Student Innovators to Watch

April 25, 2024

UNT students are learning firsthand how their innovation can impact a range of fields from art and science to education and cybersecurity.

Improving Food Safety

Photo of Sydney SchoellhornSydney Schoellhorn, a chemistry doctoral student, is investigating a fungal endophyte known as Sarocladium zeae that grows naturally on corn. It appears to shield corn from other fungal pathogens that secrete mycotoxins. Schoellhorn is studying the behavior of the fungus independent of its corn host to get a better understanding of its genetic blueprint, which could have huge implications for food safety and preventing food spoilage.

Her research is supported by a $180,000 predoctoral fellowship through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Schoellhorn is the first UNT student to earn this type of USDA fellowship, which focuses on agricultural-based research.

Podcasts as a Learning Tool

Photo of Durga SrikariDurga Srikari, a master’s student in information science and a cybersecurity professional, is exploring whether podcasts may be an ideal learning resource for high school students, many of whom have used smartphones or tablets from a young age. In an increasingly technology-driven world, basic cybersecurity training will be an essential addition to curricula, Srikari says.

She’s working alongside UNT associate professor of information science Gahangir Hossain to learn whether a podcast could be an effective medium for educating students on cybersecurity standards and practices. She’s already using the medium as a learning tool through her own podcast, Cyber Trooper, which provides updates on advancements in the field.

Efficient Computing

Photo of Ali KhanAli Khan (’21), a Ph.D. student in computer science and engineering, earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2023 for his study on the union of machine learning, high performance computing and graph theory. His research centers on developing scalable neurosymbolic algorithms for network comparison. Specifically, he looks at how to quickly troubleshoot problems with software that scientists use on supercomputers.

Previously, Khan helped researchers from UNT’s Center for Computational Epidemiology and Response Analysis in their development of RE-PLAN — a cloud-based computer program to help health care officials plan emergency responses for disease outbreaks.

Understanding Nutrition

Photo of Kaetlin MarshKaetlin Marsh, an Honors College psychology major with minors in history and biological sciences, has been interested in studying health guidelines and their dissemination since she first discovered the ambiguity of nutrition and exercise recommendations during her own search on healthy habits.

At UNT, she’s used that experience to drive her interdisciplinary research including examining the effects social factors like body talk can have on exercise motivation and body image distress in women. In the future, Marsh plans to further her education in clinical health psychology with a goal to use that knowledge to educate diverse communities about positive weight-related behaviors.

Accessing Nature

Photo of Krystal ToneyKrystal Toney, an environmental science doctoral student, has gained a deeper knowledge of nature’s interconnectedness while also discovering that access to nature isn’t always equitable. She is researching the disparities in access to conservation education and nature among Black and low socioeconomic students.

Through her blog Black in Nature, Toney sheds light on inequity and quells the misconception that Black people aren’t doing environmental work. Her efforts to elevate Black voices have led to speaking engagements and two children’s books about bugs. During her time at UNT, Toney has worked with the Dallas Environmental Education Initiative. She hopes to land a full-time job in environmental science in the future.

Immersive Art

Photo of Julia Caswell FreundFor Julia Caswell Freund, a new media art master’s student, research is like excavation — one day she’s digging through primary texts and the next she’s curating artifacts from Ray Roberts Lake State Park. Freund creates immersive, multidisciplinary art experiences that invite viewers to reflect on their relationship to knowledge systems and the ever-changing world.

As a student in Art and the Environment, a special topics course led by University Distinguished Research Professor Dornith Doherty, Freund created a multimedia installation and coinciding live performance in the UNT Elm Fork Education Center inspired by archeological research and North Texas history. Her next project will explore her family’s history in South Texas.

Cultivating Resilience

Photo of Bernardo VargasBernardo Vargas, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, is studying race and environmental justice for Latinx communities as part of the Crossing Latinidades Mellon Humanities Fellowship and its Climate and Environmental Justice Humanities Research Working Group. Specifically, Vargas is observing how climate change impacts low-income Latinx communities in Chicago, Los Angeles and the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as what strategies these communities use to adapt to it.

His prior study on the resilience of individuals inhabiting informal housing and their utilization of joy and coping strategies from the Global South earned first place in a student research contest hosted by UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute.

Exploring Books on Grief

Photo of Daphne LyndDaphne Lynd, an undergraduate student in early childhood education, is studying how children’s books on grief, loss and death can help children feel understood, centered and that their emotions are validated. Lynd always knew she wanted to be a librarian, but her research with Anondah Saide, assistant professor of educational psychology, has motivated her to focus on ways she can bridge communities and raise awareness around dealing with grief and loss for children and families.

Lynd plans to engage the scholarly community in discussing how these books work within early childhood development and the necessity to make this literature more accessible as print and e-books for communities at large.

Affordable Health Care

Photo of Chandler CookChandler Cook (’21), a dual master’s student in biomedical engineering and management, is passionate about helping people. Her research focuses on developing affordable biomedical implants, prosthetics and medical devices for low-income communities. Cook’s 3D bioprinting work with associate professor of biomedical engineering Moo-Yeal Lee helped solidify her passion, allowing her the perfect blend of in-class learning and hands-on lab experience.

She has interned with the UNT Health Science Center and Abbott Laboratories, serving as the liaison to connect the diagnostic company with students seeking opportunities in the biomedical field. Cook plans to start her own biomedical engineering company to catalyze kindness in health care.

Fictional Languages

Photo of Carter Smith and Analiese Beeler Analiese Beeler and Carter Smith, undergraduate linguistics majors, are using computational methods and statistical monitoring to compare constructed languages, such as Dothraki in Game of Thrones, with natural languages that evolved over millennia. Their research explores humans’ innate understanding of language and how it’s unconsciously applied. They also hope to draw more interest in linguistics through connecting with popular culture.

The DFW Metroplex Linguistics Conference accepted their work for presentation. Smith looks forward to pursuing graduate studies in computational linguistics and staying involved in research. Beeler is taking a gap year to work as a proofreader and editor while she considers which way her passions will lead her.