UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

GRAD event puts graduate research on full display

Graduate Research Achievement Day showcases more than 130 grad students and their research 

Graduate student researchers and members of the public discuss student presentations at the 2023 GRAD event. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

The large ballroom in Memorial Union was filled wall-to-wall with posters and people on Thursday, March 2. More than 130 graduate students attended to present their research on a variety of topics and chat about their findings.

The Graduate Research Achievement Day (GRAD) is an annual event which showcases graduate-level research at all stages of development.

The event, now in its seventh year, highlights the groundbreaking research UND graduate students conduct, in addition to offering nine cash prizes of up to $500 dollars based on judge evaluations.

Importantly, it also presents the opportunity for graduate students to network and open avenues for research expansion with their colleagues. This factor is key to the event’s success, according to the dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Chris Nelson.

“One thing I’ve always liked about this style of event is that it encourages students from completely different areas to talk to each other,” Nelson said. “It helps them to realize that they all have similar paths, similar problems. We’ve had several situations where research collaborations have come out of events like this.”

Kimberly Lucas, a nutrition student, traveled from Hawaii to take part in the event. She was there presenting her research on vitamin D’s effectiveness in treating diabetic foot ulcers.

“Diabetic foot ulcers are a leading cause of lower extremity amputations, which themselves carry a mortality rate of 70% in five years,” Lucas explained. “Vitamin D can help with this. One billion people in the world are deficient in it, and people who have diabetes are at an even greater risk.”

Lucas found that patients taking vitamin D showed great improvement in the maintenance and healing of their diabetic foot ulcers, a revelation for those seeking treatment.

“This could have significant personal and financial improvements for people with diabetic foot ulcers,” she said. “These wounds can cost up to $27,000 and take around six months to heal. But a nine- to 12-month supply of vitamin D costs around $15 and significantly reduces healing time.”

Lucas, who first in the professional, social sciences, arts, and humanities category, said that the opportunity to present her findings was worth the trip from Hawaii.

“This is the first time I’ve been to North Dakota, I just flew into Fargo yesterday,” she said. “It was really nice to have the opportunity to come here and meet my advisor and some of my faculty, and the presenting has helped me communicate my research in a better, more accessible way.”

Chris Nelson said that the refinement of communication is one of the primary benefits of holding the event.

“We want our students to get that practice with communication, so anyone from any background can understand why their work is important,” Nelson said. “That’s an important life skill, especially when you’re dealing with research.”

Furthermore, the GRAD event gives the students the chance to rub shoulders with community sponsors and members of the general public in an environment that rewards interactivity and engagement.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase the amazing research we’re doing here,” Nelson said. “It’s essential for the public to see what we’re contributing to the city, to the region, and to the state.”

Dean of UND’s Graduate School, Chris Nelson, emceed the event’s award ceremony. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Energy engineering student Shabaz Khan, who took the top prize in the GRAD engineering category, said that this aspect was particularly important to him as he is currently pursuing a patent for his research on lithium-ion batteries.

“This is my baby,” Khan said, “I’m excited to take any opportunity to present my research. I love doing it because you get so many different questions and that really helps you understand how to improve your communication.”

Khan said that by researching algorithm development in battery microchips, he’s found great potential to reduce charging times and  degradation of electric car batteries, especially in cold weather.

“Cold temperatures like we find in North Dakota are one of the biggest challenges for electric vehicle growth and adoption, and our algorithmic technique is 10 times faster than the industry standard,” he said. “In 15 minutes, you’re ready.”

Khan mentioned that cold environments are tough on batteries, reducing their utility and convenience over time, which has been an obstacle for electric vehicle manufacturers. But he hopes he can change that.

“Any kind of battery starts to crystallize in cold temperatures,” Khan said. “But we’ve found a way, through this algorithm, to warm it up and reduce the negative effects. Corrosion is greatly reduced, and the driver’s anxiety between charging times is significantly lessened.”

Khan was in his element at the GRAD event, relishing the opportunity to engage with a public audience. He mentioned that UND’s many venues for discourse, such as the Center for Innovation, have been integral for him in pushing his research beyond academia.

Graduate student Olivia Rajpathy presented her research on the mental health of child refugee’s at this year’s GRAD event. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Cortez Standing Bear, on the other hand, said she was less experienced with presenting her research in public forums. The public health graduate student said she was a bit intimidated by the idea.

“There was definitely a lot of anxiety leading up to today,” Standing Bear admitted, “but now that I’m here, talking with people and delivering my research, it’s feeling a lot better.”

Standing Bear was there to present her research on racial differences in access to health insurance and its connection to coronary heart disease, an issue she hopes can be addressed with more research like hers.

“What we found was that the only race with a significant association between coronary heart disease and not having a health care plan was American Indians,” Standing Bear explained, “American Indians in rural areas, especially, had 167% greater odds of coronary heart disease. There’s a big access issue here, and the first step to figuring out how to address it is research like this.”

Standing Bear said that, despite her initial apprehension, she was glad to have attended.

“This is an important issue to me, and Native Americans are very underrepresented in research areas,” she said, “I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to be here.”

The GRAD event drew some 150 attendees to take in the diverse research presented by UND’s graduate students.

The event’s reach is getting larger too, with this year marking the introduction of a stand-alone virtual event for distance students — an event in which more than 30 students took part. The public virtual event offered a similar judging model, offering cash prizes for the top three presentations.

Whatever the venue or medium, GRAD remains a staple in the University’s research-related event programming. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a chance for the public to take in some of the most fascinating and important academic work the region has to offer.

Here is the full list of winners for the 2023 GRAD event:

On Campus Award Winners


1st Place ($500) – Shabaz Khan, Energy Engineering

2nd Place ($300) – Hyunsuk Choi, Mechanical Engineering

3rd Place ($200) – Ashraf Al Goraee, Biomedical Engineering

Natural Sciences:

1st place ($500) – Mason Clobes, Chemistry

2nd place ($300) – Oluwatobiloba Aminu, Biomedical Sciences

3rd place ($200) – Michael Willette, Atmospheric Sciences

Professional, Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities:

1st place ($500) – Kimberly Lucas, Nutrition

2nd place ($300) – Michael Herbert, Higher Education

3rd place ($200) – Shakila Parvin Bristy, Psychology

Virtual Program Award Winners

1st place ($500) – Allyson Muehlemann, Educational Practice and Leadership

2nd place ($300) – Terry Rector, Aerospace Sciences

3rd place ($200) – Stacey Jackson, Aerospace Sciences