The Passionate Leaders Project (PLP) supports undergraduate students by funding research opportunities that transcend traditional coursework.
Participants of the PLP develop research and critical thinking skills and bring the insights of academia to real world issues. This year's cohort addresses mental health, neuroscience, environmental science, the foster care system, and technology.
Fall 2022 applications are open and are due October 3, 2022.
Meet the Passionate Leaders Project Fall 2022 Cohort!
Jane McNulty '23
Project: Promoting Recovery from Mental Health Issues Through the Art of Literature
Through the Passionate Leaders Project, I aim to make others feel understood through literature by writing a novel about mental health. A brief synopsis is as follows: "Twenty-year-old Alec Duffy has felt the end of the world coming for some time now, but despite this, life continues on. After getting a flat tire with his distant childhood best friend Charlie one night, Charlie's struggle with substance abuse is revealed to Alec. The truths that grounded Alec's sheltered, mundane life are called into question. This destabilized new perspective leads our narrator to the crossroads we all must face at one point in our lives — is it worth it to get better, or is it easier to stay the same?"
I will work closely with writing and publishing consultant Sara Freeman to help me grow as a writer during the duration of the project, aiming for a completed, well-rounded manuscript of ~55K words and 15 chapters. I plan on attending the 2023 Muse and the Marketplace Conference to network with editors, agents, and other writers. Thanks to the Passionate Leaders Project, I have purchased works of nonfiction and fiction from which I can draw inspiration. Although the conversation around mental health in America has improved in recent years, the majority of mental illnesses aren't perceptible to the human eye, creating additional barriers to treatment. Mental illness frequently results in a sense of isolation in an individual struggling with it, but fiction has the ability to inspire understanding, healing, and change.
Jada Cameron '24
Project: Empowering Pediatric Neuropsychology Patients
Having a comprehensive and culturally-informed neuropsychological evaluation can be of great benefit to children with neurological differences. These tests can inform a patient's care team as to what their strengths and deficits are. These professionals can then work together to come up with recommendations that help the client better understand and process the world around them, either in academic, home, or professional settings.
For my Passionate Leaders Project, I will work under a neuropsychologist to learn the ins and outs of these evaluations. Since there is a lack of resources available online to prepare children for these evaluations, I seek to design, develop, and distribute a brochure that lets children know what to expect in a testing session. Neuropsychological testing is a long and intimidating process, and I seek to bridge these knowledge gaps by providing age-appropriate information about testing procedures to these patients. This brochure will be based on peer-reviewed research and interviews with professionals within the field. I will make sure that the material is age-appropriate and easy to understand. After distributing these brochures, I will then evaluate their effectiveness with a survey.
Kailey N Sultaire '23
Major: Social Work
Project: Improving Educational Outcomes for Children in the Massachusetts Foster Care System
This project aims to improve the educational outcomes of children in the Massachusetts state foster care system through legislative action. A 2016 study commissioned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found alarming disparities between the educational outcomes of children in out-of-home placements by the Department of Children and Families and the general Massachusetts student population. Building on the findings of this report, I aim to develop legislation with community partners aimed at holding applicable state agencies accountable for improving the academic outcomes of youth in the Massachusetts state foster system. To accomplish this, I will be working with Kate Lowenstein, Esq., MSW, of the Multi-System Youth Project at Citizens for Juvenile Justice, the only statewide nonprofit in Massachusetts that addresses systemic juvenile justice issues and their intersections with other state systems. We hope to advance this legislation through the Massachusetts Legislature with the help of legislators, advocacy groups, and community members to change the current procedures regarding the education of students in state custody.
Samantha Margolin '23
Project: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Used River Sorbents as Potential Soil Amendments in an Agricultural Setting
The Muddy River runs throughout Boston and is one of the two most polluted tributaries in the Charles River. The phosphorus levels in the Muddy River exceed national standards for freshwater and result in decreased water quality. In an effort to remove phosphorus from the river, the Muddy Water Initiative has enacted a pilot trial placing EutroSORB, a phosphorus sorbent, into a heavily polluted section of the Muddy River. The bags of EutroSORB were placed in the river in August and will be removed in early fall. My project focuses on analyzing the effectiveness of the EutroSORB in removing phosphorus from the river and evaluating the possible reuse of the sorbent as a phosphorus additive in agricultural soil.
Furthermore, this project aims to compose a method for removing phosphorus from waterways where it negatively impacts the ecosystem, and apply it to soil where phosphorus is vital for plant growth. To test the impact of the sorbet on agricultural soil, I will be partnering with the Needham Community Farm to evaluate the impact of EutroSORB on beetroot growth in soil with below-average phosphorus levels. I will be working with Dr. Anna Aguilera and Dr. Michael Berger to determine if used river sorbents can be used as a sustainable and economically viable soil amendment. We hope that this research will direct the future applications of sorbents to remediate the Muddy River and promote the use of phosphorus-loaded sorbents in agricultural soil as an alternative to fertilizer.
Nardos Alemu '24
Project: Automatic Speech Recognition System for Low Resource Languages - Amharic
Current Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) systems like Google Assistant, Apple's Siri, or Amazon's Alexa continue to only support a small number of languages, primarily those spoken in developed nations with abundant resources. While these languages have been able to reap the benefits of having such technology at their disposal, places like Vietnam and my home country Ethiopia are still far behind. The research aims at designing a system that, with enough data, can create an automatic speech recognition system for any low-resource language. For this, I will be working with computer Science Professor Nanette Veilleux and Computer Science student Chelsea Hua '24. We will be focusing on Amharic (Ethiopia's official language) and Vietnamese to design, implement, and test the system. Once tested, we hope for the procedure to then be used to easily create automatic speech recognition systems for other languages, as well.