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Devon Mares, Jordan Cioni recognized for research communication skills during the WiSys Quick Pitch @ UW-River Falls

Devon Mares, left, and Jordan Cioni, right, hold up their winner certificates after being recognized for their presentations in the WiSys Quick Pitch @ UW-River Falls (Photo courtesy of Pat Deninger, Media Specialist, UW-River Falls, University Communications and Marketing).

RIVER FALLS—UW-River Falls students Devon Mares and Jordan Cioni were recognized for their research communication skills in the WiSys Quick Pitch @ UW-River Falls on March 1.

The student “pitch” competition inspires UW System students to consider the impact of their research and effectively communicate it to the public. Students have three minutes to impress a panel of judges with their pitch.

PHOTOS: 2023 WiSys Quick Pitch @ UW-River Falls 

Mares, a senior, earned first place and a $300 cash prize for the presentation “Creating a Biocontrol Agent for Zebra Mussels.” 

The research project focuses on controlling zebra mussel populations by genetically engineering algae to be toxic to zebra mussels, but not to any other species. The mussel species originates from the lakes of southern Russia and Ukraine, but has been accidentally introduced to numerous other areas and has become an invasive species in many countries worldwide. The new algae strain could serve as a pesticide for zebra mussels and eradicate their population in water bodies where they are not wanted.

Mare’s faculty mentor is UW-River Falls Professor of Chemistry and Biotechnology Dr. Ross Jilk. 

The win gives Mares the opportunity to represent UW-River Falls in the WiSys Quick Pitch State Finals during the WiSys SPARK Symposium at UW Oshkosh, Aug. 6-8.

In addition to taking first place in the competition, Mares also won the event’s People’s Choice Award that was voted on by attendees.


Cioni, also a senior, won the second place prize of $125 for the presentation “The Double Gyroid Composite: A Shock Absorbing Innovation.”

This research addresses the need for shock-absorbing materials with load-bearing capabilities. Using conventional materials, shock-absorbing behaviors are obtained at the cost of overall strength. A new engineered material that is being researched is resolving this tradeoff and introducing new possibilities for safer football helmets and earthquake-resilient building foundations.

Cioni’s faculty mentor is UW-River Falls Physics Professor Dr. Lowell McCann.

Overall five students participated in this year’s WiSys Quick Pitch @ UW-River Falls. Other “pitchers” included:

  • Emma Hamilton, “Evaluation of Tissue Depths of Cadaver Heads from Physically Castrated Market Barrows and Immunocastrated Boars.”
  • Michelle Stangler, “The Effectiveness of Agriculture Podcasting.”
  • Lilianna Rolands, “Isolation of Jumbo Bacteriophages.”

In order to participate in WiSys Quick Pitch, students must complete a training and mentorship session with WiSys and campus leaders. These sessions help students craft their presentation and instill confidence. 

All participating students receive the WiSys Research Communication badge to denote their newly developed skill. The digital credential may be added to the students’ resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

The event took place in the Trimbelle Room of the University Center. The judges for the competition were:

  • Dr. Jeff Cernohous, Chief Operating Officer and Member, Interfacial, a Nagase Company.
  • Dr. Molly Gerrish, Professor of Teacher Education and Director of Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity, UW-River Falls.
  • Dr. David Travis, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success, UW-River Falls.


As a nonprofit organization supporting research, innovation and entrepreneurship at Wisconsin’s regional public universities, WiSys set out to develop a program to incentivize and train student researchers to share their work to a lay audience including the public, mentors and policymakers.

WiSys first piloted the program at UW-Eau Claire in 2014. Since then, the program has been expanded to 10 other UW System institutions. The winners from the institutional competitions compete at the statewide finals held at WiSys’ annual summer symposium. Through the program, more than 80 students receive research communication training and experience each year. Nearly 500 UW System student researchers have participated since 2014.

The program’s objectives include:

  • Encouraging student researchers to recognize the value of their work.
  • Providing students tools for effectively communicating their research to the public without jargon.
  • Highlighting the depth and breadth of student research taking place at public universities.
  • Promoting information sharing to create new opportunities or collaborations.
  • Celebrating student work and accomplishments.

For more information about the WiSys Quick Pitch Program, visit

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.