Students Parnian Arafi and senior Kaitlyn Sy receive Courtwright Awards

LAWRENCE – Two University of Kansas students who earned Undergraduate Research Awards are the recipients of the Courtwright Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence for spring 2024 through KU’s Center for Undergraduate Research.

The Courtwright Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence was established at KU Endowment in 2020 through the contributions of David (Class of 1974) and Chris Courtwright (Class of 1983). The Courtwright Award seeks to recognize undergraduate students with majors in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences whose research and creative work stand to make meaningful contributions to their fields of study.

Courtwright Award finalists are selected from applications for the Undergraduate Research Awards each semester. This is the seventh iteration of this award. The recipients are as follows:

Parnian Arafi

Parnian Arafi is a junior in biochemistry from Iran mentored by Michael Wolfe, professor of medicinal chemistry.

Parnan Arafi
Parnan Arafi

“Alzheimer's disease is a major global public health challenge, with a growing number of people affected, raising serious concerns within the scientific community,” Arafi said. “My research focuses on uncovering the complexities of Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis by investigating the impact of Alzheimer-mutant presenilin-1 on amyloid β-peptide production by γ-secretase. This study has the potential to offer new (Alzheimer) treatment strategies.”

This past April, Arafi gave a speech about her research during the annual MIKIW conference at the University of Illinois-Chicago — the longest-running and largest regional medicinal chemistry conference in the U.S. — and presented a poster with the same title at the 39th Mossberg Honors Symposium at KU. Arafi also presented a poster about her research at KU’s 27th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Kaitlyn Sy

Kaitlyn Sy is a senior in biotechnology from Olathe mentored by Jack Treml and Randall Logan, faculty members in biotechnology.

Kaitlyn Sy
Kaitlyn Sy

“Cancer, a devastating disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, takes the lives of nearly 1 in every 6 people worldwide. My project investigates how cancer survives, thrives and wreaks havoc in the body despite constant surveillance by the immune system, which normally destroys abnormal cells,” Sy said. “The long-term goal of this research is to shed light on new approaches to treating cancer to ultimately improve outcomes for cancer patients.”

Sy shared her research through an oral presentation titled “Hiding in Plain Sight: Is Lactate an Invisibility Cloak for Cancer?” at KU’s 27th Undergraduate Research Symposium. She also presented “The Role of the Warburg Effect in Immune Evasion in Solid Tumors: Assessing the Effects of Lactate on the Immune Responsiveness of T Cells in vitro” at the 2024 Hawk Talks Conference at the KU Edwards Campus. A manuscript has been submitted for publication in the Midwestern Journal of Undergraduate Sciences.

Other spring 2024 finalists
  • Emily DeMars, a senior in history and political science from Salina: “Sovereignty and Sobriety: Temperance, State-building, and Native Disenfranchisement in Oklahoma,” mentored by Kent Blansett, associate professor of history.
  • George LaHood, a senior majoring in film & media studies from Overland Park, “Unreal Engine and Virtual Production Short Film,” mentored by David Mai, assistant professor of film & media studies.
  • Kaitlyn (Kit) Savoy, a junior majoring in biology from Olathe, “Electric Dispersal Potential of Fungal Spores,” mentored by Benjamin Sikes, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology.

Wed, 05/08/2024


Erin Wolfram

Media Contacts

Erin Wolfram

Academic Success