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MTSU sends multiple undergrads, wins Mayo Clinic c...

MTSU sends multiple undergrads, wins Mayo Clinic challenge at national conference

Janna Abou-Rahma, far left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, works with her team during the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau. Abou-Rahma’s team won the competition, putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)

MTSU recently sent 16 undergraduates to participate in the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research and one student, Janna Abou-Rahma, was part of the team that won a highly competitive challenge putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. 

More commonly known as NCUR, the annual conference took place this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. 

Staff from MTSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored ProgramsJamie Burriss and Katie Medrano, accompanied students Abou-Rahma, Hunter BradyWeston WilliamsRoss SibleyBrooke BusbeeYaseen GinnabGreti MullerAriel NicastroLuke GormsenForam PatelLindsey TranBenjamin MatthewsCasey TomlinConnor PrimLeslie Gonzalez and Marzea Akter to the conference to present their research projects from a multitude of subject areas from science and math to music and more. 

Janna Abou-Rahma, second from left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, recently earned a highly competitive spot on the team that won the Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research, held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)
Janna Abou-Rahma, second from left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, recently earned a highly competitive spot on the team that won the Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research, held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)

Abou-Rahma also participated in the prestigious, pre-conference Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Health System and Medical College. According to its website, the challenge has participants focus on the nonmedical components of health care through a competition in which teams of students create and present a proposal for actions that address social determinants of health to improve health and health outcomes within Mayo Clinic — a series of medical clinics and hospitals in the U.S. often ranked as some of the best in the world.

Abou-Rahma said the acceptance rate to participate in the competition alone is only 4%.

“This year, 417 applications were received and only 20 were accepted to compete,” said Abou-Rahma, who will graduate this fall with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and minors in psychology and honors. “Within the 20 participants, four teams of five were formed to compete. In that sense, I competed against 15 individuals and worked with four other people in my team.”

The Carthage, Tennessee, native also presented her research on novel treatments for fungal infections that have or could become drug resistant and said MTSU and the ORSP have supported her academic work every step of the way.

“MTSU encourages and genuinely pushes for undergraduate research,” Abou-Rahma said. “We are not expected to just know all the techniques and never make a mistake. MTSU wants their students to learn how to adapt to changes in research in a mentored environment. Additionally, MTSU offers a great deal of financial assistance when traveling for conferences whether locally or internationally, whereas many universities do not.”

Janna Abou-Rahma, far left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, works with her team during the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau. Abou-Rahma’s team won the competition, putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)
Janna Abou-Rahma, far left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, works with her team during the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau. Abou-Rahma’s team won the competition, putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)

Abou-Rahma greatly credited her success and opportunities to her mentor Kevin Bicker, associate chemistry professor, saying he counseled her through lab failures, time management, project direction and applying to the health challenge. 

“When my current assay would fail, we would just go back to the drawing board and solve the puzzle,” she said. “If I had a lot of exams, he would understand, so I never felt that my research was a burden. I was (also) given the freedom with my project in terms of its direction….

“I was a little hesitant to apply to the Mayo Clinic competition, but he always pushed us to get out of our comfort zone. Once I was accepted, he had no doubt that I would do amazing in the competition…. I truly could not have done anything without the support from Dr. Bicker.” 

Janna Abou-Rahma, far left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, presents for her team during the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau. Abou-Rahma’s team won the competition, putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)
Janna Abou-Rahma, far left, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, presents for her team during the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau. Abou-Rahma’s team won the competition, putting her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)

Bicker said her success in the competition is a remarkable accomplishment. 

“She was one of 20 participants chosen from (almost) 500 applicants, and the only participant from the state of Tennessee,” Bicker said. “And then she was part of the winning team of five, meaning that from the 500 applicants she was in the top 1%….

“Janna’s success here elevates the profile of MTSU, demonstrating that the education and career preparation happening at MTSU rivals institutions across the country. The support for undergraduate research by SOAR (Student Organization for the Advancement of Research) and faculty mentors across campus is providing amazing opportunities for our students and equipping them for success in the next stages of their careers.”

Connor Prim, Middle Tennessee State University undergraduate student and researcher, presents his musical research at the National Conferences of Undergraduate Research this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Prim was one of 15 other MTSU undergraduates who presented their research and creative activity at the conference. (Photo courtesy of Connor Prim)
Connor Prim, Middle Tennessee State University undergraduate student and researcher, presents his musical research at the National Conferences of Undergraduate Research this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Prim was one of 15 other MTSU undergraduates who presented their research and creative activity at the conference. (Photo courtesy of Connor Prim)

Connor Prim, who just finished his junior year in instrumental music education, introduced and directed students who performed trumpet pieces he had composed to represent an exploration of musicianship. 

“My research has …provided incredibly valuable skills that will aid me moving forward like successfully completing a large-scale project and presenting and communicating with a diverse collection of individuals,” said Prim, who is from Bell Buckle, Tennessee. “Communicating with a diverse collection of individuals is a vital skill for future educators like me, especially in the public-school setting.”

Sixteen students and two staff from Middle Tennessee State University recently traveled to Eau Claire, Wis., to present their research and creative activity projects at the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research held at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this April. (Photo courtesy of Connor Prim)
Sixteen students and two staff from Middle Tennessee State University recently traveled to Eau Claire, Wis., to present their research and creative activity projects at the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research held at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this April. (Photo courtesy of Connor Prim)

His first time attending the conference, Prim said the opportunities for undergraduate research at MTSU like traveling for conferences, funding from grants and more are unique. 

“I have many friends at larger, more well-funded universities that don’t receive the support academically or financially that we have here,” he said. “MTSU truly is a special place to be, and it is a place I am proud to call home.” 

To learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at MTSU, visit the Undergraduate Research Center website at https://www.mtsu.edu/urc/ or the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs website at https://www.mtsu.edu/research/

— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu

Janna Abou-Rahma, second from right in the front row, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, posed for a photo with her winning teammates and judges of the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge. The challenge is put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research, held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Abou-Rahma and her team’s win put her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)
Janna Abou-Rahma, second from right in the front row, an undergraduate student and researcher from Middle Tennessee State University, posed for a photo with her winning teammates and judges of the highly competitive Mayo Clinic Social Determinants of Health Challenge. The challenge is put on in the lead up to the annual National Conferences of Undergraduate Research, held this April at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Abou-Rahma and her team’s win put her in the top 1% of hundreds of applicants. (Photo courtesy of Janna Abou-Rahma)

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