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January 22, 2021

Students Overcome Obstacles,
Attend Annual UCR Research Challenge Virtually


The STEM Engagement Center had 11 students accepted to participate in the three-week Sequence 2 Success DNA Barcoding Research Challenge hosted by the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UCR. Ten of the 11 students participating are women. The event brings together college students for what had been a hands-on laboratory experience at the university. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience was held virtually. The program is primarily offered to community college students looking to transfer into a four-year institution. Participation is free. This was the eighth year UCR hosted the sequencing event.


Students analyzed tuna, salmon, swordfish, seabass and white tuna DNA. Teams worked within their community college and then presented their work during an online symposium, which included a formal abstract and a PowerPoint presentation.

Nhi Tran, UCR STEM Connections coordinator, also challenged the students to explore what were some real world applications that their work could be utilized for in the future.

"In a face-to-face environment, the students were able to do experiments on fish they purchased from a local market by extracting the DNA and determining whether the fish had been labeled the correct species or not," Katie Owashi, STEM Student Success Center coordinator, said. "In the virtual environment, students used already established samples and entered the information into the DNA Subway--an online bioinformatics database--to analyze the DNA from samples. Each team then created a presentation from their findings and presented them in a one-day virtual conference which provided them with valuable experience in an alternative presentation mode."

Find more information about the specific projects here. Watch the presentation video here.

DNA Presentation

Students attending the challenge were Janella Andrea Angeles, biology; Anjela Marie Canaria, biology; Laura Castillo, cell, molecular and developmental biology; Logan Gaitan, biochemistry; Giselle Gastelum, biology; Airy Hernandez, biology; Yemanya Johnson, chemical engineering; Daisy Rosales, biology; Maria Sasati, mechanical engineering; and Jessie Thomas, botany and plant sciences.


Student testimonials

Airy Hernandez: It was a good experience because it was the first project I have ever been a part of, even though it was virtual. It was really fun to do. I was nervous but being virtual made it a bit easier; it was easy to present because I was at home and felt prepared. I also felt very comfortable with my teammates which made it easier. I will definitely try and participate in projects like this in the future.

Daisy Rosales: Honestly it was a little more difficult because everything was online. I felt like there wasn't much instruction, but we were able to figure it out. The virtual lab was really interesting--the instruction was well done and very clear. We used a Discord chat as a group to work together, assign work, and complete the presentation.

Jessie Thomas: It was interesting being able to do the entire lab portion in conference calls. I was worried the information wouldn't come across well and would be hard to understand, but the sessions actually went very well and I was able to retain the information easily. It would have been cool to do (the experiments) hands on, but it ended up being as close as possible to being in the lab. The virtual presentation was a little bit different. It was still as close as we could get to the real thing, but with some added challenges. There was a little bit of a challenge figuring out how to organize all the information separately and then present it together, but we were able to do it. I would definitely participate in a project like this again if the opportunity arose.