The winner of this year’s LoboBITES competition during the Shared Knowledge Conference examined how gaps in translation confused Spanish-speaking New Mexico residents trying to access vaccines and critical information about COVID-19.

The conference is a yearly event designed to celebrate and showcase UNM graduate students and their outstanding research and scholarship. The conference exclusively features the work of UNM graduate students and provides a venue for these students to share their work with the UNM and larger New Mexican communities, bridging borders that too-often divide academia from the larger world, and in so doing spark conversations and forge lasting partnerships.

This year’s event, the first in-person Shared Knowledge Conference since the beginning of the pandemic, was held over two days, starting with the LoboBITES competition. LoboBITES are soundbites of a student's research or scholarship, essentially a three-minute thesis competition, explained professor of Civil Engineering and dean of Graduate Studies Julie Coonrod.

“We did a few things differently this year to be COVID-safe including holding our LoboBITES competition on a separate day from the poster session. To tie both events together, we had our three winners present their LoboBITES at 30-minute intervals during the poster session. Those attending the session enjoyed hearing the LoboBITES while Victoria, Tracy, and Isabel were able to reach more people and inspire other grad students to consider how they might distill their scholarship to three minutes,” Coonrod noted.

Victoria Peña-Parr

Victoria Peña-Parr received first place in the LoboBITES competition, with Life-or-Death: An Assessment of COVID-19 Messaging in New Mexico and Potential Consequences for the Spanish-Speaking Population, explaining in a lightning-fast three minutes her research that contended that the State of New Mexico neglected to provide equity for Spanish speakers regarding communication for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution. The research postulate that this carelessness resulted in higher COVID-19 infection rates and lower vaccination rates in New Mexico's Hispanic population.

Second place winner was Tracy Mallette, who presented her research Left-Handed DNA: The Right Way Forward about using mirror image L-DNA, which scientists could use to detect a precise biological target, such as a specific viral strain or cellular marker and output a detectable signal or autonomously act to diagnose or treat disease within a cell.

Isabel Last received the People’s Choice designation. Her presentation, Faena: A Narrative-Based Language Learning Video Game, explained the video game, which is a series of Spanish language learning video games that is organized into meaningful Chapters, Quests and Side Quests, can be used to teach Spanish as a second language more effectively than other methods.

“We are all bombarded with different information daily. The scholarly work of our graduate students should be in this mix. LoboBITES give our students an opportunity to create a sound bite that can reach a broader audience. Further, our graduate students really enjoy learning what their counterparts are doing across campus,” Coonrod said.

See the SKC website for a complete list of LoboBITES presentations.

Poster showcase

The poster showcase followed, with graduate students from programs across campus displaying their research in poster format and engaging directly with conference attendees, fellow scholars, and a group evaluators from the UNM Community. Research posters came in a wide variety of topics, crossing fields throughout the humanities and sciences. Poster evaluators met with the students and provided feedback.

See the SKC website for a list pf poster presenters.

“I greatly appreciate all the students, staff, and faculty that participate, plan, and set up SKC. It is a team effort to provide this platform that showcases and celebrates the work of our graduate students,” Coonrod said.

** Images - Dean of Graduate Studies Julie Coonrod with LoboBITES winner Victoria Peña-Parr and poster presenter Ian Birdwell, Graduate student in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics

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