery Grant to work on this study,” states Schade. “My hope is that our findings will help impact how universities design programs to improve their students’ fitness levels. My experience with research thus far at Berks has given me opportunities to gain skills in presenting findings and in the publishing process. This valuable experience will help me in graduate school and later in my career. 

— Thomas Weidman, “Identifying 9G8 target genes in the Drosophila fat body”

Thomas Weidman, a sophomore biology major from Lebanon, Pa., conducted research to explore the genes important for regulating metabolism using the fruit fly, Drosophila, as the model system, to better understand obesity in humans. His lab has previously identified the RNA processing protein 9G8 as being important for normal fat metabolism, but many of the genes involved in regulating 9G8-mediated fat storage are unknown. In this project, Weidman worked to analyze the changes in gene expression in response to decreasing 9G8 levels to identify 9G8 target genes involved in regulating fat storage. He worked with faculty adviser Dr. Justin DiAngelo.

The Erickson Discovery Grant program is named in honor of Rodney A. Erickson, the 17th president of Penn State. Applications typically open in October and are due in late January. 

The Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more at