Six students have been selected from a competitive pool of applications to participate in the 2024 W Summer Scholar program, hosted by Mississippi University for Women’s Office of Undergraduate Research. They include Moira Cairns, Cain Petty, Zarin Raya, Anna Sandlin, Jessica Sramek and Ethan Wilkins.

Summer Scholars choose a project to pursue over the summer term, guided by a faculty mentor and earn course credit. Being selected for the program provides them with a scholarship for tuition and a housing and meals allowance. At the conclusion of the summer term, students present on their findings and next steps to a public audience. This year’s presentation will be held July 25 at 4 p.m. Presentations will be open to the public and live-streamed. Those who wish to attend virtually can email for the zoom link.

Moira Cairns

Moira Cairns, a music therapy major from Starkville, plans to open her own private music therapy practice after graduating. Her independent study, led by Dr. Jon Fessenden, will focus on understanding how people with autism experience music in everyday life. On her research, Cairns said, “I am analyzing interviews, the data from which hasn’t been disseminated yet, and I think it’s going to be really valuable information both to music therapists and people with autism.”

Cain Petty

Cain Petty, a biology major and digital studies minor from Columbus, has plans to pursue a graduate degree in marine biology. Her study, mentored by Dr. Travis Hagey, will conduct a statistical analysis on the effects of formaldehyde on gecko toe pads’ shape and mass. “I like doing research on campus, and I’d like to keep working with Dr. Hagey. This is a great opportunity, since I’m planning on applying to graduate school,” Cain said.

Zarin Raya

Zarin Raya, a biology major from Dhaka, Bangladesh, will be analyzing a genome sequence of a microbial disease in catfish. Raya, recently a student in Dr. Brian Burnes’ bioinformatics class, accompanied him to the Mississippi Academy of Sciences conference. She said, “I really enjoyed Dr. Burnes’ class, I like learning programming languages, and I know research is crucial to bioinformatics. So after attending the MAS conference, I knew I wanted to learn more.” Raya plans to double major in chemistry and has plans for pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry.

Anna Sandlin

Anna Sandlin is a history and social studies major from Sulligent, Alabama. Her project, led by Dr. Erin Kempker, will focus on Emma Ody Pohl’s life and her legacies of suffragism, advocacy and religious life. Anna remarked, “I’m interested in women in history, and I know Emma Ody Pohl hasn’t really been written on. I am planning on getting an MAT after I graduate, but I’d like to continue to get a master’s in history. I’m very excited and ready to start!”

Jessica Sramek

Jessica Sramek, from Picayune, and majoring in public history, is researching in the archives of the Columbus Arts Council under the direction of Dr. Kristi DiClemente in hopes to create a public timeline exhibit of the CAC. Jessica applied to the program for a chance to see first-hand what public historians do: “This is something new for me and getting hands-on experience will be helpful for choosing my career path.”

Ethan Wilkins

Ethan Wilkins, a biology major and chemistry minor from Vernon, Alabama, has ambitions for medical school after graduating. His project, mentored by Dr. Ghanshyam Heda, is learning biochemical and molecular approaches to cystic fibrosis gene expression. Wilkins noted, “I’ve been learning about biology through books and tests, but I’m learning to appreciate how biology is applicable to the real world by getting my own hands dirty.”

Hillary Richardson, coordinator of Undergraduate Research and Information Literacy, runs the Office of Undergraduate Research and creates professional development programming for students during their summer coursework. “I am always impressed with our scholars’ work and growth as they pursue projects they’re passionate about. This year we received more applications than we have in past years, so I’m proud of the recognition this program has received.”

More information about the W Summer Scholar Program is available on the Office of Undergraduate Research website at

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

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