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2013-14 Mentor of the Month Recipients

Congratulations to the MSU Denver faculty mentors listed below who were recognized as a 2013-14 Mentor of the Month for their continued support of undergraduate students.

               Dr. Robert Hancock, Biology (October 2013)

               Dr. Mingli He, Mechanical Engineering Technology (November 2013)

               MSU Denver Psychology Department (February 2014)

               Dr. Linda Marangia, Sociology (March 2014)

               Dr. Jennifer Weddig, Human Nutrition and Dietetics (April 2014)

Dr. Robert Hancock, Associate Professor of Biology


  • Mentored over 75 undergraduate research students (over 40 of these at MSU Denver) since 1993.
  • Students are presenting their work at national and regional scientific conferences
  • Students are receiving jobs and getting into graduate programs because of their experience
  • As a mentor, Dr. Hancock has experienced tremendous benefits, including staying current in his field and designing new research and/or subjects for his nature documentary films.

Dr. Hancock's Experience as a MSU Denver Mentor:

Since 1993, Dr. Hancock has mentored over 75 undergraduate research students (over 40 of these at MSU Denver) on projects mostly involving blood-sucking insects, but has recently expanded into other animals. These students have benefitted tremendously from their research training and experience. Most of these students have gone on to earn graduate/professional degrees and now work as health-care professionals, scientists, or educators.  Dr. Hancock has experienced tremendous benefit as well; he stays current in his field and frequently designs new research projects and/or subjects for his films (He makes nature documentaries).  Unlike teaching a given course, which after development can "stagnate" with time, scientific inquiry is new and fresh.  At MSU Denver, his program has momentum and his students are presenting their work at national and regional scientific conferences and, more importantly, getting jobs and getting into graduate programs.

Through experience, he has learned how to select students and develop projects that are creative, novel and feasible in terms of time-frame, cost, and difficulty.  His research systems are great for an institution like MSU Denver where financial resources are relatively limited.  Through a variety of means (including LAS mini grants) he has acquired and sometimes fabricated the necessary equipment at MSU Denver and is truly using the renovated Science Building to its fullest.  

Dr. Hancock states:

"Sometimes I "hand-pick" students as I recently did with Ryan and Nathan, who were extraordinarily talented and mature students majoring in Chemistry and Biology, respectively.  Ryan was pre-med and Nathan had set his sights on graduate studies in land-use policy.  As I got to know them, I approached each one independently (they did not know each other prior to the research project) and suggested that they engage in undergraduate research. I had an idea about bioaccumulation of heavy metals in larval blackflies and asked Ryan one day about analyzing biological samples upstairs in the Chemistry labs.  The ultimate result was an exciting, interdisciplinary project involving Ryan and Nathan, three departments, and several faculty members. 

In short, Ryan collected nearly 10,000 blackfly larvae from several stream points above and below Leadville ‌and went on to utilize some of MSU Denver's finest scientific instruments to demonstrate that blackflies accumulate heavy metals and that Leadville mining activity is a major source of metal contamination.  Meanwhile, Nathan's energy was focused on an impressive evaluation of relevant literature, much of which was cryptic, old, and difficult to obtain.  They wrote a brilliant poster and in hindsight, were one of the best teams of motivated and independent students that I have ever worked with." 

Sometimes Dr. Hancock challenges himself to develop projects that take advantage of extraordinary field opportunities as he did last year in Southern India where, in addition to taking his International Studies course, some of the students who were involved in this course also conducted field research. 

Dr. Hancock states:

"Aaron, Dave, JJ, and Megan spent several months before departure creating elaborate life-like models of common Arabian Sea damselfishes that, when dropped into the territories of living fishes, would move hydrodynamically in the current and elicit behavioral responses.  We used underwater video cameras to make recordings of the behavioral responses, which could then be analyzed after our return.  It was tremendously rewarding to leave a tropical marine paradise with a sizeable amount of relevant field data that was fully compliant with India's strict biodiversity policy.  During the months after our return, behavioral analyses involving a lot of statistical analysis was translated into two excellent posters (one of which was presented at a national conference).  

As the mentor, I found the project to be both highly stimulating and, by taking me out of my "insect comfort zone" quite difficult.  I am better from the experience, my teaching is better, and I am eager for similar challenges in the future!"


Dr. Mingli He, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology Program and Chair of Engineering Technology


  • Fall 2012, MET students worked on five projects with four different companies.
  • Several of Dr. He's students are obtaining full time positions and several internships this fall.
  • Dr. He is deeply involved with the Undergraduate Research Program including the annual Undergraduate Research Conference. In addition to having his students present, he is also serving on the conference planning committee and has volunteered in several other positions.

The number one theme and goal of MSU Denver is to facilitate and enhance student success through the implementation of research based best-practices and degree-completion strategies. The Mechanical Engineering Technology program is continuously promoting the opportunities for undergraduate research.

Since 2008, Dr. He has successfully made the connection between the MET program and local companies which provides more opportunities for students working on their real world engineering projects as their senior capstone and research projects. In the fall of 2012, MET students worked on five projects from four different companies. All of the MET senior research projects have been presented at the MSU Undergraduate Research Conferences in the past two years.

After his students presented at the annual research conference at MSU Denver, Dr. He submitted four paper/presentations to National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR 2013) and two were accepted for presentations at the conference. There were more than 3500 submissions for publication and over 200 Universities participated in the conference so this is a big achievement! One of Dr. He’s student projects was sponsored by Sundynne, a united technology company. In the project, students designed a prototype hydraulic test stand under direct supervision of two manufacturing engineers. Two students obtained full time positions with the company and several internships were offered to MET students this fall. Another one was supported by AR Design, a Denver BMW customer design and manufacturing company. Students designed a prototype and analyzed a high pressure inlet flow system. One student is working with the company now. To Dr. Devi Kalla's credit, the students designed and built a filter system for the Great Western Biofuel Company. Dr. He’s students designed the prototypes but Dr. Kalla directed the entire building session. Dr. He would like to thank a specific company, Swisslog Company, in helping the MET department with five years of continuous support including over twenty projects.

Why does Dr. He participate as a faculty mentor for undergraduate research?

Dr. He states, “I am just doing my part to help the University in achieving their goals and ensure our graduates meeting the needs of the industry”.


MSU Denver Psychology Department

The Department's dedication to student research is long standing. Beginning in 1997, the Department held an Annual Undergraduate Psychology Conference. The "Spring Conference," as it became known, provided a opportunity for students to showcase their work for their peers and the larger MSU Denver community. Psychology's Spring Conference ran continuously for 15 years, until the first University-wide Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) in 2012. At that time, the Department merged its efforts with the larger University and has been an active supporter ever since.

To promote student involvement, provide extracurricular activities, and expand opportunities for a wide range of undergraduate research, the Department of Psychology houses a number of active clubs, each engaged in research. These include:

Clinical & Counseling Club

Developmental Psychology Club

Psi Chi

Research Club

The faculty members find involving students in research a great part of their job, affording both the students and faculty members keen insights and significant rewarding experiences.

“Working one-on-one with students on research is one of the best parts of my job. Metro students are curious, motivated, and ready to work on real world issues. I would not be able to complete much of my research without their help!”      - Bethany K.B. Fleck, Ph.D., MST, Assistant Professor of Psychology

"I am passionate about scientific inquiry and the tools that we use to create new knowledge in our discipline. Providing students with practical, hands-on experience with these tools in an individualized, one-on-one mentoring environment allows them to gain personal mastery of the ways in which psychological information is gathered, tested, compared and conveyed.  This mastery, in turn, I strongly believe makes them better critical thinkers, better consumers of scientific knowledge regardless of discipline, better educators, and for some, puts them on the path to careers in science.  I have personally experienced the transformation of students who were at first fearful or skeptical of research into burgeoning scientists with the confidence and competence to ask and answer their own pressing research questions."      - Lisa Badanes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology

Asked why they are so actively engaged in mentoring student research faculty members respond by noting:

"As an undergraduate, working on research was transformative for me. It was the point at which I felt, after years of learning from textbooks, that I was no longer just gaining knowledge, but helping create it. I mentor undergraduate research now because I believe it is important to give other students the same opportunity to experience creating knowledge that I had. Admittedly however, from a more selfish standpoint, the great enthusiasm the students bring to research projects helps maintain my own enthusiasm for the research as well."      - Chad R. Mortensen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology

"One of the things that makes MSU Denver so special is that undergraduates are allowed to do their own research. The students working with me have taken projects from conception to completion. They were/are responsible for every aspect of the project with assistance from me when needed. Undergraduates who participate in research at large universities (such as the school where I received my PhD) typically serve as an assistant to a graduate student and only see a small part of a long-term project. The benefits of research for the students include learning to think logically, a deeper understanding of measurement and issues in data collection, an appreciation for the necessity of scientific rigor and developing pride in workmanship."     - Cynthia Erickson, Ph.D., Affiliate Faculty Member

The Psychology Department welcomes you to explore their clubs and the numerous opportunities they provide to engage in research with their faculty!


Linda Marangia, Sociology 

Dr. Marangia has mentored several projects with MSU Denver students including:‌

Campus and Community Alley Integration Study, Partnership with Auraria Higher Education Center

Colorado Homeless Veterans Support Project, Partnership with MSU Denver Colorado Charge and The State of Colorado Governor’s Office

Why does Dr. Marangia participate as a faculty mentor for undergraduate research? 

"Undergraduate research, even in its elementary form, is a way for students to ask questions, and find that there are many ways to answer, no answer is perfect, and for many reasons. At the same time, policy makers rely on research findings to orient decision-making that can have wide impact. From my perspective, helping students develop an awareness of the promise and pitfalls of "fact finding" is helping develop a sense of responsible leadership, one student at a time."     - Dr. Linda Marangia

Campus and Community Alley Integration Study, Partnership with Auraria Higher Education Center 

In cooperation with stakeholders of the Auraria campus and community, students produced recommendations about integrating an overlooked alleyway into the AHEC Strategic Implementation Plan.  Based upon a multi-method case study, the students developed a set of alley integration recommendations, presented to AHEC and representatives of the three higher education institutions on campus, as well as St. Elizabeth’s Church.

This project was conducted through the course “The Neighborhood and Social Dynamics” (SOC 365Q) .The course delves into urban environments, with an emphasis on the structure of neighborhoods and the development of community relationships. Students work in partnership with community representatives to explore neighborhood issues and perspectives guided by course material. They also make recommendations that can be used to assist decision-making. Students produce deliverables to community stakeholder that include items such as: research reports, power-point slides, and a public awareness pamphlet describing the relevance of the project, findings, recommendations, and stakeholders.

Press Release:  Campus alley becomes a learning lab for sociology students  By Lisa Walton

When the Sociology and Anthropology Department office moved from West Classroom to Central Classroom last summer, the new, bigger digs came with a view—of the alley behind St. Elizabeth’s Church. In the mornings, dozens of people line up there for food from the church’s soup kitchen, one of the oldest in the city. When Sociology and Anthropology Chair and Professor Linda Marangia looked at the alley, she saw a source of inspiration, not an eyesore.

This semester, her new sociology course, Neighborhoods and Social Dynamics, explored issues related to the use and appearance of the alley. “Students got a taste of how education connects with civic responsibility,” Marangia said.  

Last Wednesday morning, students presented a plan for the alley in partnership with the Auraria Higher Education Center. Their goals: make the alley a more appealing and functional part of the campus; create a community dialogue; and develop convenient service-learning opportunities for students. 

“Our mission was to take the alley from something grim, something blighted and neglected, and make it multipurpose. We wanted to transform it,” said student Becky Ball during the presentation to students, faculty members and representatives from AHEC and St. Elizabeth’s.

As Joan Foster, dean of the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, put it, the plan was “a long time coming.” Ball, a behavioral science major, co-presented the class findings with AHEC campus planner Jill Jennings Golich, who, along with Barbara Weiske, AHEC’s executive vice president of administration/CEO, worked with students on a proposal to include the alley in AHEC’s Strategic Implementation Plan, which provides a framework for implementing the 2012 Master Plan update that focuses on the creation of campus neighborhoods. 

“We were very fortunate when the MSU Denver Sociology and Anthropology Department moved in next to the alley and brought to our attention that we really had an opportunity to create and spread the fabric of the campus to include this alley,” said Jennings Golich. “As a part of our master planning efforts, we continued to think of it as an alley, and never gave a lot of thought to how it could really be a place.”

In making the alley more welcoming, the students presented a proposal for new windows overlooking the alley, better lighting, artistic trash cans, a vertical garden, artwork and an emergency phone. They also discussed how the renovation could provide service-learning opportunities and planned to establish a new group, called the Auraria Campus and Community Life Association.

Abby Webb, a psychology major minoring in sociology, said the alley was a symbol of a larger issue—the need to improve communication among entities on campus. In a preview of what the proposed association aims to do, Webb led an hour-long discussion after the presentation among stakeholders, students and representatives from St. Elizabeth’s about how to move forward with plans for the alley.

Marangia said the project will lead to other collaborations and was a significant learning experience for the students, who volunteered at St. Elizabeth’s, conducted surveys, met with members of the community and created project portfolios. Several students will work as interns next semester to bring the plan to fruition.

“The campus provides a lot of opportunities besides just going to a classroom,” Marangia said.

Colorado Veterans/Homelessness Issues and Empathy in a Changing Nation

The class research project focused on the “post-war integration of veterans” in the Unites States, and also explored public sentiments toward returning veterans.  The time frame for the analysis of post–veteran spanned over the last one hundred years of war, involving the U.S. military forces. 

Document and historical research provided insight into the changes that occurred on national and global levels, pertaining to post-war experience, public sentiment, and the increase in homelessness. Students gathered information on statewide services operating to support post-war veterans, and particularly homeless veteran.  A resource directory of available services was the project outcome. Gaps in types of services provided to homeless veterans were also identified for the benefit of policy makers and representatives of human service providers.


Dr. Jennifer Weddig, Human Nutrition and Dietetics

Dr. Weddig is a Registered Dietitian with a PhD from Colorado State University. This is her 14th year teaching at MSU Denver.  She teaches Maternal and Child Nutrition, Introduction to Nutrition, Nutrition and Weight Management and Medical Nutrition Therapy I and II.  Dr. Weddig has mentored award winning students at the MSU Denver Undergraduate Research Conference.

Current Research

She is working on a milky way study in conjunction with Dr. Tollefson, Dr. Heiss, Prof Jensen and Prof Keller and the continuation of the skin to skin contact and breastfeeding duration study in conjunction with Dr. Tollefson and Dr. Thompson.

Why She Mentors Student Researchers

Dr. Weddig believes that students learn more about nutrition when they can apply the concepts to applied research. In addition, dietetic internships and graduate school are highly competitive, so mentoring students in undergraduate research teaches them the skills they will need to know to move on and makes them a more prepared candidate for a dietetic internship or graduate school.