UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
March 15, 2023 – Her presentation of research to better control an invasive species causing havoc in waterways earned University of Wisconsin-River Falls student Devon Mares the first-place award in the March 1 WiSys Quick Pitch event on campus.
Competing against other UWRF students, Mares’ winning presentation was titled “Creating a Biocontrol Agent for Zebra Mussels.” Mares focuses on controlling zebra mussel populations by genetically engineering algae to be toxic to zebra mussels, but not to any other species. Zebra mussels are an invasive species that have caused harm to North American waters.
Competition judges praised Mares, a biotechnology major from Unity, for describing her topic in a way that was understandable to a broad audience. The competition inspires UW System students to consider the impacts of their research and effectively communicate it to the public, all within a three-minute timeframe.
“I understand that you did an excellent job of communicating your research … in a way that was accessible to a broad audience,” WiSys President Arjun Sanga said in a letter congratulating Mares on her work. “Your three-minute pitch clearly and succinctly conveyed both the relevance and economic impact of your research.”
By winning the competition, Mares received $300 and is eligible to participate in the WiSys Quick Pitch State Final at the WiSys SPARK Symposium August 6-8 in Oshkosh. Mares also won the People’s Choice Award that was voted on by event attendees.
UWRF physics major Jordan Cioni of Green Bay won second place in the competition, along with $125, for a project titled “The Double Gyroid Composite: A Shock Absorbing Innovation” in which Cioni describes innovative shock absorption research.
Other UWRF students participating in WiSys Quick Pitch include Emma Hamilton, Michelle Stangler and Lilianna Rolands.
UWRF Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs David Travis, who served as a WiSys Quick Pitch judge, praised the high level of the work that participating students presented.
“This year’s WiSys competition demonstrated that UW-River Falls continues to produce the next generation of innovative scientists and entrepreneurs,” Travis said.
Each of the UW System schools hosts its own WiSys Quick Pitch event. Winners take part in the WiSys Spark Symposium event.
Molly Gerrish, director of the UWRF Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity (URSCA), said the WiSys Quick Pitch competition helps students develop the ability to present their project in layman’s terms to an audience not necessarily made up of scientists or academics.
“It really gives our students a chance to refine their communication skills and present to a different audience,” she said. “You not only must be able to explain your work, but you have to be able to pitch it to people who may well not be familiar with it.”
The event helps students in other ways, too, Gerrish said, noting it focuses in part on creative problem solving. Through WiSys Quick Pitch, “we get to highlight some of our most innovative students,” she said.
WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with UW System faculty, staff, students and alumni to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and promote innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across Wisconsin.