Remarkable at Any Rate
Chemistry senior Marie Anne Cuevas took two top prizes in the undergraduate symposium for her research on nanocrystals and their applications to nanocomposite dielectrics. Photo credit Taylor Foust.

Remarkable at Any Rate

Undergrads face off in annual USC Festival of Scholarly and Creative Work showcasing their skills in research, writing and the Web.
ByPamela J. Johnson

A former high school cheerleader interested in studying theater, Marie Anne Cuevas may seem an unlikely student to excel in nanoscience.

But Cuevas is a quintessential Trojan skillful in both the sciences and humanities. She yearns to conduct research that will change the world. 

The USC College senior will take her graduation walk in May as a seasoned, award-winning science researcher. Cuevas took two top prizes in the 11th annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work.

The chemistry and religion major was among nearly 600 undergraduates who competed in this year’s USC Festival of Scholarly and Creative Work, which also included an Undergraduate Writers’ Conference and Webfest.

Cuevas’ project – Low Temperature Synthesis of Perovskite Nanocrystals and their Applications to Nanocomposite Dielectrics – placed first in the Physical Sciences and Engineering, and the Most Innovative categories.

“Whether nanoscience was my objective in life, I didn’t know going into the project,” said Cuevas who will pursue a Ph.D. at Northwestern University in cancer research.

“I only knew that I wanted to impact society,” she said. “It’s really exciting knowing that what I’m doing can actually impact other people’s research.”

Her novel approach to a problem in nanocrystal synthesis may have breakthrough applications in developing new energy storage devices, said physicist Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs and a key organizer.

“Marie’s work is an exciting demonstration of what talented undergraduates can accomplish,” Bickers said.

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost and coordinated by the Office of Undergraduate Programs, the festival involved 353 students in the writers’ conference, 159 in the research symposium and 81 in the Webfest.
Top winners in each category received $1,000. Second place winners each received $500. Participation this year eclipsed all others with College students submitting the vast majority of projects.

“Students are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of research opportunities at USC and the forum they are given to exhibit their work with faculty,” said David Glasgow, director of undergraduate programs.

“The festival gives students a great opportunity to showcase their work and serves as an impetus to encourage and challenge other undergraduates to participate in research at some point in their academic careers.”


Jennifer Crawford, interdisciplinary archaeology major, placed first in the humanities category for her project re-creating a rare and ancient gold leaf gilding technique.

Photo credit Taylor Foust

Research Symposium

During the research symposium awards ceremony April 15, historian Peter Mancall, associate vice provost for research advancement, gave the keynote speech. Bickers hosted and presented most awards.

The USC Stevens Institute for Innovation sponsored the Most Innovative honors and the institute’s Ed Beres presented those awards, which included new skateboards.

For the 11th year, undergrads of Bruce Zuckerman and Lynn Swartz Dodd have taken top honors in the research symposium. Swartz Dodd and Zuckerman of religion have acted as sponsors for students in multiple fields, mostly associated with the USC Archaeology Research Center. Combined, they had 17 student participants.

Junior Jennifer Crawford, an interdisciplinary archaeology major, placed first in the humanities category for her project re-creating a rare and ancient gold leaf gilding technique.

“Jenny’s project represents the best kind of collaborative archaeological research,” said Swartz Dodd, Crawford’s adviser. “It’s collaborative across disciplines and across generations.”

With a joint appointment in linguistics, Zuckerman’s student Lydia Green placed first in social sciences for her multimedia project examining the Alaskan Yup’ik language.

“Basically, with Lydia, the best strategy is to keep out of her way,” Zuckerman said. “I had absolute confidence that she would do an outstanding project. As usual, she met all my expectations and more.”

Judges were faculty and associates from throughout USC. Click here for a list of research symposium winners and their advisers in six categories.

Michael Quick, executive vice dean in USC College (right) awards David Fite, international relations and history major, first prize in the writers’ conference under best research essay category.

Photo credit Pamela J. Johnson

Writers’ Conference

David Daniel, senior entertainment producer at CNN, spoke during the Undergraduates Writers’ Conference April 1 awards ceremony.

“I have no doubt this room is filled with writers who can pen a scintillating analytical or research essay, a taut and vivid screenplay, an evocative poem, an inventive short story, a memorable novel – even a several-hundred page thesis that does not induce coma,” Daniel told the crowd. “I am profoundly jealous of each and every one of you.”

Michael Quick, executive vice dean in the College and professor of biological sciences, hosted the event and presented the awards in four categories.

Click here for a list of writers’ conference winners in four categories.


Webfest winners show their happiness and awards. From left to right, they are undergrads Brenda Yang, Sylvia Ly, Andrew Cho, Charles Lin, Abraham Kislevitz (won two prizes) and Ariel Lee.

Photo credit Taylor Foust


Holly Willis, director of academic programs at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML), hosted the Webfest awards ceremony April 8.

Organized by the IML’s Chris Wittenberg, judging centered on an evaluation of form and content, ease of navigation, user interface and general appearance and usability.

During the ceremony, media artist Andreas Kratky gave a talk about the history of the Web that included examples of early Web browsers. He was impressed with this year’s entries.

“The students’ Web sites looked so professional, well done and engineered that you’d think they were produced by design companies earning money,” he said.

Click here for a list of Webfest winners in four categories.



Research Symposium Winners


1st Prize
Elke Schnittker
Project Title: Greensburg ‘Natural Swim Park’
Faculty Adviser: Janek Dombrowa, Architecture

2nd Prize
Ciaran Vejby
Project Title: Ishi’s Legacy
Faculty Adviser: Nathalie Joseph, English

Honorable Mention
Nicole Ferguson
Project title: Knowledge and Art
Faculty Adviser: Dallas Willard, Philosophy

* Interdisciplinary Award
Emily Yu
Project Title: Maun: A Travelogue from Botswana
Faculty Adviser: Ron Rizk, Fine Arts


1st Prize
Jennifer Crawford
Project Title: Bringing the Past to Life: Recreating an Ancient Egyptian Gilding
Faculty Adviser: Lynn Swartz Dodd, Religion

2nd Prize
Joseph Henderer
Project Title: Southern California’s Indigenous Languages: Documenting Our Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Fight Against Language Endangerment
Faculty Adviser: Andrew Simpson, Linguistics

Honorable Mention
Jacob Bongers
Project Title: Illuminating Culture Clash: Material Smashing in Northern Chile
Faculty Advisers: Ran Boytner, Anthropology; Lynn Swartz Dodd, Religion

Life Sciences

1st Prize
Valerie Yuan
Project Title: The Roles of Oncogene Homolog Sch9 and Rev1 Polymerase in Age-Dependent Genomic Instability
Faculty Adviser: Valter Longo, Gerontology

2nd Prize
Miriam Lassiter
Project Title: Pharyngeal Pouch Development in Zebrafish
Faculty Advisers: Chong Pyo Choe, Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine; Gage Crump, Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine

2nd Prize
Stephanie Hudiburgh
Project Title: Investigating the Role of Smads in Commissural Neuron Specification
Faculty Adviser: Samantha Butler, Biological Sciences

Honorable Mention
Sara Kingston
Project Title: Exploring the Nature of 7 rrn Operons Through Their Effects on Growth Rate and Survival of Escherichia coli
Faculty Adviser: Steve Finkel, Computational and Molecular Biology

Honorable Mention
Amy Hurwitz
Project Title: Bacterial Aging: The Cause of Death Phase in E. coli
Faculty Adviser: Steve Finkel, Computational and Molecular Biology

Physical Sciences & Engineering

1st Prize
Marie Anne Cuevas
Title: Low Temperature Synthesis of Perovskite Nanocrystals and their Applications to Nanocomposite Dielectrics
Faculty Adviser: Richard Brutchey, Jr., Chemistry

2nd Prize
Joseph Lubinski and Kedar Naik
Project Title: Heat Transfer from a Cylinder undergoing Streamwise Oscillations in a Cross-flow
Faculty Adviser: Tait Pottebaum, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

2nd Prize
Hubert Lau and Balyn Zaro
Project Title: Solvent-Free, One-Pot Synthesis of Alpha-Aminonitriles Using Acid Catalysts
Faculty Adviser: Surya Prakash, Chemistry

Honorable Mention
Harris Talsky
Project Title: Emanation Rates of Radon and Radium from Coastal Sands: A tool for estimating seawater circulation rates through permeable sediments
Faculty Adviser: Douglas Hammond, Earth Sciences

Honorable Mention
Sharla Shimono
Project Title: U-Pb Zircon Age Constraints on the Tectonic Evolution of the Northern Margin of the North China Craton and Souther Margin of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt
Faculty Adviser: Scott Paterson, Geological Sciences

* Interdisciplinary Award
Leslie Koehn
Project Title: Positive Train Control — The Answer to the Rail Safety Calamity
Faculty Adviser: Najmedin Meshkati, Deptartment of Civil/Environmental Engineering and Department ofIndustrial and Systems Engineering

Social Sciences

1st Prize
Lydia Green
Project Title: Central Alaskan Yup’ik: A Linguistic Research Project
Faculty Adviser: Bruce Zuckerman, Religion

2nd Prize
Noelle Miller
Project Title: A Question of Reproductive Freedom
Faculty Adviser: Nancy Lutkehaus, Anthropology

2nd Prize
Joshua Lang
Project Title: Cuban Health Care: First Class Public Health on a Third World Budget
Faculty Advisers: Nancy Lutkehaus and Cheryl Mattingly, both of Anthropology

Honorable Mention
Diana Bennett, Lauren Ford and Rachel Rice
Project Title: You Defriended Me!?: The Scope and Prevalence of Interpersonal Aggression
Faculty Adviser: Gayla Margolin, Psychology

Honorable Mention
Amanda Bogart and Ashley Flor
Project Title: Rhythm in Second Language Speech
Faculty Adviser: María Luisa Zubizarreta, Linguistics

* Interdisciplinary Award
Nicole Hummel
Project Title: Deconstructing Sex Tourism: Imperialism, Patriarchy, and Women’s Bodies: A Feminist Deconstruction of Sex Tourism in Brazil
Faculty Adviser: Amy Parish, Anthropology/Gender Studies

Most Innovative

1st Prize
Marie Anne Cuevas
Project Title: Low Temperature Synthesis of Perovskite Nanocrystals and their Applications to Nanocomposite Dielectrics
Faculty Adviser: Richard Brutchey, Jr., Chemistry

2nd Prize
Tina Hovsepian
Project Title: Cardborigami
Faculty Adviser: Doris Sung, Architecture

Honorable Mention
Amy Hurwitz
Project Title: Bacterial Aging: The Cause of Death Phase in E. coli
Faculty Adviser: Steve Finkel, Computational and Molecular Biology

Honorable Mention
Ashley Maker
Project Title: Design and Fabrication of Waveguide Sensors
Faculty Adviser: Andrea Armani, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science


David Daniel, senior entertainment producer at CNN, spoke during the Undergraduates Writers’ Conference April 1 awards ceremony. “I am profoundly jealous of each and every one of you,” he told the crowd.

Photo credit Pamela J. Johnson

Writers’ Conference Winners

Professional Writing and Moral Reasoning

1st Prize
Nicolette Omoile
The Intersectionality of Sasha Fierce:  A Look into Beyoncé Knowles
Omoile’s analysis of a music video by Beyoncé excavates the complex ethical and moral implications of what might at first glance seem like a superficial performance.

2nd Prize
Kunal Bambawale
Funny But Futile: Why Racial Humor is a Joke
Bumbawale’s essay on racial humor as represented in the comedy of Dave Chappelle balances a trenchant analysis of the effectiveness of racial humor with a similarly nuanced discussion of its limits.

Honorable Mention
Andrew Pouw
Viral Panic: The Paranoid Style in Microbiological Discourse
Pouw’s analysis of the public paranoia surrounding viruses challenges readers to examine the implicitly moral content laden in some scientific language. Pouw asks whether the discourses of critical theory and biological science both use a “paranoid” model in engaging with microbiological disease agents.

Analytical Essay

1st Prize
Jason Lipshin
Avant-Garde and Industry: Cinema in Los Angeles
Lipshin analyzes how homosexual filmmakers in three iconic eras of screen history “infiltrated” the Hollywood system and deployed subversive, disguised counterarguments to the heterosexual hegemony of the Dream Factory.

2nd Prize
Anthony Catalano
The Insufficiency of Tradition: The Plotinian and Irenaean Attempts to Refute the Gnostic Claims About Material Creation
Catalano examines the twinned responses of a Christian Father and a Neoplatonic philosopher to the deep challenge of the Gnostic gospels. In it, he illuminates an enduring and central mystery: the dialectic of faith and reason.

Honorable Mention:
Will Sohigian
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit – An Incomplete Rape Discourse
Sohigan analyzes the ongoing interrogation of American popular media’s often ethically and politically regressive depiction of women and sexual violence.

Researched Essay

1st Prize
David Fite
Quis Hoc Vult?: An Exploration of the Role of Pope Urban II and the Causes behind the Commencement of the First Crusade
Fite analyzes Pope Urban II’s reasons for declaring the First Crusade by examining it through two lenses, political science (the diversionary theory) and psychoanalysis.

2nd Prize
Stefanie Demitriades
Parallels and Paradoxes:  Western Intervention in Middle East Governance
Demetriades offers a historical analysis of Western influence and interference in the Middle East. She argues that the colonial enterprise of the early 20th century, in seeking to establish European control over the Arab states, fundamentally destabilized the region in ways that continue to disrupt.

Honorable Mention
Regina Pritchett
Highly Publicized: The Role of Public Space in the Generation of Social Capital
Pritchett’s two-month study examines how the physical environment shapes social interactions in seven neighborhoods in Los Angeles’ 14th Council District.

Creative Works

1st Prize
Hannah Kim
Kim’s short story begins with the mystery of two severed fingers and a shooting. She tells the tale of a young female piano student and a much older man who works in mixed-media. Their unlikely friendship builds as the older artist teaches the young pianist to listen.

2nd Prize
Taylor Friedman
In his story about the sibling of an autistic child who wants his parents to see him, too, as “special,” Friedman creates a nuanced portrait of the emotional complexities experienced by families of children with special needs.

Honorable Mention
Andrew Ramirez
Moving On
Ramirez’s short story is set in a hot, slow summer in the American Southwest. Three brothers stare lazily as the television plays; the shades drawn to keep out the desert light and heat. While all seems still, a hidden rage lurks beneath the surface. When their estranged father calls, one brother snaps. How does a child maintain his dignity in the face of parental abandonment?

Honorable Mention
Cody Marion
Marion’s screenplay details the experience of a stranger who asks for help from an eccentric family. After the stranger’s car breaks down, he abandons his wife and staggers through the desert, nearly dying from heatstroke. Finally encountering a house, he asks for help from Roy, the family’s religious patriarch.



Webfest Winners


1st Prize
Brenda Yang
Project Title: 2nd Annual Southern California Business Film Festival

2nd Prize
Andrew Cho
Project Title: Cocktailog: How to Create Cocktails


1st Prize:
Abraham Kislevitz
Project Title: Res Ed MyFresh Experience

2nd Prize
Lauren Rayner
Project Title: USC Women’s Theatre Organization


1st Prize
Sylvia Ly
Project Title: Xenon Project: Your Friendly R/C Store

2nd Prize:
Abraham Kislevitz
Project Title: 4frnt Skis & Apparel


1st Prize:
Ariel Lee
Project Title: Ariel Lee Photography & Design Solutions

2nd Prize
Charles Lin
Project Title: UCSD Delta Gamma Sorority Web site


Read more articles from USC College Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2009 issue.