campus news

PEARL Award recognizes experiential learning

From left, Matthew Faytak, Nicholas Mori, Mahmud Amin, Adhav Narayana, Anya Wansha and Praveen Arany.

Mentors Matthew Faytak (far left) and Praveen Arany (far right) flank (from left) PEARL Award recipients Nicholas Mori and Mahmud Amin, and Amin team members Adhav Narayana and Anya Wansha. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Undergraduate English major

Published February 14, 2024

“ELN has offered me an invaluable opportunity to take my linguistic research to the next level through practical, hands-on experience. ”
Nicholas Mori, senior Spanish and linguistics major, and recipient

UB students Mahmud Amin and Nicholas Mori are the first recipients of a PEARL Award, a new grant of up to $2,500 given by UB’s Experiential Learning Network (ELN) to help students gain valuable experience in their field.

PEARL (Prepare, Engage, Add value, Reflect and Leverage) awards recognize undergraduate juniors and seniors who have partnered with a faculty mentor and completed a necessary digital badge for their project. 

“We are so excited to add the PEARL award to our ELN funding programs,” says Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning. “It has been amazing to see how UB undergraduate students are leveraging their experiential learning to support their academic and professional goals. The PEARL awards will allow students to go even further, immersing themselves in mentored projects and making meaningful contributions to their respective fields.”

Amin, a junior biological sciences major, and Mori, a senior Spanish and linguistics major, will receive funding to support their research projects and publications.

“This year’s recipients showcase the amazing work of our many faculty-mentored undergraduate projects,” notes Ann Bisantz, dean of undergraduate education. “We are looking forward to learning about how our students build upon the work they have done through the use of the PEARL awards.”

Amin’s PEARL funding will support development and publication of a research paper.  

“My team and I are elated to receive the PEARL award, which serves as a testament to the recognition of our project’s unique contribution to the scientific field,” Amin says. “We are grateful for the support provided by UB in nurturing our academic pursuits.”

Since his first year at UB in 2020, Amin has worked alongside his mentor, Praveen Arany, associate professor of oral biology, School of Dental Medicine, studying the preservation of cells and development of stem cells to provide insight into medical developments for an aging population.

Amin is exploring ways to use novel biotechnology to prevent dental diseases that necessitate root canals. Additional members of this team include senior Anya Wansha and junior Adhav Narayanan, both in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.   

Arany calls Mahmud “a dedicated lab fellow” who “has shown maturity beyond his years in contributing to the lab operations.”

“He has been very enthusiastic about contributing to the lab activities and has been an excellent resource for current and new personnel in the lab,” Arany says. “He embodies the true essence of the ELN in undergraduate education.”

Mori and his mentor, Matthew Faytak, assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics, College of Arts and Sciences, are researching the Kom language of Cameroon. The PEARL grant will support Mori’s travel to Cameroon, where he will collect data on local languages and attend a linguistics conference.

“This is going to be a priceless learning experience, where I can equip myself with the principles and methods of linguistic fieldwork and gain a holistic comprehension of linguistics beyond the confines of classroom learning,” Mori says. “I intend to share my academic interests and work with others, learn from their research, and network with Cameroonian scholars and peers, fostering intellectual growth and academic collaboration across national borders.” 

Mori, who has been working alongside Faytak for more than a year, has taken part in his mentor’s larger ELN project, “Speech Sounds of Grassfields Languages,” contributing to construction and annotation of an audio collection of proverbs and sayings in Kom.

“ELN has offered me an invaluable opportunity to take my linguistic research to the next level through practical, hands-on experience,” Mori adds. “This embodies my dedication to linguistic research and motivates me to delve even deeper into the field.”

Mori presented this work alongside Faytak last June at the 54th Annual Conference in African Linguistics. Currently, Faytak is mentoring Mori in an independent-study course in linguistics, where he is developing a lab-based, speech-production experiment on his native language of Japanese. 

“Nick is a rare undergraduate student with the motivation, disposition and natural ability for long-term success in his chosen field — a field he has chosen early. I have the utmost confidence that Nick will complete the activities he proposes in his application for the PEARL Award,” Faytak says. “His research question is well-defined, scientifically interesting and builds on his previous ELN experience.”

Mori says receiving the PEARL Award means his hard work in academia has been recognized and acknowledged by UB.

“I applied for this award because the academic community of linguistics is pretty small and too often neglected, compared to other fields of study,” he says. “I wanted to show that linguistics is an amazing academic discipline that transcends theoretical work and explores language — our primary communication medium — within its cultural, social and historical context in its natural settings.”

ELN continues to support student projects throughout the year through other project and conference funding opportunities; applications for funding can be submitted here, with the next deadline on April 3.