Mueller wins UW-Platteville’s WiSys Quick Pitch @ Home competition

Dana Mueller, a senior psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, recently won the university’s WiSys Quick Pitch @ Home competition.

WiSys Quick Pitch competitions are held at UW System institutions statewide each spring, and are designed to inspire UW System students from all academic disciplines to communicate their research, along with its broader impact, to a panel of judges – or this year, an internal committee at WiSys – in three minutes or less. This year, four students from UW-Platteville and 70 students across the UW System comprehensive campuses competed in their individual campus Quick Pitch events. 

Mueller will receive a $300 award and a chance to enter the WiSys Quick Pitch State Final @ Home system-wide competition, which will likely be held virtually in early June.

Typically, students compete at in-person campus-level competitions, but due to the global pandemic COVID-19, WiSys transformed the program into an online, virtual competition to ensure all students had the opportunity to compete.

Students registered for Quick Pitch in early May, met virtually with a WiSys representative for training, then recorded a three-minute quick pitch video that was judged by an internal committee at WiSys.

In her pitch, Mueller discussed her research on dopamine and utilitarian moral judgment. The main goal of her research, which she has been working on for more than a year-and-a-half, was to examine whether dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward processing and movement, or religiosity predicted utilitarian moral judgment.

She also shared that while she did not find a relationship between dopamine and utilitarian moral judgment or between religiosity and utilitarian moral judgment, she is excited to do more reading and run follow-up exploratory analysis to better understand the results.

Mueller said preparing for, and competing in, Quick Pitch was an exciting hands-on learning experience.

While preparing for the competition, I enjoyed learning new techniques to communicate my findings in a way that was easier to understand than my typical elevator pitch,” she said. “Furthermore, I enjoyed that the competition pushed me to decide what the most important aspects of my research were to share, with only having three minutes or less to present.”

“Dana has invested a huge amount of time and energy into this project,” said Dr. Kameko Halfmann, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Platteville and Mueller’s advisor. “She saw this project through, from start to finish, and now she is taking it to the next level by translating her work for various audiences. I can't think of anyone who deserves the award more.”

“Taking over a year’s worth of research and condensing that into three minutes is a difficult task,” noted Halfmann. “Dana did a great job of focusing on the applications of her work and distilling her research for a broad audience.”

Will Hoyer, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UW-Platteville, agreed, adding, “Dana is one of those students who has taken full advantage of the undergraduate research opportunities that we offer here on campus. Kudos to her for that. Being able to describe her research and its value so clearly and succinctly will serve her well as she moves on from UW-Platteville.”

Mueller said dealing with the global pandemic COVID-19 meant being adaptable and innovative in the Quick Pitch competition and in all areas of her education.

“For the Quick Pitch competition, it was challenging to present without an audience,” she said. “I was fortunate to be able to practice presenting to my sister. Overall, it has been rewarding to see all that can still be accomplished when we work together, even if meetings and events cannot be held in person.”

“Everyone on campus has been forced to adapt to our new normal since March,” said Hoyer. “Students like Dana have led the way and made the most of the situation.”

Mueller said everything she learned during the elevator pitch experience helped prepare her for research presentations she will give this fall as she pursues a Ph.D. in psychology in the cognitive and brain sciences tract at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“In graduate school, I will be asked to present during meetings, in everyday conversations and in formal settings,” she said. “The Quick Pitch competition has helped me realize that there are so many different ways to explain what I do for research and that my explanation can be modified, depending on my audience.”

After she earns a Ph.D., Mueller plans to teach at a university and continue to do research.

“I want the chance to inspire other students to participate in research in the same way that I have been inspired,” she said.

In March, Mueller presented her research at the 17th annual Research in the Rotunda in the Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin. The research was funded by the university’s Undergraduate Research Scholarly and Creative Activity Scholarship and the Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program. 

WiSys is an independent, nonprofit organization for the UW System whose mission is to support the creation and transfer of innovations from the UW System to the marketplace. The WiSys Quick Pitch State Final @ Home competition will feature live pitches, judging, additional prizes and an announcement of the overall winner, who will take home $700.