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SUNY Potsdam Awards for Research Showcase Student Achievement & Adaptability

May 15, 2020

SUNY Potsdam’s Learning and Research Fair Virtual Format Presents Challenges and Surprising Benefits

In a time of adaption for the higher education world, participants in the 2020 SUNY Potsdam Learning and Research Fair found some surprising benefits in the online format made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The winners have been selected from some 30 entries spanning the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities. With fewer entries to evaluate this year and more time to spend with the student researchers, judges were able to dig deeper into methods, conclusions and academic approaches of the contestants via Zoom interviews.

“We felt like we were able to get beyond the basics of the projects and into ways they could shape learning going forward,” said Dr. Thomas Baker, one of the judges and the director of the Office for Student Research and Creativity at SUNY Potsdam.

About 80 students, faculty, staff, parents and friends attended a virtual awards ceremony presenting more than $2,000 worth of prizes on May 11. The annual event of the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning showcases the best of student-driven research and initiative at the College, and this year’s virtual fair tested the technical aptitude of contestants while also drawing in family members from as far away as California — participants who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend.

Students submitted abstracts, poster files and a short video about their research, which were posted online. Up for accolades was Aaron Charlack ’20, who received first place in both the Frederick B. Kilmer Research Awards for sciences, and the Ram L. Chugh North Country Research and Public Service Awards, for a project called “Development of Green High School Chemistry Labs.” The project focused on the use of safe substances in lab experiments so students can more fully benefit from hands-on learning.

“I think one of my favorite parts about my project was getting to see it employed in schools,” said Charlack, who graduates this month, but is returning to Potsdam in the fall to study for a master’s degree in science teaching. “The main point of my research is to develop environmentally friendly high school level science labs. When we finished working on a lab, we would bring it to Canton High School, where the science teacher there would then do that experiment with his students as a sort of field test. To be able to see these labs being successfully done by these students and teachers, and get direct feedback from them, was very exciting.”

Emily Willis ’20 received a first place Frederick B. Kilmer Research Award in the humanities, arts, and social sciences category, for a project titled “At Rest: An Epidemiological Study of Potsdam Cemetery Populations.” Willis drew from a database of 6,000 residents interred in four Potsdam cemeteries from 1861 to 1911, and tracked death rates from tuberculosis, typhoid fever, scarlet fever and other diseases. Although she started the research well before the coronavirus pandemic, her research revealed modern parallels to the past.

“When COVID-19 hit, I had already begun tracking the spread of infectious diseases in Potsdam through the obituaries of its citizens,” said Willis, an archaeological studies major. “So, I got to employ methods similar to what epidemiologists are doing now. That really resonated with me. It was also striking to see that my results are being mirrored by COVID-19, so far. We're seeing a small amount of deaths initially, then a spike in deaths, followed by a slow decline through time.” 

Taking the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Student Research was John Cristantiello ’21, for a project called “Electroencephalography: Machine Assembly and Diagnostic Testing.” The EEG project allowed students to hone technical knowledge of the machine and lay plans for further study of the effect of stimuli on brain waves.

To see the Learning and Research Fair entries, go to:

The full list of winners is as follows:

Frederick B. Kilmer Research Awards (Sciences)

  • First Place: Aaron Charlack, for “Development of Green High School Chemistry Labs” (Faculty mentor: Martin Walker, Department of Chemistry).
  • Second Place: Arielle Wolter, for “Transcription Blocking Drug on mRNA Processing Factors” (Faculty mentor: Fathima Nazeer, Department of Chemistry).

Frederick B. Kilmer Research Awards (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences)

  • First Place: Emily Willis, for “At Rest: An Epidemiological Study of Potsdam Cemetery Populations” (Faculty mentor: Nasser Malit, Department of Anthropology).
  • Second Place: Jeremy Walts, for “Valuation of Computer Generated or Enhanced Art” (Faculty mentor: Melissa Dolese, Department of Psychology).

Ram L. Chugh North Country Research & Public Service Awards

  • First Place: Aaron Charlack, for “Development of Green High School Chemistry Labs” (Faculty mentor: Martin Walker, Department of Chemistry).
  • Second Place: Tabitha Brown, for “‘My Own Ever Loving Arvilla’: Personal Correspondence Brings Life to History” (Faculty mentor: Thomas Baker, Department of History).
  • Third Place: Cara Aguirre, for “Global Climate Change Influences Wine Production and Tourism in Northern New York” (Faculty mentors: Greg Gardner, Dawn Robinson and Pamela Griffin, Department of Business Administration).

Provost’s Award for Excellence in Student Research

  • First Place: John Cristantiello, “Electroencephalography: Machine Assembly and Diagnostic Testing” (Faculty mentor: Jason Schreer, Department of Biology).

Outstanding Faculty Mentorship of Undergraduate Research

  • Dr. Glenn Johnson, professor of biology.

The Learning and Research Fair is coordinated by the Office for Student Research and Creativity, which also oversees the Presidential Scholars Program, the Kilmer Fund, the Institute for Ethical Behavior and the Honors Program. It is part of the Donald and Kathryn Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, located in the Lougheed Learning Commons. To find out more, visit

About SUNY Potsdam:
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit

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