IU Southeast’s Rilie Conard takes top prize at IU Undergraduate Research Conference

14th December 2022

Despite the designation as a teaching university rather than a research institution, IU Southeast has always had a strong showing at the Indiana University Undergraduate Research Conference.  On Friday, December 9, IU Southeast once again maintained the record for participation and came back to New Albany with the top prize at the competition.

Overall, 63 IU Southeast students made the trip for 35 oral and poster presentations on the IUPUI campus. IU Southeast had the largest representation of all campuses with 35 percent of the presentations and 39 percent of the student presenters. Additionally, Rilie Conard, a senior in biology with minors in chemistry, Spanish and psychology from Canaan, Indiana, took top honors in the formal judging by a faculty panel and, separately, by a “people’s choice” audience vote.

“Our students’ achievement and engagement stood out in Indianapolis,” said Lisa Hoffman, professor of education and dean for research and graduate studies. “IU Southeast had the largest research delegation of all the IU campuses and presented work from a wide range of disciplines, from informatics to neuroscience. I was so impressed at their enthusiasm and hard work. We have innovative research happening here!”

The significance of Conard’s research is the impact it could potentially have in reducing death due to cardiovascular disease caused by high cholesterol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women.

“The intention of the research is to contribute towards the development of drugs with less side effects and more effectiveness in lower dosages than the ones currently on the market,” said Conard. This research could be a breakthrough in the development of new medications for high cholesterol.”

Rilie Conarad and Dr. Victor Waingeh celebrate Conard’s first place finish

While conducting this project, Conard was able to apply a lot of the knowledge she learned in classes like organic chemistry and molecular biology. “It was really important for me to understand how proteins function, how energy is released during chemical interactions, and how to analyze scientific data.”

Conard became involved with the research project early during her junior year, after approaching Dr. Victor Waingeh, associate professor of chemistry, after completing his Chemistry II class. “I knew he had some interesting research projects going on,” she said. “I reached out to him, and here we are.”

Conard worked in conjunction with Waingeh, running the simulations and analyzing the data. Waingeh and some of his past research students created the ligands, or new potential drugs, that were used in the simulations.

“Dr. Waingeh was so supportive during this project,” said Conard. “He truly wanted me to excel. Before I began conducting research, I lacked confidence in the lab. As time went on, I became more confident in myself because I was responsible for analyzing my data and running these simulations.”

Conard competed in the research competition at the IU Southeast Student Conference back in April of this year and took home first place for the Outstanding Oral Presentation portion. This fueled her confidence in the lab and presenting her research even more.

“IU Southeast has a rich tradition in undergraduate research,” said Dr. Kelly Ryan, interim Chancellor of IU Southeast. “The skills our students are learning through faculty guidance are skills that will carry them forward throughout their careers.  Doing this kind of work as an undergraduate student is one of the best experiences students can have during their college career.”

In addition to Waingeh, Conard credits Dr. Lisa Hoffman and the IU Southeast Research and Grants Committee for a fellowship which allowed her to spend more time on the research project, and Thomas May, adjunct instructor in communications studies at IU Southeast.

“Dr. Waingeh gave me independence on this project, which I believe helped me tremendously,” said Conard. “Mr. May was an instructor I will not forget. He taught me how to believe in myself, I will forever be grateful for taking Public Speaking with him.”

Following graduation, Conard plans on applying to M.D. and Ph.D. programs, eventually practicing in the specialty area of pediatric oncology.  

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