Skip to main content

ORCA Grant Recipients

Sierra Pugh and Gavin Collins both received the ORCA Grant this year. BYU’s Office of Research & Creative Activities (ORCA) offers $1,500 grants to undergraduate students doing research that focuses on developing a relationship with a mentor and improving their research skills. Both Sierra and Gavin were working with Dr. Heaton on research projects.

Sierra studied Bronchiolitis (a lung infection commonly found in infants) that is the most common cause of infant hospitalizations in the United States. The only preventative interventions currently available are monthly injections of immunoprophylaxis. However, this treatment is expensive and needs to be administered simultaneously with seasonal bronchiolitis cycles in order to be effective. To increase our understanding of bronchiolitis timing, Sierra’s research focused on identifying seasonal bronchiolitis cycles (start times, peaks, and declinations) throughout the continental United States using data on infant bronchiolitis cases from the US Military Health System. Because this data is highly confidential, the bronchiolitis dates in the dataset were “jittered” in the sense that the recorded dates were randomized within a time window of the true date. Sierra worked with Dr. Heaton on developing novel statistical models to estimate seasonal bronchiolitis cycles while accounting for the jittering in the data. After much effort, they got a working model, and are currently in the process of writing a paper. They will be submitting the paper to Statistics in Medicine.

Sierra said about the experience, “I’m very grateful for my opportunity to work with Dr. Heaton. I have learned so much through the process of research. I learned a lot about spatial statistics and Bayesian methods, neither of which I knew anything about before starting research. Skills I’ve learned from research have helped me in my classes. Additionally, it has been great to have Dr. Heaton as a mentor. He offers to help me understand my classes (even the ones he doesn’t teach), provides encouragement, and he is the reason I applied for the integrated master’s program here. He really takes time for his students and is interested in what they are doing. This ORCA grant provides funding for me to finish the project and continue work with Dr. Heaton this year.”

Gavin’s research focused on the measurement of land surface temperature in the Houston, Texas area. NASA’s satellites orbit the earth and collect information about the environment, which is then used in all types of scientific applications, such as agriculture, epidemiology, and atmospheric science. Two satellites, Aqua and Terra, orbit the earth twice daily, giving four measurements of land surface temperature in the Houston region at different times of day. Dr. Heaton and Gavin’s goal is to fill in the temporal gaps in the data. Cloud cover often blocks the satellites from being able to collect data in some locations for the region in which they are interested. They need to fill in the spatial gaps in the data. They are working to build a model that predicts what the temperature is at all times of day at all locations in the Houston area.

Gavin said of his experience, “when I submitted my ORCA proposal to receive funding for this research, Dr. Heaton and I had done some of work on the problem. We recently submitted a paper detailing what we’ve done so far to an applied stats journal. This preliminary work made writing the proposal relatively easy. The ORCA grant will help us build on our previous work as we try to verify that our temperature predictions are valid and accurate so that they can be used in scientific research. Throughout this whole process, Dr. Heaton has been an outstanding mentor to me. He’s taught me a lot about statistical modeling, and he’s also guided me through plenty of opportunities to develop my writing and presentation abilities. My research experience with him made it possible for me to receive this grant. I’m excited to continue this project with him, and I’m extremely grateful for those who have made this ORCA grant possible for me.