Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Four students win fall honors to pursue academic inquiry within Moody College

Last fall, four Moody College students won Undergraduate Research Fellowships (URF) that provide up to $1,000 to conduct a research project: Isabel Dunn, Elizabeth Haynie, Elise LeBovidge and Ling Zhong.

Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research with support from the academic colleges, the fellowships are intended to cover costs associated with research projects proposed and written by student applicants and undertaken with the supervision of a faculty member.

The spring 2018 URF deadline is Monday, Jan. 22. Students conducting independent research are invited to learn more about the award including the application process, eligibility, writing tips and access to the online application. There is more about other sources for student research funding on the scholarships page.

Highlighted as examples, the four Moody College student projects spanned a variety of communication fields and provided students with in-depth research experiences.


Isabel Dunn

Phonographs were a technology that shaped the twentieth century and have a continued relevance for collectors and enthusiasts. To explore the appeal, Dunn is directing, producing and editing a documentary short that explores a subculture of audiophiles in Austin that collect phonographs and other turn-of-the-century analog sound technology.

Dunn’s piece immerses viewers in the analog listening experience and reflects on what draws each of her subjects to analog listening. She plans to present her piece as a multiscreen video installation, either on the UT Austin campus or at a local Austin gallery. In spring 2018, Dunn will be writing an accompanying academic thesis that situates the documentary in the existing canon of film and scholarship concerning depictions of music, sound, listening and analog technologies.

As a senior undergraduate double-majoring in the Department of Radio-Television-Film and Plan II Honors Program, Dunn will be completing the interdisciplinary project for her honor’s thesis under the guidance of co-advisors Professor Nancy Schiesari, Associate Professor Lalitha Gopalan and second reader Teresa Hubbard from the Department of Art and Art History.


Elizabeth Haynie
As a senior majoring in political communication studies, Haynie is interested in studying how automated communication can improve the functioning of government. Her project, “Managing Expectations in the Context is Chatbots,” is examining strategies for improving the on-boarding process of chatbot users.

Haynie said that by improving user satisfaction with chatbots, more people will use them and benefit from the immediate, personalized answers they can provide. Last November, she attended the National Communication Association Conference in Dallas to learn about publishing opportunities and will graduate in May of 2018. She has interned for Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Larry Taylor and worked on the startup SpaceCadet.


Elise LeBovidge
While not a communication major, LeBovidge got involved with the Moody College two summers ago by joining Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Associate Professor Bharath Chandrasekaran’s Sound Braom Lab. A senior studying chemistry and linguistics, she will be investigating speech auditory processing and how humans learn new speech sound categories, such as when learning a foreign language.

For her honors thesis, LeBovidge is exploring the connection between speech perception and speech production in respect to Mandarin Chinese and will conduct electroencephalograms (EEGs) to index how well the brain can lock onto the complex auditory cues of Mandarin tone. Participants in the study will also be asked to imitate Mandarin words while a machine-learning algorithm rates their production accuracy.

Part of the thesis explores if online “pitch” feedback can help non-native speakers improve their production of Mandarin tone, hoping to shed light on techniques for language learning. LeBovidge is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in speech and hearing sciences.


Ling Zhong
In an effort to help non-native English speakers improve their ability to understand speech, Zhong is investigating how contextual cues affect native English speakers and non-native English speakers’ speech perception under quiet and noisy conditions.

The study includes two groups of participants with native English speakers and native Chinese speakers.

Speech-in-noise perception is challenging for anyone, but non-native speakers have greater difficulty using lexical and phonological information in speech than do native speakers. Zhong’s project is being conducted under the supervision of Associate Professor Chang Liu.

To learn more about the spring semester URF awards and hear tips for writing an application, attend an information session on Tuesday, Jan. 16 or Wednesday, Jan. 17 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in FAC 328.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer