Marymount Honors students research AI, mental health, heart disease and more for 2024 VCHC Conference

Marymount Honors students research AI, mental health, heart disease and more for 2024 VCHC Conference

Last month, honors program students and faculty from higher education institutions across Virginia and West Virginia traveled to Radford University to attend the 2024 Virginias Collegiate Honors Council (VCHC) Conference. With the theme ‘Into the Wilderness,’ attendees were asked to explore the boundaries of their visions for a sustainable future.

While there, six Marymount honors students presented a variety of research projects related to current societal problems and concerns.

“Presenting at the VCHC Conference has always been my favorite professional opportunity provided by the Honors Program. Although this was my fourth time presenting at this conference, the ability to connect with honors students from across Virginia, exchange ideas and share future aspirations was even more awe-inspiring,” explained Biochemistry student Isabella Ochalik. “As a graduating senior, this year’s VCHC was particularly memorable as I presented my honors thesis, which focused on the pathways of GATA4-mediated cardiac development. It was incredible to share the culmination of three years’ worth of studying and experimenting with this transcription factor with a group of talented and intellectually curious peers.”

These Marymount honors students presented research on the following topics during the conference:

  • Adaly Asencio Veza (Biochemistry) – ‘Political Ideology Affiliation to COVID-19 Vaccination Rates in the United States’
  • Caileigh Barnett (Graphic and Media Design) – ‘The Physical and Mental Health of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Caregivers’
  • Blen Begashaw (Computer Science) – ‘Exploring Generative AI’s Impact on Code Generation Tools’
  • Allison Castellanos (Psychology) – ‘Mental Health among Immigrant Adolescents’
  • Isabella Ochalik (Biochemistry) – ‘The Downstream Effect of GATA4 Knockdown in Developing Cardiac Muscle Cells’
  • Cara Pocono (Criminal Justice) – ‘Eyewitness Identification and Confidence in the Courtroom’
Marymount Honors students research AI, mental health, heart disease and more for 2024 VCHC Conference
Honors student Cara Pocono presents at the 2024 VCHC Conference

Eighteen universities participated in the conference, which featured 117 presentations. In addition to research presentations, the two-day event featured business meetings, organizational elections and professional development sessions.

“I have one of the best jobs on campus! I have the privilege of working with these highly motivated, bright students, helping support their academic achievements and seeing their impressive presentations at this conference each year,” said Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman, Director of Marymount’s Honors Program. “I often get compliments from other honors directors and deans about how well prepared they are, and I redirect all of that praise to these students and their dedicated mentors.”


Dr. Lopresti-Goodman currently serves as the VCHC vice president, and participated in the conference planning committee while also presiding over the opening and closing ceremonies, business meeting and awards ceremony. Meanwhile, Begashaw worked alongside her as the VCHC student vice president and traveled with Dr. Lopresti-Goodman to the organization’s fall conference at Emory and Henry College for professional development sessions and to start planning the 2024 VCHC Spring Research Conference.

Marymount Honors students research AI, mental health, heart disease and more for 2024 VCHC Conference

“As student vice president, I was deeply engaged with planning the VCHC spring conference – especially the theme selection and providing enriching service and social activities. I was also honored to give a welcoming speech on opening night and lead the student forum later that weekend,” Begashaw said. “On the research front, I explored with Dr. Michelle Liu how generative AI can revolutionize code generation tools, enhancing developer productivity and creativity. The opportunity to share this work at the conference was not only a personal achievement, but also a chance to contribute to the broader academic dialogue on AI’s transformative potential in software development.”

To find out more about the many opportunities available to students in Marymount’s Honors Program, click here.