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Fantastic grads

Students — distant and local — proudly display scholarly work at UND’s Graduate Research Achievement Day

Randy Huard (second from right) accepts his GRAD 2019 first-place award in the Professional, Social Sciences, Humanities & Arts category for his research about people caring for parents with Alzheimer’s disease. Image courtesy of Juan Pedraza/STEMflash LLC.

Nicole Johanneson, from Mandan, N.D., is looking at public perceptions of how law enforcement in the state uses drones.

Eohjin Lee, a geography student from South Korea, is helping the University to better manage its building floor plans and space allocation system.

Chioma Onwumelu, a student from Africa, is looking for ways to help North Dakota’s mining industry efficiently extract sought-after rare earth elements.

Linda Koskiniemi, from Evelith, Minn., wants to figure out how to improve flu prevention among elderly care patients.

Justin Baker, from Hastings, Minn., is investigating new technology to improve the durability and efficiency of lithium ion batteries.

These graduate students with excitingly diverse research projects were among the 150 from on-campus and online who displayed their posters at last week’s Graduate Research Achievement Day (GRAD), a multidisciplinary showcase for the best work from across UND. All graduate students, full-time or part-time, from all disciplines and all colleges were encouraged to participate.

“The Graduate Research Achievement Day is a one-day celebration of our graduate students’ work over the past academic year,” said Naomi Hansen, director of marketing and communications for the UND School of Graduate Studies and one of the organizers of the event. “Graduate students show their work at any stage of their research, including research done for course projects.”

Students presented their research or scholarly projects in poster or other formats such as video and discussed them both with faculty and other attendees who flocked to the March 7 showcase.

Fostering such interactions is one of the goals of GRAD, which was launched two years ago. From posters to videos to demonstrations, GRAD displays the depth and breadth of research and scholarly work at UND.

Nicole Johanneson is a fourth-year Criminal Justice Ph.D. candidate who featured her research on public perceptions of law enforcement agencies using UAS. Image courtesy of Juan Pedraza/STEMflash LLC.


Students were enthusiastic about sharing their work – and their passions.

Johanneson, a fourth-year Criminal Justice Ph.D. candidate from Mandan, N.D., displayed a poster titled “Public Perception of Law Enforcement’s Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.” She did two years of undergrad work at UND, where faculty encouraged her to get a master’s degree in forensic psychology. After a stint as a correctional officer, Johanneson decided to go for a doctorate in criminal justice.

“This is a great way not only to show my work, it’s also a super opportunity to get to know other students in many other fields,” she said.

Randy Huard, a Ph.D. candidate in Nursing & Professional Disciplines and first-place winner in the Professional, Social Sciences, Humanities & Arts category, kept busy throughout the show explaining his research with people who care for parents with Alzheimer’s. Huard, who teaches at St. Cloud State University, looked at a number of programs. He chose UND because of its focus on rural populations.

For Lee, the Geography student helping UND Facilities Management with its space allocation and tracking system, GRAD proved to be a surprisingly effective place to display and talk about his work. Lee is developing an app that will help facilities personnel to immediately access vital information about any building on campus in real time.

The show format encouraged attendees to ask questions, something Koskiniemi, who’s working on her Physician Assistant degree here, appreciated.

“I enjoy explaining my work,” said Koskiniemi, a hospice nurse from Eveleth, Minn. Her poster was titled “Efficacy of Health Care Worker Vaccination in Preventing Influenza in Patients.” She’s a distance student drawn to UND College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines by its focus on rural health care practice. “I’m here because I want to work with patients earlier in the disease cycle. I enjoy the ability to study and do my coursework online—UND does an excellent job of facilitating weekly collaborative classes via Blackboard.”

Baker, a Chemical Engineering master’s student from Hastings, Minn., did his undergrad degree here, too.

“This is a great opportunity to tell people about what I believe is important research,” Baker said. “I’m exploring the use of a North Dakota-based mineral—Leonardite, extracted from lignite—to enhance the performance, durability, and conductivity of lithium-ion batteries. Basically, we’re developing a more efficient battery that holds a charge longer and cycles better, especially in applications such as solar energy storage.”

Chioma Onwumelu, originally from Nigeria, chose UND’s geology graduate program for its mining expertise and proximity to her subject of study – lignite mines and the rare earth elements they contain. Image courtesy of Juan Pedraza/STEMflash LLC.

Another North Dakota resource is being closely researched by Sidike Abudureyimu, a mining engineer from western China, a Geology & Geological Engineering master’s student and an enthusiastic participant in last week’s GRAD. His poster was titled “Geothermal and Electric Power Analysis of Horizontal Well Fields.”

“We’re exploring ways to tap the geothermal energy from oil and natural gas wells, especially those that are abandoned or capped—we’re looking to re-purpose those wells to greener, more cost-effective power,” said Abudureyimu, who aims to work in the Williston Basin after he graduates.

Onwumelu, a Geology & Geological Engineering student from Nigeria, was keen to talk about her research poster, “Review of Rare Earth Element Concentration in N.D. Coal Beds.” After completing her undergraduate degree back home, she decided to look for a grad program in the USA. She was attracted to UND because of its mining expertise and the proximity to North Dakota’s lignite mines.

“I was interested in rare earths because they are used in so many applications—in cell phones, laptops, medical diagnostic equipment, batteries, and more,” Onwumelu said. “It’s an important area of research especially because the United States now relies on China for rare earth supplies. The biggest challenge is to be able to extract it from lignite economically—currently it’s expensive to extract and the quantities we get are not often economically viable.”

The well-attended event included faculty invited to judge the posters—a challenging task because all the work displayed represented best efforts, noted Associate Grad School Dean Chris Nelson. This year’s winners in each of the three categories, plus the peer choice award recipient, were:

GRAD 2019 Award Winners


1st Place – Kaylee Smith, Chemical Engineering
2nd Place – Jiselle Thornby, Chemical Engineering
3rd Place – Joe Allen Jr., Biomedical Engineering

Natural Sciences

1st Place – Morgan Berk, Earth System Science & Policy
2nd Place – Jenna Folluo, Biology
3rd Place – Linda LaFond, Biology

Professional, Social Sciences, Humanities & Arts

1st Place – Randy Huard, Nursing & Professional Disciplines
2nd Place – Ademola Amida, Teaching & Learning
3rd Place – Makinde Omojiba, Educational Foundations & Research

Peer Choice

Irina Tsiryapkina, Energy Systems Engineering


About the author

Juan Miguel Pedraza is co-founder of STEMflash Media, which contracts with the UND Division of Research & Economic Development. With a multicultural background and fluency in six languages, Pedraza brings extensive experience in print and broadcast journalism; technical editing; and both public sector and private sector public relations, to his consultancy work with UND. Born in Spain and having spent part of his childhood in places such as Brazil, Pedraza received his bachelor’s degree in international studies from UND in 2008.