News & Media

2020 Student Research & Innovation Showcase Winners Announced

MADISON—WiSys announces the following winners of the 2020 Student Research & Innovation Showcase:

  • First place ($750 prize): UW-Platteville’s Joseph Creanza for “Plant Essential Oils as Natural and Safe Pesticides for the Control of Soybean White Mold Disease.”
  • Second place ($500 prize): UW-Green Bay’s Maria Arunkumar for “Build-a-Wedding.”
  • Third place ($250 prize): UW Oshkosh’s Gabrielle Newman for “Reframing Womanhood: A Rhetorical Analysis of Ada James’ ‘The Womanly Woman.’”
  • Tim Higgins Innovation Award ($500 prize): UW-Eau Claire’s Aaron Ellefson and Cuyler Monahan for “Exploration of Surgical Assisting Foam Through FDA-Approved Additives.”

The event—part of the WiSys SPARK Symposium Virtual Series—gave University of Wisconsin System students a chance to share their work with the statewide community, improve their presentation skills and compete for cash prizes.

“Congratulations to all the participants for their research as well as their ability to adapt to this new virtual format. UW regional comprehensive institutions are known for excellence in undergraduate research and the winners represent the best and brightest Wisconsin has to offer,” said WiSys President Arjun Sanga.

The first, second and third place prizes were sponsored by Boyle Fredrickson, while the Innovation Award was donated by former UW System Regent Tim Higgins.



Joseph Creanza’s presentation “Plant Essential Oils as Natural and Safe Pesticides for the Control of Soybean White Mold Disease” received the highest score from a panel of judges.

“Essential oils extracted from plants are currently being used extensively in organic farming and home gardens to control insect pests. However, the antimicrobial effects of many such essential oils against plant pathogenic fungi have not been extensively characterized. In this study, we tested the effect of six different essential oils for their efficacy in controlling soybean while mold caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiarum,” Creanza wrote about the research project.

Creanza’s faculty advisor is Dr. Muthu Venkateshwaran, associate professor of crop physiology and molecular biology in the School of Agriculture at UW-Platteville.



Maria Arunkumar’s presentation for Build-a-Wedding, a business idea to help couples with the stressful aspects of planning a wedding, took second place.

“Build-a-Wedding cuts through all the noise in the internet and guides you through a comprehensive set of questions to determine exactly what you need. It feeds your answers into an algorithm which provides you with a personalized set of options for vendors that meets all your requirements,” according to Arunkumar.

Arunkumar’s faculty advisor is Ryan Kauth, a lecturer of entrepreneurship for the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business at UW-Green Bay.



UW Oshkosh’s Gabrielle Newman presentation focused on the work of prominent Wisconsin suffragist Ada James, specifically the 1919 speech “The Womanly Woman.”

“James offered a new perspective on womanhood and provided the foundation for what the future of femininity could mean,” according to Newman.

Newman’s faculty advisor is UW Oshkosh Communication Professor Dr. Carmen Heider.



Aaron Ellefson and Cuyler Monahan’s presentation on research to develop a clinical foam to aid in cancer treatments received the Tim Higgins Innovation Award for demonstrating significant innovative, economic and societal impact. 

“The purpose of the project is to investigate various methods and additives to produce a clinical foam and develop practical characterization methods for flexible materials,” according to the project’s abstract.

The students were mentored by faculty advisor UW-Eau Claire Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski and was done in collaboration with Dr. Jeremy McBride, Interventional Radiology, Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire.

The award honors Tim Higgins, a business leader from Appleton and a former member of the UW System Board of Regents. He chaired the Regents’ Research, Economic Development and Innovation Committee and served on the WiSys Advisory Board.

“This project will improve the quality of care for uncounted cancer victims,” said Higgins. “It is a perfect example of how the UW System, in conjunction with strategic partner, WiSys, continually strives to implement the Wisconsin Idea.”


Normally, the event would be held at WiSys’ popular summer in-person symposium--which honors research, innovation and entrepreneurship in the UW System. This year, WiSys is holding many of the symposium’s sessions virtually. 

WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.