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Briggsies chosen to present research on Capitol Hill

May 4, 2021 - LBC Communications

Grace Bonnema is a rising senior, majoring in human biology, and Tushya Mehta is a rising senior, majoring in biology in LBC, neuroscience in the College of Natural Science, and German in the College of Arts & Letters. Both are members of the Honors College

Screenshot of Grace Bonnema and Tushya Mehta on ZoomTwo MSU undergraduate students — Grace Bonnema and Tushya Mehta  — were selected to present their research at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2021 Posters on the Hill event April 27-28, 2021.

This annual event celebrates student researchers, providing them the opportunity to showcase their exemplary research and advocate for undergraduate research on Capitol Hill. This year, 60 undergraduate researchers were selected from hundreds of applicants to present their research to members of Congress, congressional staffers, federal government officials, academics and others.

Bonnema and Mehta presented their poster, “Narrative Processing of Music: How Culture Influences Our Perception of Music,” at the two-day, virtual event.

“It’s a big deal to speak to representatives and government officials about the research we’ve been doing here,” said Bonnema, who is a junior majoring in human biology in Lyman Briggs College. “We’re very passionate about it, so I think it’s going to be a really exciting thing to share with people.”

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and highlights the connection between music, neuroscience and narrative cognition. It examines a phenomenon that explains how people use narratives to understand and interpret music and how different cultures piece together different narratives based on the same music piece.

“When different cultures listen to the same music piece, their perceptions of it can differ,” said Mehta, who is a junior majoring in biology in Lyman Briggs College, neuroscience in the College of Natural Science and German in the College of Arts and Letters. “We have a few narratives where we see that a music piece makes some from one country feel happy and positive but make others from a different county feel sad, angry or remorseful.”

The pair began working on the poster last year, studying thousands of narratives written by at least 200 participants, Mehta said. 

And they didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic slow them down. Only meeting in person a few times before the shutdowns began last March, the two successfully adjusted to the challenge of completing their research online via Zoom. 

“It’s a whole different experience being online,” Bonnema said. “I’m grateful we’ve continued doing research, but it’s also kind of sad we can’t all be together.”

Bonnema and Mehta completed this research through the College of Arts and Letters’ Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab, which welcomes students across all colleges to work on projects surrounding literature, cognitive science and digital humanities including novel reading, the neuroaesthetics of poetry and narrative responses to music.  

The pair say the lab allows them to spearhead interesting projects with mentors guiding them through the process.

“Our professors train us so well,” Mehta said. “And then, they leave us in this place where we have to think for ourselves, make posters and do research. That’s the best part of our lab and this research.”

For more information about the Council on Undergraduate Research’s Posters on the Hill 2021 event, visit cur.org.

“The Honors College is very proud of Tushya and Grace for their success in undergraduate research and we wish them luck at their presentation,” said Matthew Zierler, interim dean at MSU’s Honors College. “They exemplify one of the key goals of the Honors College – to empower students to explore scholarly interests in a systemic and sustained way.”

Piece written by RiAn Jackson and originally posted on MSUToday