Story Research

Student Studies Take Center Stage

Elizabeth Chapin



A Harvard-bound San Diego State student investigates why certain body tissue is more susceptible to disease, a CSU Bakersfield student aims to eradicate the cause of the Valley Fever, and a CSU Northridge student joins the battle against childhood obesity.

These are just a few of the more than 200 students that presented their remarkable research at the 2012 California State University Student Research Competition.

The best student researchers in the CSU system showcased their talents at the 26th annual CSU Student Research Competition May 4-5 at CSU Long Beach. The competition is held to promote excellence in undergraduate and graduate research as it recognizes CSU students’ innovative achievements.The student participants presented before panels of professional experts from major corporations, foundations, public agencies, and colleges and universities in California. But their research was not just limited to the sciences—students exhibited explorations in a full range of academic fields.

Although cash awards were provided to outstanding presenters and runners-up in the undergraduate and graduate divisions of each academic category, every student’s study took the spotlight.

Here’s three of the superior student researchers who made the trek to Long Beach, and are well on their way to making a difference in their fields—and in peoples’ lives:

Ellese Carmona, San Diego StateThe role of Extracellular Matrix Proteins in Group B Streptococcal Penetration of Host Barriers

Undergraduate microbiology student Ellese Carmona is on her way to Harvard University this fall, where she will begin graduate studies focused on infectious diseases.

Carmona presented her research on how bacteria cross the blood brain barrier to cause streptococcal meningitis, the leading cause of fever in newborns. The disease is a form of meningitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Carmona says one third of women are carriers of streptococcus – the disease-causing bacteria, but show no symptoms. However, their babies can still contract meningitis if the bacteria reach nervous system tissue. She is studying the mechanisms of disease contraction to find out why the nervous tissue is more receptive.

“This research will lead to a better understanding of the disease,” Carmona said. “And a better understanding enhances the efforts to develop a cure,” she said.

Joe Baal, CSU Bakersfield Searching for Microbial Antagonists to Coccidioides immitis, the Valley Fever Fungus

Joe Baal plans on going to medical school. Years before he’ll obtain an MD, the biochemistry undergrad is already focused on curing a disease. Baal presented his research on the fungus that causes Valley Fever, a disease prevalent in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Valley Fever is caused by the inhalation of spores from the Valley Fever fungus, and can cause people with weaker immune systems to develop serious infections.

Since there is no vaccine for the potentially deadly disease, Baal says his efforts are better-focused on suppressing growth of the Valley Fever fungus, which addresses the ecological source of the problem. He is currently testing different types of bacteria to kill the fungus—and some have already shown signs they are effective.

Leidys Lorenzo, CSU Northridge Reducing the Childhood Obesity Rates among Low-Income Children in a Van Nuys Neighborhood

Family and Consumer Sciences grad student Leidys Lorenzo’s research centers on addressing the childhood obesity epidemic. Lorenzo is actively involved in a CSUN partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District that is aimed at investigating the most effective ways to reduce childhood obesity.

One of the initiative’s goals is to educate underserved communities about proper nutrition. Lorenzo took those education efforts to a local second-grade classroom. She integrated fun and games into nutrition education and says it proved to be an effective method to increase children’s understanding of fruits and vegetables. Lorenzo also tracked outcomes among the students’ families to gauge if the nutrition knowledge was passed along, as a majority of the children came from underserved households.

“Many of the children didn’t know the difference between fruits and vegetables,” Lorenzo said. “But when engaged with fun activities, all were more receptive to learning about them… and eating them.”