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Rising stars: Four Pittsburgh undergraduates to watch

Emily Crabb's research at University of Pittsburgh could have applications in drug delivery.

Gabriella Gasparich won Robert Morris University's highest undergraduate honor.

LaChan Russell-Cudak turned a personal experience into an undergraduate research project.

Jeannette Schollaert has translated her scholarship into women's rights activism.

Back in April, we asked Pittsburgh universities to nominate outstanding undergraduates who are laying the groundwork for interesting careers in a variety of disciplines. This week, Pop City profiles four rising stars in local academia. These students demonstrate pure talent and dedication through a combination of skilled research, civic engagement and community service. Read on to meet these impressive scholars.

In pursuit of science
Emily Crabb of Royersford, Pa., received the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for her outstanding undergraduate research in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and her commitment to pursuing a career in science. Majoring in computer engineering and physics at Pitt, Crabb is completing her third year of undergraduate study while abroad at École Nationale Supérieure de l'Électronique et de ses Applications in Cergy, France, where she’s taking computer engineering and French classes.
 
Since her freshman year at Pitt, Crabb has conducted research within the laboratory of Anna Balazs, a distinguished professor of Chemical Engineering and the Robert Von der Luft Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering. Crabb’s research focuses on the physics of nanoscopic and microscopic systems, which could have applications in drug delivery or in creating self-healing surfaces.
 
“Professor Balazs has encouraged me to go to graduate school and has given me freedom to explore my own ideas,” Crabb says, “working in her lab has solidified my desire to pursue a career in scientific research.”
 
Crabb says she’s interested in the field of nuclear physics and its applications in energy production, as well as materials science and building self-healing materials.
 
“Emily has an amazing innate curiosity about everything and just really digs in to get to the bottom of things,” says Balazs.
 
Learning through civic engagement
Gabriella Gasparich of North Huntington, Pa., just graduated from Robert Morris University, where her studies focused on public relations and psychology. She received RMU’s highest undergraduate honor, the Presidential Transformational Award, an annual award honoring a graduating student engaged in learning, leadership and community service. She also received RMU's Rising Star Award, Woman of Achievement Award and the School of Communications and Information Systems Endowment Award.
 
Gasparich was co-captain of the university’s dance team, secretary of the Public Relations Club, president of the MOSAIC Diversity Awareness Club, a member of the Student Advisory Council, and was a mentor in RMU’s Career Center, among many other activities. She also volunteered with countless organizations, including the Coraopolis Cooperative Food Pantry, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Girls Hope to name a few. This past fall, she traveled to Nicaragua to conduct research for her honors thesis, while translating Spanish for RMU nursing students on a faculty-led trip to provide healthcare to residents in need.
 
As a student in the University Honors Program, she maintained a 4.0 GPA while juggling numerous commitments and completing internships with Ten Thousand Villages, Forum-Nexus Study Abroad, Dimension X Advertising and Marketing, and Chemistry Communications, where she recently accepted a position as a public relations account coordinator.

A transformational personal experience
LaChan Russell-Cudak, originally of Springfield, Mass., and now residing in North Braddock, Pa., recently received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Point Park University. She completed her senior thesis on women with mental illness who have been incarcerated, a struggle she has personally experienced.

“I wanted to explore the realities that these women face and to shed some light on these sensitive issues,” she says.
 
Last month, she presented her research, which revealed that all the women she spoke to for her thesis had experienced abuse at some point in their lives that may have contributed to their issues with mental illness. They also reported negative experiences with mental health providers, improper treatment of their condition during childhood, and felt their medication was overprescribed while incarcerated.
 
“These findings make me want to go even further in my research,” she says. “I hope to expand on my work.”
 
Russell-Cudak plans to continue her education at Point Park, where she wants to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
 
“LaChan is a wonderful, ethical person,” says Robert McInerney, associate professor of psychology. “Her research shows passion, rigor and has a critical acumen.”
 
Russell-Cudak aspires to write about her experiences, have her own non-profit agency where she can help women in similar circumstances, and become a professor of psychology.
 
Turning scholarship into policy
Jeannette Schollaert of Plum Borough, Pa., is about to complete her junior year at Chatham University, where she majors in English and women’s studies. She’s an active student leader dedicated to women’s rights and gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Schollaert recently received the Newman Civic Fellows Award, which honors inspiring college student leaders who’ve demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.
 
For the past two years, Schollaeart has worked closely with the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, a non-partisan center at Chatham devoted to fostering women’s public leadership through education, empowerment and action.
 
During her sophomore year, she entered the Project Pericles Debating for Democracy Competition, which requires students to research, develop and advocate their opinions and positions on current public policy issues. Schollaeart and fellow Chatham student Nicole Werwie wrote a letter to Rep. Dan Frankel advocating for gender equity in the Pennsylvania Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) initiative (PA H.B. 110). The pair received semifinalist awards.
 
“The initiative does not mention any provisions based on gender, and therefore does not address the intersecting systems of oppression that face many young women,” says Schollaeart, who plans to pursue an advanced degree in American literature and a certificate in women’s or gender studies.
 
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