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Congratulations to the winners of the Spring 2019 URCA Assistant Program Awards!!

Vaughn Vandegrift URCA Assistant Research Mentor of the Semester Award


Dr. Sarah Conoyer, Department oPsychology

Nominated by: Nicole Ties

“I have worked with Dr. Conoyer for the past three semesters and each semester I have learned more about Psychology and how to be a great researcher. Dr. Conoyer has given us the opportunity to pilot her assessment, PASCAL to fifth grade students. It has been great learning how to assess students and I am positive that I will be more prepared in grad school because of this lab. Dr. Conoyer is so great because she has always been so open to our ideas, if there was something we thought could be added or should be changed she wanted to hear it because she has always wanted what is best for the project. I can attest to say that Dr. Conoyer has been an URCA mentor like no other, she constantly has new research ideas and projects for her students to work on. I have been in her lab for three semesters and I have not worked on the same mini-project twice. She creates relationships with her students that shows she cares about us and wants us to succeed. She gives her students the opportunities for new experiences that they would not receive in other labs or at other universities. I can guarantee that if I was not a part of her URCA lab, I would not feel as ready and confident for graduate school as I do now.” 

Vaughn Vandegrift URCA Assistant Research Mentor of the Semester Award


Dr. James Panio, Department of Applied Health

Nominated by: Alyssa Groene

“Dr. Panico made this experience easy, yet so full of learning. Watching him interact with others and talk about our project showed me how passionate someone can be about their job and made me realize that I chose the right profession; if someone is able to love their job so much, then it must be an incredible position to have. Senior year came with a lot of questioning my choice in my major. But, whenever I felt nervous about my decision, I would think about how much fun I’ve had and how much Dr. Panico loves his job and I would forget all of my worries. Undoubtedly, the experiences I have had through the URCA program with Dr. Panico gave me an advantage when applying for graduate school and continuing my dream and for that, I am forever grateful. I will never forget my time working in the URCA program alongside Dr. Panico.”

URCA Research Assistant of the Semester Award


Tyler Cronister, Department of Computer Science

Nominated by: Dr. John Matta

“I gave Tyler a project regarding DNA sequencing on a graphics processing unit (GPU). The original idea was to improve one of the programs with regard to GPU usage and processing efficiency. Tyler conducted an extensive search and discovered that the first program did not actually exist. Even though it was mentioned in a survey paper, there is no publically available code. He tried every possible search strategy, including writing to the master’s student and his advisor, and even calling the student at his current place of employment (in a professional and appropriate manner). Then Tyler discovered that the second program no longer supported GPU usage. Our original idea of improving an existing program became much more difficult because the programs, in fact, do not exist or are not supporting a GPU! Tyler took it upon himself to develop a plan to rewrite the original thesis program from scratch. This is a much more difficult problem that we started with, but Tyler has demonstrated great software engineering ability as well as project management skills. As a new professor I try to get a lot accomplished, and I must admit that I have learned something from Tyler’s style of working. Working with him has improved my own skills. All in all, I am very impressed with Tyler’s technical knowledge, his persistence, his good attitude, and his leadership skills.”

URCA Creative Activities Assistant of the Semester Award 


Jenna Heng, Department of Theater and Dance

Nominated by: Dr. Johanna Schmitz

“Unflappable. Indefatigable. Jenna Heng has been my URCA student for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. She has taken to this work with enthusiasm and with great attention to detail. She is both analytical and creative in her approach and I trust her to handle these new additions to the Rose Theatre catalogue with little supervision. We added a new URCA student to our team this semester; Jenna has been as insightful as she is generous to bring the new researcher up to speed on our newly established protocols and standards. She is fast and accurate. She has helped me problem-solve both technical issues regarding computer software and hardware as well as worked through conceptual issues regarding how future users will interact with the database for research, educational and general interest purposes. Her efforts this year have certainly helped me move my research project closer to publication. We all can be very proud of Jenna Heng's contribution to the mission and spirit of SIUE's Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program.”

Other nominees:


Dr. Alan Black, Geography
Nominated by:
Claire Iott

Dr. Song Chew, Math and Statistics
Nominated by:
Khuyen Tran

Dr. Kevin Tucker, Chemistry
Nominated by:
Dalia Hassan

Dr. Susanne DiSalvo, Biological Sciences
Nominated by:
Andrew Tresslar

Dr. Betsy Meinz, Psychology
Nominated by:
Ryan Raymond

Dr. Gloria Sweida, Business
Nominated by:
Abigayle Agne and Ozge Ozisiklioglu
Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot Brown, Applied Communication Studies
Nominated by:
Taylour Bertelsman
Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor, Sociology
Nominated by:
Justin Walker

Claire Iott
Nominated by:
Dr. Alan Black, Geography

Nicole Ties
Nominated by:
Dr. Sarah Conoyer, Psychology

Pete Orkweha
Nominated by:
Dr. Nima Lotfi Yagin, Mechanical Engineering


Fall 2018 Award Winners
Spring 2018 Award Winners
Fall 2017 Award Winners
Spring 2017 Award Winners
Fall 2016 Award Winners
Spring 2016 Award Winners
Fall 2015 Award Winners
Spring 2015 Award Winners
Fall 2014 Award Winners
Spring 2014 Award Winners
Fall 2013 Award Winners
Spring 2013 Award Winners
Fall 2012 URCA Award Winners
Spring 2012 URCA Award Winners
Fall 2011 URCA Award Winners

For more information about the URCA program,
contact Dr. Laura Pawlow at 618-650-2608 or
The calls for nominations for these awards go out mid-fall and mid-spring.

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