Philbrook Museum - The University of Tulsa

Philbrook Museum

TU undergrads conduct leading-edge research

Since 1992, the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) has enabled undergraduates at The University of Tulsa to conduct advanced research under the guidance of expert professors. The program is a big draw for many students. “TURC was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to TU,” remarked Julian Abhari, one of the program’s recent participants.

In this story, you will meet four TU students and learn about their fascinating TURC projects: Julian Abhari, Caroline Cox, Greysee Floyd and Mark Geisz.

Cancer-detection app

screenshot of a page from the Apple app store depicting three cell phones running a skin-check appMentored by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Vidhyashree Nagaraju, computer science major Julian Abhari created an app called Skin-Check. Abhari’s invention uses artificial intelligence to scan and compare potentially cancerous or suspicious moles, with the aim of detecting skin cancer early and, thereby, reducing the number of related deaths.

Abhari’s interest in this project had a personal side because his mother had fought her own battle with skin cancer; fortunately, her condition was discovered early. Not everyone, however, is as fortunate. In addition, Abhari knew that many people could not afford regular physician check-ups and the associated laboratory tests. He therefore ensured that his app would be accessible to all free of charge. “Growing up in Tulsa, I’ve seen how our incredibly competitive world leaves many people with serious illnesses without any treatment thanks to high expenses they can’t afford,” Abhari said. His app is an affordable and easy-to-use invention that has the possibility of saving many lives.

Download Skin-Check today from Apple’s App store!

Discovering Renaissance treasures

three women standing in front of a large Italian Renaissance painted altarpiece
Caroline Cox, Maria Maurer and Kami Jurenka in front of Domenico Beccafumi’s “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” altarpiece in Siena

For her TURC project, art history student Caroline Cox collaborated with Associate Professor of Art History Maria Maurer to locate and identify missing pieces of art in the Philbrook Museum of Art’s Kress Collection, which primarily consists of Italian Renaissance paintings and sculptures.

Cox and Maurer focused their project on altarpiece fragments in a portion of the collection called In Situ, conducting provenance research to find the original location of the work along with its sister panels. Successfully locating all sister panels for two works by Italian painter Domenico Beccafumi won Cox the opportunity to visit other Kress Collections and potentially present her research at several conferences.

Cox and Maurer also brought In Situ to life for museum attendees by digitally reconstructing the altarpiece’s sister panels in addition to the original church in which it resided. Attendees now have the chance to engage with the art as originally intended and therefore understand its beauty and significance more fully.

“We wanted to create a more interactive experience with the artifacts… and educate museum enthusiasts about the work,” said Cox, “because so much is lost when viewing in a traditional museum setting.”

Injury prevention for military personnel

Exercise and sports science student Greysee Floyd and mechanical engineering student Mark Geisz pursued a cutting-edge project designed to reduce the risk of balance-related injuries for military personnel. Under the supervision of Associate Professor of Athletic Training/Exercise Sports Roger Kollock, they worked with subjects who performed a series of jumps and landings while wearing tactical gear, then measured their balance recovery.

The data they collected data enabled them to determine the appropriate load that soldiers should carry in order to land safely and efficiently. “Heavy load carriage is linked to back and lower body injuries in military personnel,” Kollock said. “A greater understanding of how these injuries are caused can help in the development of injury prevention programs. Implementation of effective injury prevention programs can reduce the number of days lost to injury, early-onset bone and joint disease due to injury and overall financial health costs related to injury.”

Geisz recommends the TURC program for others because it allows students to forge strong relationships with professors and students alike while pursuing meaningful research.

Are you interested in engaging deeply with research and expert faculty? If so, consider joining the TURC program! And if you have any questions, send an email to


Art history and anthropology major named Global Winner

Presently in her final semester at The University of Tulsa, art history and anthropology student Piper Prolago is drawing her studies to a close on a high note: She has recently been named a Global Winner in the annual Global Undergraduate Awards.

woman outdoors wearing a blue short-sleeve shirt and glasses
Piper Prolago

This annual awards program is an essay competition that invites undergraduates from around the world to submit essays they had previously written for a course. There are 25 categories, and Prolago entered her paper in Art History & Theory.

Prolago’s essay, “A Mughal Miraj: Imagining the Prophet in the Newark Khamsa Manuscript,” was written for a course on Islamic art and architecture taught by Associate Professor of Art History Maria Maurer. In her essay, Prolago analyzed a manuscript that was part of the Philbrook Museum’s “Wondrous Worlds” exhibition of Islamic art. Lara Foley, the director of TU’s Office of Integrative and Experiential Learning, had alerted Prolago to the competition and encouraged her to apply.

“I was really excited to be honored with this distinction,” remarked Prolago, who is also a student in TU’s Honors program and a Global Scholar. “I was surprised when they notified me that I had been selected as a Global Winner out of students attending universities all over the world. This honor makes me really proud of the work I’ve done, and I think it also speaks to the excellence of TU’s art history faculty and their creation of opportunities for students to produce original scholarship.”

“I am so proud of Piper,” said Maurer. “Her essay, which explored an unusual image of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, was the best out of a class of really strong papers. Piper’s work was sensitive to the unusual visuals of the painting and its manuscript setting, and her research demonstrated that this image is part of a larger attempt to legitimize the Mughals within the context of the rivalry with the Safavids, as well as to demonstrate Mughal piety to their subjects. Piper made a genuine contribution to the field of art history by crafting such an elegant and persuasive argument about a previously unknown painting.”

A rich history of exploration and mentorship

Casting her gaze over her busy time at TU, Prolago underscores the role a number of faculty have played in her scholarly development. “Professor Maurer does such a great job of teaching from unique perspectives and diversifying the way we learn about art history,” said Prolago. “Her courses have enabled me to build foundational knowledge in the discipline of art history, but also to think more globally and widely.”

Another faculty member whom Prolago cites as having helped and inspired her is Associate Professor of Art History Kirsten Olds. “Whether offering support for my coursework or being a great mentor who’s helped guide me through the process of applying to graduate school, Professor Olds demonstrates the importance of having faculty who genuinely care about their students.”

For her part, Olds is equally impressed with Prolago: “Piper is the kind of student one remembers for their entire career. I would look forward to our weekly meetings to discuss her senior project. Her intellectual interests are so varied, from repatriation issues to graffiti and street art, public art policy, Filipino culture and contemporary photography by artists in the Middle East. But a throughline is her engagement with global issues in a sustained and meaningful way. I can’t wait to see what she’ll work on in her graduate studies.”

If the name Piper Prolago rings a bell, it might be because you recall reading a story about her summer 2020 research on public art and commemorations of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Since then, Prolago has presented her work at the International Conference on the Arts in Society, organized by The University of Western Australia. It also led to an essay —  “Socializing Sculpture: Commemorative Public Art as a Pedagogical Tool” – published in Art Style, Art & Culture International Magazine.

In addition to coursework and being mentored, a formative experience for Prolago was her participation during her sophomore year in the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ research fellowship program. Led by the center’s director Sean Latham, the program brought together an interdisciplinary cohort of students, faculty and community members to explore the theme of play. “This experience was really meaningful for me because it empowered me to think about complex issues from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Prolago.

The finish line and beyond

During her final semester, Prolago is keeping extra busy as the editor in chief of the university’s newspaper, The Collegian. “This role is a lot of fun,” Prolago commented. “And having an organization like this is particularly important at a college that doesn’t have a journalism department. It’s gratifying to be able to carve out a space for students who want to explore journalism.”

Prolago’s advisor at The Collegian is Chapman Associate Professor of Media Studies Mark Brewin. “I am thankful to have had several opportunities to work with Professor Brewin,” said Prolago. Brewin previously served as Prolago’s advisor for her Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge project and when she worked as a research assistant for the Center for Health, Arts and Measurement Practices, which he co-directs.

As she looks to her future adventures, Prolago has her hopes set on studying art history at the graduate level. In particular, she wants to further her research in public art. “I believe public art is so important, particularly as we’re seeing a lot of momentum in rethinking the kinds of values we choose to uplift in public spaces,” commented Prolago. “As we tear down figures whose legacies represent a lot of pain and hate, we’re tasked with not only rethinking whose stories get to be represented, but also about why we’ve excluded so many people from those stories.”

For her part, Prolago is set on being part of what she calls “the conversation” about art’s role in creating a more inclusive future.

At TU’s School of Art, state-of-the-art facilities and engaged professors embolden students like Piper Prolago to develop and realize their visions. Discover how we can give you the knowledge and opportunities to flourish!