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Biochemistry student honored by Council on Undergraduate Research

For the fifth consecutive year, a West Virginia University student has been selected to present her research to members of Congress at the prestigious Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C. This year, however, the event went a little differently. 

Megan Lauris
Megan Lauris

Megan Lauris, a senior biochemistry major from Toronto, Ohio, was one of just 60 students selected by the Council on Undergraduate Research to participate in the 24th annual Posters on the Hill, originally scheduled for April 20-21, 2020. At the event, selected undergraduate students have the opportunity to present their research to members of Congress, congressional staff, federal government officials, academics and other researchers.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, student presenters were unable to share the results of their research in person this year and were instead asked to try something new.

Converting their original research posters to social media graphics, Lauris and her fellow students took to Twitter on Tuesday, April 21 from noon to 8 p.m. for an interactive virtual poster conference, posting about their research and engaging with spectators and fellow presenters online. Students shared the posts to their own Twitter accounts, which were then amplified as retweets by the Council on Undergraduate Research’s account and brought to the attention of each student’s U.S. senators and representatives.

See Lauris’s presentation on Twitter. View the full virtual poster conference on Twitter by exploring the Council on Undergraduate Research Twitter and the hashtags #POH2020 and #POHGoesVirtual.

"Megan was a great selection to represent the state of West Virginia and West Virginia University at the national level,"  said Michelle Richards-Babb, director of the  Office of Undergraduate Research . " She is passionate about her research — research that directly impacts the health and well-bein g of the citizens of West Virginia.” 

Lauris was selected for her research on “Understanding diabetes and vascular disease-related amputations in West Virginia,” which was conducted with faculty member  Samantha D. Minc of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery – School of Medicine Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center. Lauris has been researching with Minc for the past two and a half years and plans to go to medical school at the  WVU School of Medicine this fall.

West Virginia’s population is at a higher risk for leg amputation than the rest of the United States due to the high rates of diabetes, tobacco use and cardiovascular disease in the state. In Lauris’s research under Minc, qualitative interviews were conducted with healthcare providers and patients across the state to examine the barriers to preventing amputations. Minc said Lauris spent long hours on the project, coordinating focus groups, traveling to assist with the interviews themselves, and analyzing the resulting transcripts for findings.

“It’s very unusual for an undergraduate student to have that level of motivation,” Minc said. “You can just give Megan a project, and she’s going to figure out how to do it.”

Lauris encourages all students to pursue research during their undergraduate experience.

“My mentor is wonderful. She made me jump in with both feet instantly—made me do things I hadn’t experienced before,” Lauris said. “It really improved my confidence in research, and what it’s like to be a vascular surgeon.”

Her experiences in research have also helped fuel her passion for public health and improving healthcare access and outcomes in the state of West Virginia.

“I’ve learned so much,” Lauris said. “I’d really like to make a difference in whatever way I can.”

The Council on Undergraduate Research reviewed around 400 highly competitive applications from undergraduate students from across the country for participation in this selective event. The annual event provides the opportunity for lawmakers to see the value of undergraduate research firsthand, as well as the impact of federal programs and dollars on students and faculty from around the country.

Each year, the  Office of Undergraduate Research facilitates student participation in the Posters on the Hill event. Students can learn more about opportunities for research both on and off campus by making an appointment with the Office for Undergraduate Research.