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Congratulations to the winners of the Spring 2020 URCA Assistant Program Awards!


Vaughn Vandegrift URCA Assistant Research Mentor of the Semester Award




Dr. Maurina Aranda, Department of Biological Sciences

Nominated by: Allison Upchurch

“Dr. Aranda has introduced me to the world of biology education research, guiding me in data collection, analysis, presentation, and publication techniques. It is because of her that I have decided to attend graduate school and become a   college-level biology instructor; I hope to use our biology education research to someday influence the way that I will design and structure my courses. Though I have only worked alongside her for a little over a semester, I can confidently state that she is a strong asset to the biology department because of her research guidance and willingness to help students in every aspect of life. For example, when I began applying for graduate schools, Dr. Aranda assisted me along every step of the way, from applications to professional attire. She continues to encourage me to choose the school that will best support my career goals, even if it means that I will be moving on from her lab, illustrating how she always has her students’ best interests in mind.”


Dr. Elora Voyles, Department of Psychology

Nominated by: Michael Robinson

“Under Dr. Voyles’ leadership and guidance, many of us have achieved successes and learned skills that we never dreamed possible. These successes range from co-publishing a textbook chapter, helping in the indexing of a chapter, creating our own experiments, running experiments, mentoring in leadership, and preparing for presentations…Dr. Voyles encourages students to challenge themselves and to create their own research ideas. She supports students that are not even in her lab in their research projects and pushes anyone who is interested in research to pursue their interests. It is clear that Dr. Voyles advocates for the progression of education no matter who she encounters and strives to help any student reach their goals. Dr. Voyles is part of the reason many of us are actively interested in research projects. She takes the time to educate and push us to pursue a variety of different research topics, even if it is outside of her expertise. She is helpful, humorous, and intelligent in giving advice about projects and classes, and is someone we all are grateful to have in our lives. Dr. Voyles is someone who has qualities as a mentor that we take hope to strive for in our own varying professions.”


URCA Research Assistant of the Semester Award


Jordan Robinson, Department of Biological Sciences

Nominated by: Dr. Brittany Peterson

“When (Jordan) applied to the URCA Assistant position in my lab she approached me with an idea. It wasn’t any idea, it was a really solid, hypothesis-driven project idea stemming out of what she knew from taking my microbiology class and what she knew of the work in my lab. To put it briefly, I was floored... I am continually blown away by Jordan. She is pragmatic, organized, and sharp. She works well with others in the lab, knows when to ask for help or seek advice, and is a self-starter. It’s unprecedented that a single semester’s worth of work, initiated by a student’s idea, would be publishable. But, that’s exactly what I anticipate will happen with Jordan’s project. So much so, that I have recruited other lab members to help with various aspects of her to project to get this data on its way to publication. I have had the privilege of working with many talented and motivated students at SIUE, but this semester Jordan Robinson has really stood out.”


URCA Creative Activities Assistant of the Semester Award 

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Paul Lacefield, Department of Art and Design

Nominated by: Ms. Abbey Hepner

“From the very first day of the semester, Paul has been an enthusiastic and motivated contributor to the work that I have been creating. He has brought new ideas, interesting approaches, and creative problem-solving techniques when the work did not go as planned. On his own time, Paul put together a list of other VR devices to take ideas from, and he designed his own version of a device for us to try. I was a 2020 Presenter at the Yuma Symposium on February 20th, where I had an exhibition and gave a presentation to hundreds of people, followed by a demo with the VR viewing devices that the URCA assistants helped me make. Paul was the one to spearhead the assembly of the printed work on the devices. Without Paul’s help, I wouldn’t have been able to get 20 VR viewing devices prepared and assembled in time. Paul also helped make wooden pins etched with my photographs of anatomical theaters for the promotion of the work at the Yuma Symposium. The pins and the VR viewing devices were a huge hit at the symposium!... Paul’s ambition, enthusiasm, and positive attitude has been reinvigorating and I am grateful for what a collaborative process this has been.“


Other nominees:


Dr. Joel Nadler, Psychology
Nominated by:
Madalyn McKenzie

Dr. Kathy Mora, Applied Health
Nominated by:
Lara Tupper

Dr. Alan Black, Geography
Nominated by:
Claire Iott

Dr. Tom Lavallee, Foreign Language and Literature
Nominated by:
Justin Walker

Dr. Nima Lotfi, Mechanical Engineering
Nominated by:
Brandon Hickey



Carmen Cornejo
Nominated by:
Dr. Jennifer Hernandez, Teaching and Learning

Jocelyn Rahim
Nominated by:
Dr. Joel Nadler, Psychology

Karolina Chemielewska
Nominated by:
Dr. Kevin Tucker, Chemistry

Mikayla Duncan
Nominated by:
Dr. Sarah Conoyer, Psychology

Mykaela Thomas
Nominated by:
Dr. Anni Reinking, Teaching and Learning

Natalie Lyon
Nominated by:
Dr. Carolin Rocha, Foreign Language and Literature

Nathan Coggeshall
Nominated by:
Dr. Sophia Wilson, Political Science

Bhuvaneshwar Mohan
Nominated by:
Dr. Ronald Worthington, Pharmaceutical Sciences


Fall 2019 Award Winners
Spring 2019 Award Winners
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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