Exploring Their Research Interests

By Logan Jackson

Published on April 3, 2024

Two University of Missouri students will explore their research interests in Germany this summer through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program. Both Emma McDougal and Lara Stefani will have the opportunity to develop their research passions after recently being named DAAD RISE recipients.

“Mizzou students are chosen for this award every year, and it’s one of best ways for them to take their research skills to the next level,” said Erik Potter, program manager of the MU Office of Global and National Fellowships. “It’s also an excellent opportunity for students to reflect on what motivates their research interests in the first place and to test those ideas in a new cultural environment.”

A Rewarding Process: Emma McDougal – Junior Chemical Engineering Major

Mizzou has opened a variety of doors for McDougal, including numerous opportunities to get involved in undergraduate research. McDougal, who chose the biochemical emphasis area within the chemical engineering degree and is also minoring in chemistry and math, is a member of the Biomodulatory Materials Engineering Laboratory, led by Bret Ulery, an associate professor of chemical engineering. Her work has led to several accolades, including being named a Goldwater Scholar last year. McDougal is also a Stamps Scholar at MU.

Emma McDougal
Emma McDougal

Ulery’s laboratory has a handful of projects, and McDougal is part of one focused on targeted peptide delivery. The group is creating biomodulatory materials capable of therapeutically targeting the immune response to prevent or treat infectious diseases and cancer. Through the DAAD RISE program, McDougal will be working on the functionalization of dextran-based nanoparticles for drug delivery applications. She said it’s the perfect match for her research interests.

“I am incredibly excited to get started,” said McDougal, who is also pursuing the Honors Certificate at MU. “I’ve never visited Germany, so I’m looking forward to getting to visit this summer. Something that excites me about this opportunity is getting to learn about the working culture of German research. It will be really interesting to see how general cultural differences translate to difference in workplace culture.”

McDougal will conduct her research at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany. She worked closely with the MU Office of Global and National Fellowships throughout the process.

“The process of applying for a fellowship is incredibly rewarding,” McDougal said. “By writing, revising and fine-tuning your application package, you develop your ability to communicate concisely and evocatively who you are as a scholar and as a future leader. Being able to explain your professional goals and background is hugely useful, and applying for this fellowship helped me build this skill set.

“Fellowship advisors are incredibly supportive in meeting students where they are in their fellowships journey and helping them represent themselves and MU in a complete and authentic manner. For me, the process of applying for the DAAD RISE Fellowship was a test of tenacity. I applied originally as a sophomore to the same lab and even made it to the interview round but was ultimately rejected. I re-applied this year and wound up being accepted to another project within this lab that is a perfect match for my academic interests. The process of re-applying forced me to think critically about my weaknesses as an applicant and find ways to bolster my application.”

A Thrilling Moment: Lara Stefani – Sophomore Biochemistry Major

A graduate of the Dual Diploma Program offered through the Mizzou Academy, Stefani earned diplomas from the Mizzou High School and Colégio Dante Alighieri in São Paulo, Brazil, where she grew up. That familiarity, along with the opportunity to conduct in-depth research, made Mizzou an easy choice when Stefani was searching for the right college fit. After nearly two years in Columbia, Missouri, she has built an impressive research portfolio, including being named a Cherng Summer Scholar last year.

Stefani said the DAAD RISE program will allow her to continue to build on her research interests.

Lara Stefani
Lara Stefani

“It was a thrilling moment, to say the least,” said Stefani, who is pursuing the Honors Certificate at Mizzou. “Going to Germany means I’ll get to collaborate, make connections and see how another continent conducts research, so this is surely an experience that will broaden and refresh my horizons and perspectives.”

Stefani has been conducting her own research since the eighth grade. At MU, she joined the Freshmen Research in Plants (FRIPS) Program during her first semester and has worked on a few projects throughout her time as a Tiger. Through DAAD RISE, Stefani will work on a project focused on the contribution of adipose secretion products to posttraumatic immune responses, and organ dysfunction employing a broad spectrum of methods, such as qPCR, FACS, ELISA tests, as well as ex vivo whole blood models.

Like McDougal, Stefani worked with the Office of Global and National Fellowships on the application for the award.

“The process made me reflect a lot on my motivation to do research, what I want to achieve with it and my experiences so far,” Stefani said. “I also reflected on what I still haven’t had the chance to explore and what I want my learning priorities to be from now on. The Office of Global and National Fellowships was very helpful with feedback and orientation, which I think led me to strengthen my application and have successful results.”