Academics People and Community

U-LINK awards two graduate students with predoctoral fellowships

Malena Price and Sergio Lemus Orellana are recipients of the 2023 U-LINK Predoctoral Fellowship, an opportunity that allows graduate students to pursue interdisciplinary research projects alongside faculty members from at least two different areas of expertise.
Predoctoral fellows
Malena Price and Sergio Lemus Orellana 2023 U-LINK Predoctoral Fellowships.

U-LINK, or the University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge, furthered its commitment to enhancing innovative research projects that tackle issues aligning with the Roadmap To Our New Century initiative by recently selecting two Ph.D. candidates to receive their Predoctoral Fellowship. 

The 2023 awardees are Malena Price from the Department of Psychology and Sergio Lemus Orellana from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The program is intended for exceptional graduate students devoted to civic and community engagement to tackle complex challenges of society with problem-based interdisciplinary research. 

Price and Lemus Orellana each identified two University faculty advisors from two distinct disciplines to aid them in their individual projects that they hope will one day help make the world a better place. 

Exploring obesity’s effects on energy consumption 

A graduate mechanical engineering student Lemus Orellana has been interested in movement in the human body since he was a child. He naturally gravitated to sports and excelled in soccer at Queens University of Charlotte, located in North Carolina, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics. 

His research project, “The Role of Obesity in Physiological Stress and Proprioception During Repetitive Manual Material Handling Tasks,” aims to explore the effects of obesity on energy consumption as it exceeds physiological limits during a repeated carrying task. The project also will focus on quantifying the knee proprioception change when a defined physiological threshold is surpassed during a carrying task. 

“Being able to have my background in sports and an undergraduate background in physics and math, when I got in contact with my current advisor, Francesco Travascio, we really connected in terms of those topics,” said Lemus Orellana. “Being able to use our knowledge and our expertise to be able to help others find a solution to their problem is most important to me.” 

Alongside Travascio, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Lemus Orellana also will be advised by Eduard Tiozzo, a research assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. 

“Their expertise combined will provide significant support to my research,” said Lemus Orellana regarding the study, which applies principles of human body mechanics to analyze the design of manual handling tasks for the obese population. 

Lemus Orellana, who hails from Santiago, Chile, said he is grateful to be given such a prestigious award that will ultimately help others. 

“To have this opportunity to be able to continue my research being completely funded by U-LINK takes some weight off of my shoulders and gives me the opportunity to completely focus on the work,” he said. 

Evaluating the effects of mindfulness-based dance movement therapy on mental health  

Price has been a dancer since age 3, and her passion for movement has led her to this “pheromonal opportunity,” she said. 

Her project, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Mindfulness-based Dance Movement Therapy for Improving College Student Mental Health,” tackles the urgent and pressing issue, based on published research, of decreased mental health in students following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The study introduces a mindfulness-based variant of dance movement therapy course as an innovative, curricular solution to assist students who may be struggling with psychological challenges, such as anxiety and depression. It specifically aims to evaluate the impact of mindfulness-based dance movement therapy classes, compared to traditional dance classes, such as ballet, during an academic semester. The project will determine if there are protective effects of mindfulness-based dance movement therapy on the mental health of students. 

With guidance from her advisors Amishi Jha, professor of psychology and director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, and Carol Kaminsky, senior lecturer and the dance program coordinator at the Frost School of Music, Price said this opportunity couldn’t be more perfect for her. 

“U-LINK really espouses this notion that ‘multiple disciplines are better than one’ for developing impact-driven solutions to target pressing societal issues,” said Price, who will defend her dissertation proposal this fall. “I really don’t think there is another fellowship that is as impact-focused and generous as U-LINK.” 

“This is making it possible for me to focus on my research and not worry about having to work other graduate student positions to receive funding,” said Price. “I can really give this 100 percent of my efforts because U-LINK has provided me and others with these funds.”