Six Western undergraduate student researchers were recently named among the best in the world in The Global Undergraduate Awards, including three global winners from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities – the faculty’s highest ever number of global winners in one year.
Probing a diverse range of research topics, from ancient literature to medieval studies and artificial intelligence, the scholars were recognized for their outstanding coursework.
“The faculty is thrilled to have had so many of our students recognized by the Global Undergraduate Awards. We know our students are among the best in the world, and the recent results are proof of the quality of work they are doing and of the first-rate education they are receiving,” said Jan Plug, acting dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
The Global Undergraduate Awards is a global cross-disciplinary competition that invites undergraduates to submit their undergraduate work to be judged anonymously by academic panels in each category. Global winners are the top submissions worldwide in their respective categories and regional winners are the top submissions in their categories in their designated region.
This year, nearly 2,800 submissions from 352 institutions in 111 countries were received, according to the organizers. In addition to the global and regional winners, 23 other student scholars from Western were named to the ‘highly commended’ list, making Western the leading university in North America, and placing it as the second highest ranked institution overall for this year’s competition.
“Western has participated in the awards since 2014 because we believe in the value it brings to our undergraduate scholars. We know our students are able to offer meaningful contributions in a wide range of fields and disciplines and we are proud to see so many of them achieving global recognition,” said Lily Cho, vice-provost and associate vice-president (International).
To be considered for a Global Undergraduate Award, entrants submit their work in one of 25 categories. Winners each receive a certificate along with publication of their paper in The Undergraduate Library and receive access to the Undergraduate Award Network.
The winners this year have also been invited to share their research and connect with other scholars at the Global Undergraduate Summit taking place from Nov. 5 to 8 in Dublin, Ireland.
James Kenneth, classical studies and archeology
Paper Title: Science vs. The Venerable Bede
In his paper, BA final year student James Kenneth compares the results of three DNA studies published since 2002 investigating the impact of early medieval migrants or invaders from mainland Europe on the genetic makeup of the modern British population.
“Several researchers have pointed out that the traditional narrative is challenged and contradicted by many aspects of the archaeological record and advanced scientific techniques, yet many researchers still seek to frame their conclusions to fit the traditional narrative presented by medieval historical sources,” said Kenneth.
“A lot of our identity today is tied to what we believe happened in the past, which may or may not have even happened,” he said.
Nathalie DiBerardino, philosophy
Paper title: Ascriptive Algorithms: Exploring the Classificatory Influence of Predictive AI Technologies
“Given that predictive AI technologies are becoming increasingly common, there is an urgent need to explore their ethical impacts,” said Nathalie DiBerardino, currently studying for an MA in philosophy.
“I’ve been involved in work in AI ethics since my second year of undergraduate studies. I was lucky to have great mentors and professors who were very knowledgeable about the impact that AI is having in our lives, and as soon as I realized just how ubiquitous these technologies are, it was like I couldn’t look away,” she said.
Liam Waterman, literature
Paper title: “Fools of Nature”: Fear and Ecology in Hamlet
The essay by Liam Waterman, BA’23, investigates the ecological role that fear plays in the relationships between humans and nonhuman environments in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
“I argue that, while Hamlet does repeatedly display a sense of terror towards both non-human life and biological processes of recycling, this attitude is not necessarily destructive of ecological thinking,” said Waterman.
“I’ve always been interested in literature. Originally, I was more focused on science fiction novels, but my appreciation of the subject has really expanded over my time at Western, in no small part thanks to the teaching of [professor] Joel Faflak,” he said.
Lance Javier, earth & environmental sciences
Paper Title: Growing Concerns: The Interactive Effects of Soil Copper and Microplastics on Soybeans
Lance Javier, a fourth-year BSc student, investigated the growth of soybeans in the presence of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) microplastics and copper.
“We grew soybeans inside a growth chamber and then subjected the soybeans to different treatments, spiking the soil with microplastics, or copper, or a combination of both. I wanted to investigate the effect on the soybeans if the copper and the microplastics were in the soil together, versus if it was just the copper by itself or the microplastics by itself affecting the soybean,” said Javier.
“Copper and microplastics together actually stimulated the growth of the soybean roots, which was very interesting and somewhat unexpected,” he said.
Kayla Gauthier, nursing, midwifery & allied health care
Paper title: Unskilled Workers: Saving Grace or Detriment to Canada’s Nursing Crisis in the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic? An Ethical Analysis
MSc student Kayla Gauthier’s paper was inspired by the burnout witnessed among health-care providers during the pandemic.
“I completed an analysis looking at whether it should be ethically permitted to hire completely unskilled workers to help combat the nursing shortage during a pandemic. I concluded that it is ethically reasonable to hire them to provide indirect care only, such as stocking up supplies or administrative support,” she said.
“We are looking at our health-care system crumbling right now, especially since the pandemic. This research is needed for pandemic preparedness so we can say ‘this is what we should be doing’ and ‘this is how we should be going about it’,” Gauthier said.
Rafeh Shahid, medical sciences
Paper title: Investigating the effects of systemic physiology on Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy based resting-state functional connectivity networks
Rafeh Shahid’s research, under professor Adrian Owen, looked at resting state functional connectivity and the brain’s connectivity at rest, which is a biomarker of brain function with the potential to be used as a diagnostic and monitoring tool for patients with several different brain disorders.
“In our study, we used a neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy, otherwise known as fNIRS, to assess resting state functional connectivity in the brain,” said Shahid.
“Research like this will ultimately help us to achieve the bigger goal of trying to determine whether or not people in comas are conscious and how likely they are to recover from the coma,” he said.