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Wendi Sapp

Institution/Organization: University of South Dakota

Department: Chemistry

Academic Status: Graduate Student

What conference theme areas are you interested in (check all that apply):

Data Analytics and Visualization
Data-Driven Modeling and Prediction
Scientific Software and High-Performance Computing


My research interests have been varied over the time that I have been an active researcher. I first began synthesizing nanomaterials for dental applications. Then I became interested in computational chemistry, which I used to evaluate materials for their photovoltaic properties. But my most recent endeavor is something quite different. I have begun a new project for my dissertation which focuses on identifying the mechanism that governs the blood-brain barrier’s permeability as it relates to nanomedicines being used to deliver drugs to the brain. The ability to develop drugs to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s is drastically slowed by the inability to deliver those drugs directly to the central nervous system. The key to solving this problem lies in understanding the functions of the blood-brain barrier. My project focuses on data-driven predictive techniques to identify variables that affect nanomaterials’ abilities to cross the blood-brain barrier.

My academic interests are primarily focused on filling in the computational gaps in my knowledge. So much of my research computing skills were learned haphazardly. Additionally, my previous work has heavily relied on “black-box” software packages. To remedy this, I am attempting to select courses that will help me to think like a computer scientist.

Non-Work Related Activities:

When I am outside of the classroom or lab, I try to be involved on campus. The limited free time that graduate students historically have sometimes makes that a challenge. I am currently focusing my energy on two fronts: Women in STEM and Graduate Students.

I recently founded a Women in STEM organization on my campus. We have very active members and I spend my time developing content for meetings and identifying opportunities for students that will enrich their time at the university. Our main objective is to launch a mentoring program in the spring semester. So far, we have successfully paired undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in our “focus group.”

Graduate students face a different set of challenges when compared to undergraduate students. My university has innumerable resources for undergraduates, but not for graduate students. In my role as the Graduate Student Representative on the University’s Graduate Council, I can be an advocate for the needs of the graduate students. We are currently working toward addressing health insurance and conference funding options.

I also am the web developer for our Research Computing Group. I also assist in the coordination and delivery of HPC workshops across campus with that group. Outside of campus, I can often be found playing fetch with my dogs or at the local archery range.