UMD Undergraduate Researchers of the Year 2020-2021

Each year we honor the exceptional achievements of some of Maryland’s top undergraduate researchers. This year, seven students will receive $1,000 awards. Here, we celebrate their substantial accomplishments and intellectual passion.

Rebecca Gordon

Global Public Health

Rebecca Gordon completed an Individual Studies Program degree in Global Public Health in May 2021. During her time at UMD she participated in the College Park Scholars and Federal Fellows programs and was a member of the Dean’s Student Advisory Board for the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Mentored by Dr. Dina Borzekowski, Rebecca worked on two research projects, one examining African children’s experiences during COVID-19 and the second studying adults’ attitudes and intentions to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

As a result of this research, she has one co-authored manuscript in review with the journal Qualitative Health Research. Dr. Borzekowski shared, “I am completely amazed by Becca’s resourcefulness and diligence; without her, this exciting research project would never have happened...Becca is one of the strongest undergraduate researchers that I’ve ever seen. I am astounded by her insight and rigor in doing global health research.”

During her time at UMD, Rebecca has interned with the FDA, Office of Regulatory Affairs and with Families USA, a nonprofit health care advocacy organization. She spent a semester abroad in Kenya in Spring 2020 (cut short by COVID-19).

After graduation Rebecca will continue working with Families USA as a Policy Project Coordinator where she will work on a COVID-19 vaccine equity project.

Andrew Forschler

History and minor in Secondary Education

Andrew Forschler, a member of College Park Scholars, completed a degree in History with a minor in Secondary Education and an East Asian Studies certificate in May 2021. Under the mentorship of Dr. Robyn Muncy, Andrew completed an honors thesis about the “pansy and lesbian craze” in the 1930s and 40s. This research represents an original contribution to LGBTQ+ history in the US and shows how a closet was constructed around homosexuality.

His mentor, Dr. Muncy shared: “What sets Andrew apart even from other extraordinarily smart students, however, is his zealous commitment to and enjoyment of research. You can detect this thrill in his taking three upper-level research seminars in history—when only one is required—and writing an honors thesis to boot!” Andrew’s research interests center around telling the stories of individuals who are typically left out of standard historical narratives. His research has resulted in a publication of a biographical sketch of a suffragist Dora Gelletly Ogle, in the "Women and Social Movements in the United States," 1600-2000 database.

Danielle Zukerman

Hearing and Speech Sciences

Danielle Zukerman completed a degree in Hearing and Speech Sciences in May 2021. She received the Karin E. Young Memorial Endowment Award in May 2020, a departmental scholarship awarded to students with an interest in audiology. Under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Goupell, Danielle received both a Maryland Summer Scholars award in 2019 and a BSOS Summer Scholars award in 2020.

The research she completed over both years helped contribute to her honors thesis on exploring cochlear implant programming methods to maximize users’ ability to perceive spatial cues. Her mentor Dr. Goupell noted: “Over her undergraduate education, Danielle has accrued an impressive list of accomplishments and clearly has gone well above and beyond expectations of an undergraduate student...Danielle is one of the best undergraduate students of the many I have directly worked with. Her research contributions have been exceedingly above and beyond expectations.”

She has worked for two years as a research assistant in the UMD Auditory Perception and Modeling Laboratory and her research has resulted in two poster presentations and two publications in the works. In Fall 2021, Danielle will begin a PhD in Clinical Audiology at the University of Maryland.

Jesse Matthews

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Applied Mathematics

Jesse Matthews, a Banneker/Key recipient and a member of the University Honors program, completed double degrees in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Applied Mathematics in May 2021. In recognition of his research and academic accomplishments, Jesse was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and the Dinah Berman Memorial Award.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Kofinas, Jesse has worked as a research assistant in the Functional Macromolecular Laboratory since 2018. His research has resulted in two publications in the journals Macromolecules and Electrochimica Acta. Jesse’s research interests are in enabling renewable energy by studying the properties of solid polymer electrolytes (SPE) to make them safer and environmentally friendly.

His mentor, Dr. Kofinas, shared: “I strongly believe that Jesse is on a clear path to success. He is both a gifted and enthusiastic student and scientist…I can state with confidence that Jesse Matthews has both the ingrained scientific talent and the enterprising motivation to succeed.”

Additionally, for the last two summers Jesse has worked as a Research Mentor for Ser-Quest, a program with the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering at UMD, where he mentored underrepresented minority students on summer research projects. In the fall 2021, Jesse plans to begin a PhD in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University.

Tyler Hoffman

Mathematics major and Computer Science and History minors

Tyler Hoffman completed a degree in Mathematics with minors in Computer Science and History in May 2021. Tyler’s extensive research experiences have spanned mathematical biology, structural acoustics, network science, quantum computing, topological data analysis, and spatial data science.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Bill Fagan, Tyler has worked as a research assistant in mathematical biology since 2018. Additionally, he has also worked with Dr. Taylor Oshan on geospatial data analysis since 2020. As a result of his research, Tyler has presented at three academic conferences, currently has two publications in review, and one co-authored publication in the journal Theoretical Ecology. Dr. Fagan shared: “Overall, a key quality that impressed me about Tyler was his ability for independent work...There would, for example, be numerical challenges or pitfalls that he wasn’t warned about or given guidance on. We quickly learned that, when this happened, the question to ask Tyler was not ‘Did you deal with the problem?’ but rather ‘How did you deal with the problem?’ Invariably, Tyler had devised a clever solution that was on par with, or better than what we would have suggested ourselves.”

During his time at UMD Tyler interned with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in their NREIP program and in 2020 participated in the Computational Statistics NSF REU at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Tyler was recently awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to fund his PhD in Geography, which he starts at Arizona State University in Fall 2021.

Neehar Peri

Computer Engineering

Neehar Peri, a member of College Park Scholars, completed a degree in Computer Engineering in May 2021. During his time at the University of Maryland, he has been involved in multiple on-campus research projects since 2018, most recently working under the mentorship of Dr. John Dickerson. His research interests are in creating intelligent systems (such as autonomous vehicles) that can help humans make better decisions and safely navigate the world.

His research has resulted in five co-authored publications in top journals, such as ICCV, ECCV, CVPRW, and ICMLW, with one article in review. His mentor, Dr. Dickerson noted, “His research record as an undergraduate student is almost unbelievable...I can attest to his ability to lead as well as to work in larger groups, his raw technical talent, his ability to coalesce and manifest ideas, and—from what I can tell—all of the other ‘core parts’ that make up a superstar researcher in the making.”

Neehar has continued his research endeavors off-campus and was accepted to the Robotics Institute Summer Scholars program at Carnegie Mellon University last summer and he currently works at Mukh Technologies, a startup that focuses on facial recognition solutions. After graduating from the University of Maryland, Neehar will work as a summer research intern at Argo AI and will begin a Ph.D. in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University this fall.

Rachel Yu

Double major in Government and Politics and Information Systems, minor in Asian American Studies

Rachel Yu, a member of the Global Fellows program, completed a double major in Government and Politics and Information Systems with a minor in Asian American Studies in May 2021.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Margaret Pearson, Rachel completed her honors thesis on the narratives utilized by the Chinese government to deliver messaging to foreign audiences about the COVID-19 pandemic. Her research has been published in Sigma Iota Rho: Online Journal of International Relations and she has presented at three academic conferences. Her mentor, Dr. Pearson, shared: “Rachel possesses that highly sought-after combination of intelligence, curiosity, motivation, underpinned by conceptual, empirical strengths. Interested in the foreign relations of China, she is keenly attuned to theories of international relations, while at the same time possessing technical abilities that already have allowed her to do novel and innovative empirical research.”

During her time at UMD, she has successfully interned with both the US Department of State and the US Census Bureau. Additionally, she currently works as a coder at AidData and is the Executive Chair and Presiding Officer of the University Student Judiciary.

Rachel was recently awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to fund her PhD in Political Science, which she starts at the University of California, San Diego in Fall 2021.

About the Awards

All candidates were nominated by their mentors. They were selected by a panel of faculty and staff on the basis of:

  • A substantial track record of research accomplishment;
  • A very high level of intellectual/ technical competence;
  • Demonstrated ability and willingness to take substantial initiative and responsibility for key aspects of the research projects in which he/she has been involved, including developing research ideas/ hypotheses/ approaches, design, problem solving, and implementation, etc.;
  • A high level of ability to work collaboratively either with fellow researchers, or with mentors, as appropriate to the candidate’s field;
  • Demonstrated experience communicating the results of their research, as appropriate to their field, through posters, presentations, publications, etc., as this is an integral aspect of the research enterprise. It is understood that there are substantial differences regarding opportunities for such communication among widely different disciplines.
Congratulations to all! The university is incredibly proud of your accomplishments. Thank you to every mentor, thesis advisor, faculty member and staff who provided materials about students and supported their outstanding research.


Created with images by pjes - "cemetery sculpture statues" • tung256 - "ears ear ear lobe" • jarmoluk - "laboratory analysis chemistry" • Hermann - "books education school"