Pythons, fear acceptance and cultural assimilation: Students to explore fascinating array of topics at the Eastern Michigan University Undergraduate Symposium

41st annual event featuring research and creative projects to be held virtually March 26

Screenshot of Undergraduate Symposium virtual experience

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University will feature its 41st annual Undergraduate Symposium on Friday, March 26 in an all virtual format. This highlight of undergraduate research and creative projects serves as a cumulative reflection of the academic year.

Beginning in 1981, the Symposium was one of the first of its kind in the nation. This year, the event will step into its fifth decade of showcasing exceptional academic undergraduate work from a wide variety of departments and colleges.

As in past years, this year’s virtual event will feature oral speaking presentations, poster displays, and projects from the Crossing Lines Design Expo.

The Symposium will host 195 students, under the mentorship of 103 faculty mentors, featured within 178 unique projects. Attendees will find a combination of pre-recorded and live content to view and engage with.

A highlight of projects featured at the 41st annual event includes:

Understanding the Genetics of Lavender Albino Ball Pythons (Python regius)

Autumn Brown

Hannah Seidel, faculty mentor

Ball pythons are an excellent model for understanding the genetics of pigmentation in reptiles. This species shows abundant heritable variation in the normal pigmentation pattern, and DNA samples can readily be obtained from shed skin. Here we investigate the genetic cause of a pigmentation variant known as Lavender Albino. Lavender Albino animals show a deficit of the brown-to-black pigment in the skin. We find that the phenotype is likely caused by a mutation in the gene OCA2, which is linked to similar pigment disorders in humans. Our study establishes ball pythons as a model for pigmentation genetics in reptiles and suggests that pigmentation genes are conserved among vertebrates.

Oral Presentation  

Black Business Owners and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Washtenaw County

Bianca Ramsey

Sadaf Ali, faculty mentor

This research project focuses on how local Black businesses were affected by COVID-19 in Washtenaw County, particularly in downtown Ypsilanti. Throughout my research, I gathered data by arranging one-on-one interviews with five local Black business owners and analyzed statistics regarding small businesses in Michigan. Throughout the interviews, I asked how the pandemic affected their businesses in terms of rent, clients, and income. Many Black business owners discussed how their business made a positive impact on residents in the community. This research project will bring more awareness to how African American businesses promote unity during a time of crisis.

Design Expo

Fear Acceptance Versus Fear Reduction for Extinction Learning in Augmented Reality Exposure Therapy

Arturo Peña

Joseph Tu and Michelle Fernando, non-presenting authors

Ellen Koch, faculty mentor

Emotional processing theory is the underlying model for traditional exposure therapy. This approach to exposure presumes that the amount to which fear reduces from peak fear levels within an exposure session predicts successful treatment of specific phobias, such as arachnophobia. Inhibitory learning theory (ILT) offers a different approach to exposure centered around forming new non-threat associations (i.e., memories) by way of fear acceptance rather than attempts to focus on reducing fear levels (i.e., fear reduction). ILT may be more effective at helping phobic populations because the model promotes the learning of non-fear associations in the presence of feared stimuli.

Oral Presentation

Using Gamification to Drive Student Engagement

Zachariah Pelletier and Kevin Higman

James Banfield and William Sverdlik, faculty mentors

To answer the question of whether creating a competitive environment drives students’ engagement while completing class objectives, two EMU Honors students designed and built a web application that creates such an environment. This system allows students to complete assignments that are weighted on a point system and compare scores on an anonymous “Leaderboard.” This system attempts to emulate a competition environment for objective-based learning, and is designed to be used for Information Security lab assignments similar to a Security competition environment.

Oral Presentation

Role of Cultural Assimilation When Working with Adult Immigrants in Social Work

Jennifer Reyes

Christina Marsack Topolewski, mentor

The presentation will draw from an in-depth literature review of cultural assimilation and its role in social work practice when working with adult immigrants. Cultural assimilation is defined as immigrants’ adjustment of their attitude to the dominant culture. This consists of several factors, such as language acquisition, traditions, family, and community. Additionally, this presentation will explore what cultural assimilation means in the U.S., a racially and ethnically diverse country. This presentation will tie these factors together to gain a holistic view of immigrants’ experience and identity through a social work lens.


Dynamic Storytelling with Animation

William Glover

Ryan English, faculty mentor

Animation presents a seemingly boundless form of storytelling. Unlike other visual mediums, animation is not bound to physical limitations. Using animation, a story about relationships no longer needs to be between two people. It could be between two animals or two shapes. Through animation, character can be given to seemingly anything. From there, metaphors, bonds, or inner thoughts can be represented completely visually. Animation’s advantages can be utilized to expand the ways in which stories are told. This project aims to legitimize animation as a narrative device for all stories, unlike the adolescent focused narratives it has been tied to in Western Media.

Design Expo

Former presenter and successful EMU alum Brenda Alten is keynote speaker

The one-day event will begin at 9 a.m. and run through 4:15 p.m., with a short break from noon to 1:15 p.m. for a keynote speaker presentation. A schedule will be available one week prior to the event for attendees to plan their virtual visit.

The Dennis M. Beagen Undergraduate Symposium Keynote Speaker is EMU alum Brenda Alten. The current Director of Human Resources Communications with the J.M. Smucker company, Alten, a two-time Symposium presenter, graduated from EMU in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication.

Serving in a variety of roles in her 30+ years with J.M. Smucker, Alten notes her passion for communication as a driving factor for her success. This passion was certainly reflected during her time at EMU as a four-time national champion in Forensics.

Alten notes that participating in the Undergraduate Symposium was a highlight of her college career. She will share her admiration for the Symposium with participants, faculty and supporters during her keynote speech. Her engagement at this year’s event truly instills the value of undergraduate research opportunities at EMU.

For more information on the 41st annual Undergraduate Symposium, please visit the symposium website or contact event coordinator Amy Bearinger at

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

March 03, 2021

Written by:
Amy Bearinger

Media Contact:
Geoff Larcom