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Doctoral Students Present Dissertation Projects in Three-Minute Competition

Three minutes and a single presentation slide. That’s the challenge a handful of UNC doctoral students have accepted to describe their dissertation projects, using non-technical language anyone can understand.  

Three minutes and a single presentation slide. That’s the challenge a handful of UNC doctoral students have accepted to describe their dissertation projects, using non-technical language anyone can understand.  

Seven students are putting their communication and presentation skills to the test next week in UNC’s first-ever Northern Colorado Three Minute Thesis (NoCo 3MT) competition, an event sponsored by UNC’s Graduate School that is open for anyone to attend. 

The 3MT is a global academic research communication competition that was developed by the University of Queensland, Australia. While the words “thesis” and “dissertation” are used interchangeably in other countries, the competition is intended for graduate students who have completed their research/data collection and are in the process of completing their dissertation.  

“The 3MT is an internationally recognized event designed to provide graduate students with the opportunity to hone skills critical to the communication of their scholarship with a broad audience,” said Jeri-Anne Lyons, Ph.D., associate vice president of Research and dean of UNC’s Graduate School. “It provides an opportunity to highlight the amazing work done by graduate students to the campus community, Colorado and perhaps the nation.” 

The winner of the NoCo 3MT, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22, 5-7 p.m., in the Campus Commons Prosperity Room, receives a monetary prize and will go on to compete in the Colorado Graduate Schools 3MT later this semester. 

Meet the doctoral students taking part in this year’s NoCo 3MT and get a glimpse of what they’ve been working on: 

Deanna Dykstra






Deanna Dykstra

Program: Educational Leadership, Ed.D. 

Title of Dissertation: School Leadership Through the COVID-19 Pandemic: A phenomenological study 

About My Research: Living and leading in a pandemic presented unprecedented challenges and difficulties for school leaders. I wanted to hear the powerful stories of eight principals in Colorado and learn from their experiences. Those experiences combined with the findings presented in my study offer validation as well as inspiration to other school leaders leading during a crisis 

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: I am participating in the 3MT event because I love a good challenge! I am also looking forward to sharing my learning takeaways with other students and school leaders. The 3MT process has helped me explain my research to friends and family outside the field of education. 

Jennifer Santos

Jennifer Santos

Program: Educational Leadership, Ed.D. 

Title of Dissertation: Transformative and Trauma-Informed Social-Emotional Learning at the Secondary Level 

About My Research: During my 18-year teaching career at the secondary level, I had a passion for social-emotional learning in my science classroom. I hoped to research why social-emotional learning was not as prevalent at the secondary level as at the elementary level. Due to recent events, I focused my research instead on secondary transformative and trauma-informed social-emotional learning and the important knowledge necessary for teachers to reach students of color and students who have experienced trauma through social-emotional learning.  

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: I hope that my research informs teachers about the knowledge necessary for implementing inclusive SEL in their secondary classroom. I wish teachers to not only know the importance and possible positive outcomes from social-emotional learning, but the knowledge to reach students of color and students who have experienced trauma- especially due to the pandemic (considered a trauma) and recent social-justice movements. I am hoping that my research receives attention and that I can share my research on a wider scale and inform secondary teachers of my results.  

Victoria Flores






Victoria Flores 

Program: Sport and Exercise Science - Exercise Physiology, Ph.D. 

Title of Dissertation: Exploring sex differences in the effect of cannabidiol on physical activity, cognition, psychological wellbeing and inflammatory and neural health biomarkers

About My Research: The last 20 years of cannabis research have focused on the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives in animal and human studies. However, these studies are incomplete due to excluding females, physically active individuals, highly purified CBD and analyses of inflammatory and neural health responses to CBD. This lack of information is concerning because many individuals are now using CBD daily for general health and wellbeing. There is a great need for understanding the safety and efficacy of daily CBD consumption in healthy males and females and my hope is to address that knowledge gap with a scientific approach that matches CBD use patterns.   

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: My main goal with this research is to educate individuals about the potential effects of CBD. I have been following the trend in CBD use and have noticed its popularity and acceptance by the community allows others to unanimously agree it is a "cure-all” supplement. Ads showing Martha Stewart and Justin Bieber with large cannabis and CBD companies to promote sales seems to convey the message that CBD consumption is safe, healing and obligatory for optimal health. I would like my research study to help inform this view, especially for the young and healthy population.  

David Agboola





David Agboola 

Program: Applied Statistics and Research Methods, Ph.D.

Title of Dissertation: An Efficient Computational Method for Causal Inference in High-Dimensional Data: Neighborhood-Based Cross Fitting 

About My Research: Current method suggests splitting data at least a thousand times to get reliable results. This is computationally expensive, especially for high-dimensional data (that is, data with a large number of variables relative to the sample size). I am using the structure of data as a shortcut for splitting; thus, the data is only required to be split twice. My method is ten times faster and achieves the same result as splitting the data a thousand times. 

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: I'm participating in the 3MT event to communicate my research findings to the public. Specifically, to communicate my research to content experts who would find my method applicable to their research.  

Amber McElwee





Amber McElwee 

Program: Educational Studies, Ed.D. 

Title of Dissertation: At Risk for Success: Promising Practices in Their own Voices 

About My Research: When working with students that have been identified as at-risk to graduate high school, there can be many triggers that limit their ability to connect with the course material, their peers and the educational staff trying to work with them. To find practices that support their academic, personal, and post-secondary goals I interviewed 16 graduates that were identified as at-risk to find out what resources schools could offer to elevate achievement with this marginalized group of students. The study found that student-centered learning, project-based lessons, and an understanding staff were held in the highest regard, they provided strategies for students to achieve their goals and accomplish their dreams. 

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: The goal here is to spread the word about an inequitable educational circumstance in which some 21st Century students are being sent to alternative learning centers, rather than being supported by their schools with how they can make better decisions. I would like to see schools nationwide accommodate for the adverse situations these students face, preventing segregation for those with mental, physical and behavioral limitations caused by trauma. Educational facilities need to support reducing the stigma for those that are fighting to break the cycle of abuse, poverty and ignorance of the harsh realities that some students are forced to endure. 

Dalal Alrmuny





Dalal Alrmuny 

Program: Technology, Innovation and Pedagogy, Ph.D. 

Title of Dissertation: Middle School Students’ Perceptions, Experiences and Behaviors Towards Using a Virtual Reality Application to Build Molecules 

About My Research: The study explores the perceptions, experiences and behaviors of middle school students in the Rocky Mountain region towards the use of virtual reality technology in chemistry education. In order to deliver successful integration of virtual reality technology into chemistry education, it is essential that students have clear and positive perceptions about the purpose and the value of such integration. 

Researchers can refer to this study as a starting point to further explore students’ perceptions of VR in education and further investigate the effectiveness of VR technology as a learning tool. Educators as well can benefit from this study in designing their curriculum and instruction. Administrators and policymakers can use the findings of this study in making decisions and policies related to the integration of technology in education. 

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: I am interested in the 3MT event because it gives me an opportunity to share my dissertation with a wider audience in a simple format. 

Anne Boris





Anne Boris 

Program: School Psychology, Ph.D. 

Title of Dissertation: Stealth Dyslexia: Cognitive and Achievement Profiles of Gifted Students with Dyslexia 

About My Research: My research explores a clearer, more precise way to identify gifted students with dyslexia using the regular tools that most psychologists use. Neurological research points to the importance of early intervention before reading problems, as well as social and emotional problems, become more profound and entrenched. This study looks more closely at the diagnostic criteria for dyslexia in a gifted population and points toward more useful ways to identify these students. 

Why I’m participating in the 3MT: I am participating in the 3MT competition in honor of my father, who passed away last year. He was a brilliant man who could take very complex topics and make them understandable. I also hope I will be able to share my 3MT video with my friends and family who have asked what my research is about. 

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