TURC - The University of Tulsa


Educating consumers about maintaining lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are in just about every nook and cranny of modern life in the Western world. From mobile phones to electric cars, laptop computers to “smart” watches, these portable, rechargeable units power millions of people’s work and play.

young woman with long dark hair and arms crossed standing outdoors near leafy green trees
Malia Aurigemma

While LIBs are ubiquitous and useful, current processes for mining and processing lithium and other required metals have considerable impact on the natural environment. In addition, LIBs are recycled at a dismally low rate (around 5%). Taken together, mechanical engineering sophomore Malia Aurigemma remarked, “these factors mean it’s vitally important that we learn how to maintain LIBs so that we can slow down the depletion of the planet’s natural resources and reduce our electronic waste.”

Battery Smarts

Auriemma’s foray into this complex field is called Battery Smarts. Undertaken as a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project mentored by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering William LePage, Battery Smarts is an online media marketing campaign that aims to educate consumers about how to maintain their smartphone batteries, as well as reaching smartphone companies to request features that simplify battery maintenance.

a graphic element that shows two people hugging the earth under the words "Take care of your planet by taking care of your batteries!"“About half of Americans believe that they should completely drain their battery before charging. This could be because nickel-based batteries, like the NiCd battery, benefit from this practice,” said Aurigemma, who has had a passion for sustainability and natural science ever since she was a high school student in Jenks, Oklahoma. “Smartphone companies have not widely promoted the correct charging practice for their batteries.”

In reality, however, the best practice is to maintain a mid-level charge (20-80%) whenever possible. Draining LIBs and/or keeping them at a full charge for long periods of time shortens the usable battery lifespan and can cause smartphone performance issues. “Not only does this hurt consumers’ wallets by shortening the period between smartphone purchases,” Aurigemma explained, “but it contributes greatly to the massive and perpetual electronic waste stream.”


Aurigemma’s TURC project, which she is undertaking solo, builds on research carried out in summer 2020 by Evan Isbell, another member of LePage’s Advanced Materials Design Group. Isbell surveyed smartphone users in the U.S. to assess their charging knowledge and habits. Isbell’s survey revealed that approximately 75% of U.S. smartphone users are misinformed about how to best maintain their batteries and are practicing poor charging habits because of this misinformation.

Educating and entertaining for change

a graphic item with information about the optimum charge for a lithium-ion batteryThe education aspect of Battery Smarts entails developing and posting engaging graphics and slideshows to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Aurigemma, who is pursuing a minor in sociology, also created a change.org petition to reach out to smartphone companies and ask them to include a feature that would allow users to choose the level of charge they would like their phone to reach and, when on a charger, to remain at.

Aurigemma launched her social media channels in July and the petition in early August. “Gaining a following has been a slow but steady process, but my social media pages have achieved from 1,100 to 5,100 profile views, and my petition is nearing 200 signatures,” she reported. Her ultimate goal for the petition is to reach 1,000 signatures but, she noted, “I would love to go even further with it.”

“With her Battery Smarts project, Malia is making significant contributions by combining her passion for sustainability with her skills as a mechanical engineering major and sociology minor,” LePage observed. “She worked diligently throughout the summer to make great headway on spreading the message about proper charging of Li-ion batteries. Looking ahead, I’m excited to see Malia’s project really take off and make a difference!”

Follow @batterysmarts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Help save the planet and your money! Sign the Battery Smarts petition today.

Keen to get her sophomore year underway, Aurigemma intends to continue working on Battery Smarts. Her focus will be on producing and finding more content to post and more ways to promote the petition. In addition, “a friend of mine in computer science and I are also looking at potentially developing an app for IOS and the Google Play Store. Our idea for this is to promote healthy battery-charging habits in a fun, game-like way.”

The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge welcomes your ideas and inspiration. Bring us your plans and we’ll help you energize them.


Military veteran and electrical engineering senior triumphs over adversity

Each University of Tulsa student’s story is unique. Some, though, are clearly more unique than others.

Consider electrical engineering rising senior Benjamin Bozworth. In addition to his formal studies, Bozworth is a member of two prestigious engineering honor societies: Tau Beta Pi and IEEE Eta Kappa Nu. In May, he was elected president of the latter. “Being invited to join these organizations has been astounding to me,” said Bozworth. “Sometimes I worry that if people really knew who I was they wouldn’t accept me or would reject me.”

head and shoulders of a man wearing a red polo shirt standing outdoors
Benjamin Bozworth

So, what is there in Bozworth and his past that might cause such concern?

Being 31 years old in a crowd of early 20-somethings definitely sets him somewhat apart. But getting together with Bozworth for a chat quickly reveals that beyond mere calendar years it’s what he has experienced and accomplished during his three decades that has challenged, scarred, frightened, exhilarated, motivated and forged this determined U.S. Army veteran about to enter the final year of his undergraduate studies.

What doesn’t kill you

Bozworth’s rough and rutted road began when he was placed into foster care at the age of 3 or 4. “I stayed in the system and lived in several parts of Oklahoma until the Bozworth family in Cushing adopted me when I was around 15,” he recalled. “I am beyond grateful for them welcoming me into their home when they did. Not many people are willing to adopt teenagers, but the Bozworths adopted two other boys besides me and have three biological children of their own.” The stability this new environment provided enabled Bozworth to graduate from Cushing High School in 2008.

Halfway through his senior year of high school, Bozworth joined the National Guard, opting to become an infantryman. His plan was to do six years in the guard, get a degree, become an officer and then go on active duty. “I think I had some convoluted idea that by doing those things I could get people’s respect and admiration, like in the movies.”

Even though he had a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University, two days after his high school graduation Bozworth showed up for basic training. While he could have stayed home and attended university, after basic, he volunteered for deployment and was sent to Kuwait in fall 2008. “My time in the Middle East was nothing like I imagined a combat theater would be like,” Bozworth said. “No action, no gunfights, none of the stuff I had signed up to do. It was just hot and boring. Returning stateside in summer 2009, Bozworth married in October and then divorced four months later. “Typical young soldier stuff, really,” he commented.

“Being a veteran gives you a set of tools, but how a person uses those tools is up to them. I used those tools to cause myself a lot of unnecessary pain for many years until I found someone to show me how to use the tools correctly. Things like be early and stay late. Ask questions. Focus on the objective. Work as a team. Respect your peers and superiors.”

Back home, Bozworth also enrolled at OSU. During his third semester, he received word that deployment to Afghanistan was imminent. “I had started drinking and partying around the same time and decided that was – given the propsect of not coming home from battle – certainly more important than school, so I dropped out.”

Arriving in Afghanistan in June 2011, Bozworth’s eyes were opened to the reality of bloody, violent warfare. “This was nothing like my time Kuwait. We were told that the place we were going was a Taliban stronghold and that it would be a hell of a fight. What an understatement! For nearly three months, we took contact every day in some form. Mortars, rockets, ambushes. It was what I had signed up to do, but it quickly got out of hand. This takes a toll on a person.” On Jan. 22, 2012, Bozworth was injured by some shrapnel from an explosion and medevac’d to Germany. From there, he was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he spent several months recovering.

Back in the United States, Bozworth was fighting another powerful adversary: drug addiction. “I couldn’t keep a job, I was getting into trouble, and life got pretty bad for quite some time.” In 2013, he called Veterans Affairs for help and was sent for treatment. He stayed clean for a couple of months, but then things deteriorated further. That December, Bozworth made his first suicide attempt. “If I ever forget where I came from or how bad my life was I only have to look in the mirror at the scar on my neck from where I slit my throat and had to have 18 stitches put in.”

At that point, Bozworth was medically discharged from the National Guard. “I would like to say that was when I got clean and turned my life around. Unfortunately, it’s not. This went on for several more years: more trips to rehab, more suicide attempts and eventually homelessness.”

That vicious cycle, however, eventually came to an end. “May 21, 2016. That’s the day I got clean, and I have been clean ever since.”

Beginning afresh

Bozworth’s triumph over addiction and self-harm enabled him to resume his academic journey. After about a year, he enrolled at Tulsa Community College, unsure of what major to pursue but energized by his studies. After two years, during which he maintained a consistent 4.0 grade-point average, Bozworth graduated with two associates degrees in math and physics.

During his third semester at TCC, Bozworth applied to study at The University of Tulsa. “Calling myself a nontraditional student is a bit of an understatement, and I certainly didn’t think I would ever get in,” he recalled. “I had a lot of fear coming to a place like TU. I am nearly a decade older than all of my peers, and there is a stigma that goes with being in recovery, even if only in my head.”

One man’s “amazing” TU story

Life at TU has required hard work and, through that, Bozworth has achieved great personal and academic success. “Two or three semesters in, I was invited to join the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. This was astounding to me, going from two-time drop out to honor society! And then last semester I was invited to join the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu honor society. Somehow, I am now the president of the TU chapter.”


Overall, Bozworth says, his time at TU has been amazing. From feeling distant at first and worried about fitting in, he transformed into someone who feels part of a strong community. “I’m still astonished by the inclusivity of the student body, and the faculty are remarkable and always willing to take the time to help. That’s undoubtedly contributed to my success here.”

Bozworth also underscores the role of staff in helping him settle in and move forward, from Electrical and Computer Engineering’s department assistant Marla Zumwalt – “someone who I’ve been able to talk honestly with since I first got to TU” – to Cindy Watts, the university’s director of veterans affairs. In that role, Watts has had ample opportunity to get to know Bozworth. “He is such an amazing person and truly a pleasure to work with,” she said. “After all of his service for our country, Benjamin is now utterly dedicated not only to his studies, but also to supporting other student veterans across the university and to getting involved in the events we put on through the McKee Veterans Success Center.”

For Watts, Bozworth was the natural choice to receive the 2020-21 Chevron Student Veteran Association Engineering Scholarship. “When I called to give him the news, Benjamin was so thankful and honored,” she recounted. “He’s a man who never takes anything for granted.”

Digging into research

A highlight thus far of Bozworth’s academic journey at TU has been getting involved in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). During summer 2020, Bozworth studied solar panel efficiency as a factor of mounting technology.

“I wouldn’t say that I made any major discoveries that would change the solar industry, but it was still an incredible learning experience for me to work the project through from proposal, design, construction, testing and on to findings,” said Bozworth. “I had to design and build the mount and program the Arduino to control the servo so it was a good use of a lot of the different things I have learned so far.”


Bozworth’s TURC mentor was Chapman Applied Assistant Professor Nathan Hutchins. “Benjamin works hard and strives for excellence both in the classroom and in his research,” commented Hutchins. “He never complains that something is difficult. He just always does his best. One of the things that impresses me most is that he’s always asking questions in order to gain genuine understanding rather than an easy answer. As a researcher, he never fails to complete work on time and he’s 100% focused on improving whatever system he’s tackling. I am looking forward to seeing where Benjamin winds up after he graduates. I don’t doubt he’ll go on to do extraordinary things.”

High-voltage internship

In summer 2021, Bozworth packed his bags and headed to Borger, Texas, to take up an internship with Phillips 66 at the refinery. Working on high-voltage power systems, his main project entailed designing an automatic transfer scheme for all four of the facility’s main substations in the event of a power failure. The other part of this project has been critical motor analysis and protection.

David McCauley, an electrical engineer with Phillips 66, supervised Bozworth during his internship. “Benjamin has been making great progress on the projects we’ve assigned to him,” McCauley commented. “He’s a really quick learner and likes to get right in the middle of things. Added to that, his positive attitude and interesting sense of humor makes Benjamin really easy to work with. There’s no doubt this guy has a rewarding career ahead.”

“I cannot overstate how much I have learned through this experience,” Bozworth enthused. “From high-voltage distribution systems to motor controls and schematics to load analysis, it’s all been an incredible experience.” The fact that he has been assured that his automatic transfer solution will be implemented in 2023 underscores both Bozworth’s growing expertise and the company’s trust in him.

Looking forward to a smoother road ahead

As he looks to his final year of undergraduate studies, Bozworth is particularly keen on the senior design course: “I enjoy a good challenge, and I feel like it will be a great opportunity to put all the knowledge I’ve gained to practical use.”

After graduation, Bozworth hopes to find employment in the renewable energy sector. “There’s going to be an ever-increasing demand for energy across the U.S. and the globe,” he observed, “and I believe that to meet that need we’re going to rely more and more on renewable resources.”

“I really want to stress the importance of asking for help. No matter what you may be going through there is ALWAYS help available. In in my own experience, the strongest and most courageous people are the ones who ask for help, not the other way around.

“I did not do any of this on my own. I am only here as a result of the support of my friends and family. I especially want to thank my mentor, Richard Wolfe Jr., who saved my life by showing me that there is a different way to live. Richard always says it’s better to live with failure than regret.

“So, do the hard thing. Do the thing that you don’t think you can do because you may just be surprised at what you can accomplish. I know I am.”

Outside of work, he plans to continue lifting up other people who have struggled in ways similar to himself. Currently, Bozworth mentors a couple of veterans, helping to provide guidance and support. His efforts extend beyond former military, however, as he is active in the Tulsa recovery community, “just helping in whatever way I can.” Despite taking up about eight hours a week on average, this work “is something I’m really passionate about. It’s a small way to make a big difference in someone’s life. We all just need someone who understands our struggles. Kind people did the same for me when I was down.”

You’ve served your country, now write the next chapter of your story with a TU degree. TU participates in the Yellow Ribbon program, an addition to the Post-9/11 GI Bill® that provides full tuition to qualified veterans. Get in touch with the McKee Veterans Success Center today.


Decolonization: Expanding Indigenous representation in post-secondary studies

In recent years, scholars have shed a bright light on the lack of representation of diverse people and cultures in university and college curricula. This shortcoming harms not only Indigenous students, but non-Indigenous ones as well. Among the many people urging change are Alexandria Tafoya, a creative writing major at The University of Tulsa, and TU English alumnus Mason Whitethorn Powell (BA ’17).

Tafoya and Powell’s insights and recommendations appear in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction (ECF). Their essays were originally intended to be oral presentations made during a panel on academic approaches to Native American topics at the 2020 conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in St. Louis. When this gathering was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to publish their views in ECF arose. Being Indigenous themselves, Tafoya and Powell seized the opportunity to tell their stories as Indigenous students and how they believe representation can be improved.

“I am proud of Lexie and Mason for having the confidence to join in a conversation among established scholars of the importance of Indigenous studies,” said Chapman Professor of English Laura Stevens. “Together, their ECF essays deliver a powerful, compelling call to universities to devote more attention to teaching and exploring Indigenous literature, culture and history.”

Rare appearances

smiling woman in a black top and a green jacket
Alexandra Tafoya

Coming from a mixed Tsalagi (Cherokee), Mexican and Irish background, the need for Indigenous representation has always been important to Tafoya. In her essay “The Importance and Power of Indigenous Representation in Literature,” Tafoya recalls the few pieces of Native American literature she has encountered during her academic career: “Anything I did hear or read depicted Native Americans as the only Indigenous people, and we only made appearances through colonial and conquistador perspectives.”

Powell’s experience from his time as an undergraduate was much the same. “Apart from Professor Stevens’ inclusion of Indigenous topics in her English literature courses, and several courses in the anthropology and history departments, there were no opportunities to focus on Indigenous literature or culture,” he writes in his essay “Witnessing the Reversal of Indigenous Erasure: My Undergraduate Experience.”

Powell comes from an Osage background. He has close ties to his heritage through his relationship with his grandfather, who is full-blood Osage, and whom he has been helping take care of amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue of Indigenous representation is not only academic for him; it is also personal: “Being someone who does have an Indigenous background and heritage, it’s not only a research topic, it’s who I am.”

Decolonization through inclusion

Tafoya and Powell agree that universities should start implementing changes to their curricula to make them more inclusive of Indigenous histories, cultures and perspectives. “We should definitely add more Indigenous works and studies into academic agendas,” noted Tafoya. “Even in cases where readings or sections involving Indigenous people can’t be included, discussions certainly can be held.”

a man seated outdoors while gazing to the left
Mason Whitehorn Powell

“Everybody has to take literature classes, even if they’re not studying English or the humanities as their main discipline. Why couldn’t one include a novel, a book of poems, a play or a film by a Native American?”, asked Powell.

Folding Indigenous topics and materials into university curricula is, Tafoya and Powell argue, an essential step in the process of decolonizing American universities. Adding such content would help to create a more diverse educational environment in which Indigenous students would find themselves represented and non-Indigenous students would become better informed and aware of Indigenous cultures.

“Decolonization does not mean to ‘cancel’ non-Native European and early American literature we know and love,” Powell clarified in his essay. “It means adding Indigenous literature, addressing the ways in which it is often overlooked or misunderstood, and exploring how it relates to a canon that at times overshadows but can even come across as purposely anti-Indian in its subject matter.”

The voices of Indigenous students will not, Tafoya and Powell point out, be sufficient to spur on and implement these changes. These scholars emphasize that genuine change relies on non-Indigenous students and professors being open and willing to discuss this content and boost the Indigenous presence. In Powell’s view, humanities professors “can definitely expose students to Native American works and educate themselves. It’s very important to teach that because it’s not only who I am, but who we are as Americans and our past.”

When speaking about what non-Indigenous people can do to help, Tafoya remarked, “we can’t always depend on the surface. It’s a responsibility to read Native American authors and to listen to Natives in our communities and lives. Especially listen to the Native people in your life. I cannot stress that enough. We may have some shared experiences, but we live unique and complex lives. History is still being made, so don’t just stop at reading.”

Decolonization through independent research

Tafoya and Powell are also working to raise Indigenous voices through independent research they are conducting or have conducting in the past through the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). This popular TU effort allows undergraduate students to conduct research with the guidance of a professor on a topic of their choice.

Stevens has mentored both Tafoya and Powell on TURC projects. “Working with students — individually and in small groups — as they pursue intensive research counts among my favorite and most rewarding experiences as an educator,” said Stevens.

During his time at TU, Powell researched the history of his tribe. “My time with Professor Stevens was amazing. She really encouraged me to follow my research path and really helped to build up that research.” Powell encourages current students to follow their passions and see whether they can create a TURC project.

Tafoya is currently working with Stevens on a TURC project dedicated to researching the young women who attended TU’s predecessor, the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls, which was a small boarding school founded in Muskogee in 1882. Her TURC research is only the first step for Tafoya, who intends to use her creative writing degree to bring more to Indigenous representation through her fiction writing.

After taking the last few years to work as a freelance writer in Oklahoma and Italy, Powell plans to return to school. He was recently accepted into the University of Miami School of Law and is waiting on other applications before he makes his final decision. His family and tribal background helped him to make the decision to attend law school so he can continue to educate himself on Indigenous matters. Down the road, he intends to study international law and assist tribal nations or do advocacy work.

Do you have a research idea that would be perfect as a TURC project? Reach out to your advisor or visit the TURC site for more information.


TURC program demonstrates benefits of undergrad research

The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) is one of The University of Tulsa’s most celebrated programs for providing undergraduate students with dynamic projects that advance research, support scholarship and enrich the community. Students from every college participate in year-round TURC research endeavors that fuel the curiosity of their minds and challenge the possibilities of discovery.

The following student projects showcase the diversity and value of TURC research and mentorship.

Maureen Haynes, senior, sociology and biology

TURC programMaureen Haynes of Tulsa began her freshman year at TU as a mechanical engineering student, but an intro-level sociology class persuaded her to switch majors. Later, as a sociology student, she realized she missed studying the natural sciences and working in a laboratory, so she added biology as a second major. Haynes conducted research with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller in high school as a Junior TURC student and then as a TU student. She worked with graduate students to develop and rigorously test methods for the synthesis of microencapsulated magnetic nanoparticles designed to self-sense damage in synthetics.

Haynes’ sociology TURC research involved researching the narrative experiences of Oklahoma’s public school teachers, which ultimately evolved into her senior thesis. She conducted in-depth interviews with teachers from across the state before and after Oklahoma’s historic teacher walkout in 2018. She coded for similarities and analyzed how they presented their profession, work and politics surrounding the education field. Haynes presented her research findings in a 2019 TEDxUTulsa talk “What Oklahoma’s Protesting Teachers Can Teach Us.”

TURC programHer third TURC research component included an independent research project with Assistant Professor of Biology Matthew Toomey to study the metabolic conversion of yellow and red carotenoids in the avian visual system. Haynes also participated in the 2019 National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program by examining the metagenomics of animal mortality composting through sophisticated sequencing platforms in genomics.

While her research has spanned a broad scope of subject matters, Haynes explained there are common themes. “These experiences solidified my adoration for the research process and how collaboration across people, disciplines and students yields powerful scientific findings. I love the research process and the research community here at TU.”

Nathan Blue, senior, English

TURC programNathan Blue’s TURC research project involves helping with cleaning, rehousing, digitizing and documenting the metadata of fan letters sent to musician Bob Dylan. Many of the letters have never been opened and were written at a pivotal time in Dylan’s career — following a motorcycle crash the singer survived in the summer of 1966. “These letters are an unprecedented glimpse into pop and rock fandoms at a time before magazines dedicated to rock music criticism like Rolling Stone came about,” Blue said. “Through our metadata documentation, these letters will become a wellspring of insight into mass fandom in the 1960s.”

Blue became infatuated with Dylan’s music and its cultural impact in high school, eventually transferring from Tulsa Community College to TU in hopes of getting involved with the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. He works closely with Sean Latham, institute director and English professor; Kate Blalack, lead archivist at the Woody Guthrie Center; and Mark Davidson, manager of the Bob Dylan Archive at TU’s Helmerich Center for American Research. “My research has taught me more about music fandom than I thought possible,” Blue commented.

He plans to continue studying the Dylan fan letters while pursuing a master’s in English literature at TU.

Luis Juarez, senior, chemical engineering

TURC programFor the past two summers, Luis Juarez has studied silicon dioxide (SiO2), the main component of sand, for potential new optoelectronic technologies. He and Associate Professor of Chemistry Gabriel LeBlanc explored how the electrodeposition method for obtaining purity c-Si from SiO2, coupled with temperature ionic liquids, could significantly reduce the cost of obtaining c-Si necessary for the production of solar cells, computer chips and smartphone chips. The process could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“What caught my attention with this project was the impact it could have on the world,” Juarez explained. “We could increase the production of solar cells/panels as well as other new technologies that required c-Si while reducing the amount of energy required for c-Si production and pollutants.”

The project has taught him the importance of green chemistry and how new methods of obtaining c-Si for solar panels will help incorporate solar energy into our daily lives. After graduation, he plans to work in the pharmaceutical, environmental or energy sectors of the chemical engineering industry.

Andrew Helt, senior, psychology

TURC programFor his TURC project, Andrew Helt partnered with Associate Professor of Psychology Lisa Cromer and a group of graduate students to develop new forms of therapy to treat nightmares in children. He and doctoral student Mollie Rischard found that inhibition and set-shifting may improve with treatment. “Helping kids cope with nightmares through relaxation strategies, helpful sleep habits and changing the script of their dreams to make them less scary could also potentially help them change from recess to math class more effectively or suppress an impulse to distract their classmates,” Helt stated.

After screening for children’s nightmares at a local psychiatry clinic, he also began to wonder why more families were not taking advantage of free sleep treatment. Helt and doctoral student Jack Stimson interviewed caregivers via phone to learn why more children did not seek treatment; for some, the nightmares subsided on their own while others chose to learn more about their options. “Thanks to ownership of a project as an undergraduate, I’ve come to enjoy research far more than I expected, and I’ve started thinking about a career in research,” Helt explained. “I’m grateful for the role TURC has played in that journey.”

Learn more about how to support TURC students by contacting Natalie Adams at natalie-adams@utulsa.edu.

Gaming students take interdisciplinary approach to summer TURC projects

Students Courtney Spivey and Cheyanne Wheat, enrolled in one of the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s fastest growing majors, are spending their summer diving into computer simulation and gaming development – with a humanities twist.

A career of creativity

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) student Courtney Spivey wants to create video games. As an artist, drawing and being creative is all she’s ever wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved to imagine. My interests have expanded and changed form vastly over the years, but at the end of the day I want to be involved in a career where I can be creative and share my creativity with as many people as possible,” she said.

computer simulationSpivey is laying the groundwork for her future by triple majoring in applied mathematics, computer simulation and gaming and art (emphasis on graphic design) in the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree begins with core computer science classes in the fundamentals of programming and understanding computer systems, and then gives students the freedom to choose a specialization. As an example, the areas of design and development focus more on the artistic aspects of creating, screenwriting and drawing and also offer electives such as video editing and 3D modeling.

Courtney says she likes learning about code and the development side of the computer simulation and gaming program. In January, she began her TURC research exploring deep learning, artificial neuro networks (ANNs) and the capabilities and current limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to machine learning and AI, Spivey’s work has grown to include the study of human behavior in psychology in an attempt to find connections between the similarities of the creators and their methods for approaching deep learning.

“The human side is more flexible. When you look at why humans prefer one thing over another, you have to consider the validity of the research,” she said.

Gaming goals and future endeavors

In June, Spivey attended the International Computational Creativity Conference (ICCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn about mixing AI and machine learning with creative channels such as music and drawing. Her TURC adviser, TU School of Art, Design and Art History Director Teresa Valero, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. Spivey will complete the community engagement portion of her TURC project later this summer when she visits Tulsa Public School sites to teach students about ANNs.

“The cool thing about TURC is that because I’m interested in media and art and how we perceive AI from a normal point of view, I can combine that with computer science analytics,” she said. “I find this research fascinating.”

computer simulationSpivey, who is from Jenks, Oklahoma, begins her senior year at TU this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in game development as a creative manager for new projects.

In the meantime, Spivey is open to detours along her career path that pique her interest and challenge her skillset. Ironically, she is “not that much of a gamer” but credits video games like Detroit: Become Human and Legend of Zelda for leading her to this summer’s TURC project.

Gilcrease connections assist with museum technology

computer simulationFellow computer simulation and gaming major Cheyanne Wheat sits at a computer across TU’s campus in Rayzor Hall working on a similar project that also involves collaboration with TU arts and sciences programming. A junior originally from the Tulsa area, she has teamed up with TU anthropology Professor Bob Pickering to create a simulated time progression of an Indian burial mound’s construction. The interactive video game will benefit curators and preservationists at cultural institutions, such as Gilcrease Museum, where anthropologists are eager to incorporate more technology into interactive learning.

“I want to know how we can use games or game-like activities based on a museum collection to engage a younger audience,” Pickering explained. “Gilcrease has 10,000 years of human history objects from the Americas, but if you’re a 9-year-old, you don’t know these objects, you don’t have any connection to them and you don’t know why they’re important.”

According to Pickering, the museum video game concept is an experiment on every level, but collaboration with computer simulation and gaming students on a “museum forward” idea is important for the next generation of museum professionals. “This partnership is a way to start the process — to figure out what kind of technology we need and how much time it will require,” he said.

computer simulationPickering and JC Diaz, a professor in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science, have worked together on a few other museum technology projects in the past that have resulted in published papers presented at scholarly events such as the Electronic Visualization in the Arts Conference in London. The unexpected collaboration between TU’s anthropology and computer simulation and gaming programs is, Pickering noted, one of the first of its kind and sparks many interdisciplinary possibilities for curious students.

The TURC partnership weaves Pickering’s experience as an archaeologist, Gilcrease artifacts recovered from burial mounds of the Hopewell Tribe in Illinois and Wheat’s expertise as a computer simulation and gaming student. “He’s giving me the historical, accurate information, and as a developer, I’m building all of it into a museum context,” she said.

computer simulation
Cheyanne Wheat’s community service component of TURC involves volunteering for Animal Aid in Tulsa.

Wheat uses an Intel RealSense 3D camera to photograph models of Hopewell Tribe artifacts placed on a turntable. The hundreds of images are then plugged into a computer program called Unreal to develop a game that is fun and informative. Players will explore a landscape full of nature, animals and artifacts from the Hopewell Tribe 250 BCE to 250 CE while learning about history and civilization. The objective is to tell the story behind historical objects and discuss how museum-goers of all ages can learn from a video game feature.

“I’m hoping to complete development by the end of the summer and start testing it with real individuals to see how it captures people’s interest — if they like it and think it belongs in a museum,” Wheat said. “I’m focused on integrating more technology into museum culture. There’s so much technology the anthropology field hasn’t tackled yet.”

University of Tulsa senior Kirk Smith named Rhodes Scholar

TU Senior names Rhodes Scholar
TU’s 2017 Rhodes Scholar Kirk Smith (left) and his mentor, Todd Otanicar, a TU mechanical engineering professor

Kirk P. Smith, a University of Tulsa mechanical engineering senior, has been awarded a 2017 Rhodes Scholarship – one of only 32 recipients in the nation. The honor was announced Sunday, following two days of interviews.

“This is a momentous occasion for The University of Tulsa, for our College of Engineering and Natural Sciences and for Kirk. He exemplifies the best of what TU seeks to inspire in each of its students: intellectual curiosity, integrity and service in a changing world,” said university President Gerard Clancy.

Rhodes finalists are selected for their outstanding scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and potential career leadership. Rhodes Scholars receive two years of full financial support to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

A St. Louis, Mo., native, Smith is a captain of the Golden Hurricane cross country team, a TU Presidential Scholar, an inaugural member of TU’s Global Scholars program and a National Merit Scholar. At Oxford, he plans to pursue a doctorate in engineering science.

“Kirk’s ambition to engineer energy sustainability is already hitting stride. His research in Tulsa, Colorado and Germany is evidence of his creativity, collaborative skills and persistence,” said TU Provost Roger Blais. “Kirk’s research mentors testify to the depth and scope of his work in their labs as well as his readiness to take on graduate studies in any competitive setting in the states or overseas.”

As a scholarship recipient of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD), he was invited to participate in the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE Germany) program in the summer of 2016. He interned at Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt and assisted doctoral students with thesis research on polymeric solar thermal collectors.

“We are proud of Kirk’s accomplishments thus far and look forward to seeing what the future brings. His research holds great promise for the energy industry and long-term renewable energy efforts,” said James Sorem, dean of TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

Smith is TU’s first Rhodes Scholar since 1988. University of Tulsa students and alumni have won more nationally competitive awards than all other Oklahoma colleges combined.

Chemistry senior named Rhodes Scholar finalist

The University of Tulsa is pleased to announce Austin Evans, a chemistry and biochemistry senior from Broken Arrow, Okla., is a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

austin evansThe Rhodes Scholarship in the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship award in the world. Each year, 32 students are named Rhodes Scholars through a decentralized process representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Students are selected for their outstanding scholarly achievements, character and potential leadership. Rhodes Scholars are awarded full financial support to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Evans is a Goldwater Scholar and two-time winner of the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) scholarship hosted by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD). He is a 2015 Governor’s Cup finalist and has received international recognition for his research as a TU undergraduate.

“Austin Evans is an exemplary student who embodies the best that The University of Tulsa strives to achieve – a student with a broad education, deep skills, passion for scholarship and commitment to improving the world,” said TU Provost Roger Blais.

The University of Tulsa is a Top 50 private, independent, doctoral degree-granting institution dedicated to research. The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) is an innovative program that enables undergraduates to take challenging courses and conduct advanced research with the guidance of top TU professors.