Friday, May 27, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Arba Cecia

My name is Arba Cecia and I am a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience. I started my research journey after I finished high school in Albania. I am currently investigating the social perception of abortion in Kosovo and Greece, and examining the factors that affect its perception; acceptance or rejection.

I am very interested in learning more about the social perception towards different things. My interest towards sociology began when I pursued a male dominated martial art, Taekwondo, in Albania. I was often prejudiced by the society for being the first woman in Albania to get the black belt in Taekwondo. This is when I became interested in learning more about why the society thinks in a particular way and what are the factors that cause that perception.

When I finished high school, I collaborated with Dr. Ridvan Alimehmeti, Dr. Altin Stafa, Dr. Aleksander Kocani, Dr. Dritan Todhe, Dr. Armand Gurakuqi, and Dr. Ramadan Jashari, outstanding physicians in Albania, Italy, and Belgium, to examine the social acceptance of abortion in Albania in 1998 and 2004. We gathered and analyzed data from two major questionnaires conducted in 1998 and 2004. After the paper was published, I became extremely interested in expanding this result outside the borders of Albania, in Kosovo and Greece. My aim is to compare the social acceptance of abortion in Albania with the one in Kosovo and Greece to understand the similarities and differences of the social perception towards abortion between these countries in the Balkan’s peninsula.

On a weekly basis, I skype with the physicians I have collaborated with and meet with my George Mason University mentor, Dr. Reid Schwebach, to discuss and analyze the data. Besides, analyzing the data, I am conducting research about the history and culture of Kosovo and Greece to better understand the results obtained.


Besides the sociology research, I am conducting research to find a correlation between deep brain stimulation and Alzheimer’s disease.

FWS Student Highlights: Steven Chong

Hello, my name is Steven Chong. I’m currently a senior, working with Dr. Carryl Baldwin and her graduate students in Humans Factors psychology lab. Currently, I’m helping her grad students Dan Roberts and Dani Barragan with their project on how mind wandering affects driving performance. In the Human Factors lab, we have two driving simulators, a desktop simulator, where it’s basically like a driving game on a computer (with an actual steering wheel and pedals), and a high-fidelity simulator. The high-fidelity simulator is a replica of a typical sedan: dashboard, car seat, air conditioning, and radio. Inside the simulator are three huge computer monitors to simulate the participant’s field of view while driving in the cab to give a more realistic experience. Also, the cab rotates as you turn the steering wheel. It’s really cool to see in-person, and there should be a picture of it on the main page of the Human Factors website.

On a weekly basis, I attend Dr. Baldwin’s lab meetings, where we talk about upcoming conferences and project updates. I read articles to familiarize myself with the literature and to be aware of the trends that emerge. I also help run participants through the mind wandering study. Furthermore, I’m teaching myself how to use MatLab, which is a program that can perform experimental tasks and analyze the data thereafter.


Being in the OSCAR program, and consequently being around grad students, has taught me a lot about work ethic and maintaining a balanced life. I’ve noticed that there is a huge difference in terms of responsibility and accountability between being and undergraduate and graduate student. For instance, not only do grad students have responsibility in terms of the courses they are taking and an internship/job, but a ton of them are also conducting their own experiments. Surrounding myself with plate jugglers has taught me how important it is to be organized. There are so many things to keep track of that it’s easy to be overwhelmed if you don’t have a clear game plan. But with that being said, because so much persistent work is involved, sufficient rest is important too. Whether it’s hanging out with friends or pursuing other hobbies, it’s really important to get away from those stressors so that you can recover for the next wave of work. Work hard; play hard.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

FWS Student Highlights: Jonathan McCoy


My name is Jonathan McCoy and I’ve been working as an OSCAR Research Assistant for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. I primarily work directly with Jennifer Rosenfeld, the Associate Director of Educational Projects on a number of projects. I also do some work with Kelly Schrum, the Director of Educational Projects, and Chris Preperato, the Multimedia Developer. On a daily basis, I do work on developing and designing course material for the graduate level Digital Public Humanities Graduate Certificate course. Not only that, but I do work on several other programs and outside projects. One upcoming program begins this summer. Graffiti Houses: The Civil War from the Perspective of Individual Soldiers sponsored by CHNM and the National Endowment for the Humanities allows for teachers all across the United States to come together and learn about the Civil War through the drawings and sketches of soldiers in Northern Virginia. On this project I reached out to promote for the program and helped to enter the applications of over 100 potential candidates to be reviewed by Jennifer and the Director of CHNM. With my time at CHNM I have learned a great deal of skills including some coding with HTML and PHP through Omeka and Drupal as well as learning the basics of Wordpress. I believe that these skills will help me to be more marketable to employers in the future and I hope to continue to do great work with CHNM.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FWS Student Highlights: Jessica Viricochea

I am currently assisting Dr. Katharine Destler with her research regarding School Choice and Social Capital, specifically if segregation is affecting charter schools within the United States and why would that be. The tasks I worked on this semester were finding how many authorizers certain school districts have, if those authorizers state any diversity plans for the districts, and if there were any recommended strategies to help diversify public schools and how would it benefit the schools. Dr. Destler complied a list of about 40 United States cities, each containing some school districts. From there I searched by state to see which district has authorizers, how many, and through the authorizers websites I had to explore if they provided/mentioned any methods to aid their schools. On a weekly basis I searched through multiple websites, from the authorizers, and determined whether strategies actually helped their schools within the districts.


One thing I have discovered this week was that some school districts do not state a plan to help make their schools become more diverse because they believe it is unnecessary; some states do not want to acknowledge that segregation may be present. By having the opportunity to become an Undergraduate Research Assistant it has given me the chance to be more aware of certain issues that exist right in front of us. Through this learning experience I was able to broaden my horizon and the tasks that I have done during this semester will benefit me. Working on these projects for Dr. Destler has helped my long-term goals by being able to expand my knowledge regarding state and local school policies. Although my goals do not involve public schools, it is still good to know how important a district can impact a community, and even in a larger scale, how it can affect an entire state.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FWS Student Highlights: Olivia Vita

For my OSCAR work-study I worked with the School of Art on the “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” (AMSSH) project. The project is an international art show created in response to the bombing of a famous bookselling district in Bagdad, Iraq. Artists from all over the world have created books of their art celebrating the diverse cultures from which they came as well as the freedom to read and express. Helen Frederick and Nikki Brugnoli headed up Mason’s participation in this global event. On a weekly basis I worked with one of the art galleries Mason partnered with called McLean Project for the Arts. The artist books created for this project travel to different galleries around the world so throughout late February til the end of March, the DC metro area got a taste.

My work specifically involved helping McLean Project for the Arts bring bookmaking workshops into local schools in senior center. The idea was to encourage expression and celebrate diversity through storytelling. This looked like trying out different paper-folding and bookmaking techniques as well as brainstorming what would work for each group ranging in age and ability levels. I also helped with in-gallery tours elementary schools took at MPA and made a short film showing the work and faces of all the different communities we spent time with.

I am currently a Social Justice major through New Century College in GMU and am interested in exploring the personal aspects of local and global issues, ie. how each person makes up the big picture and what lasting positive change looks like. From an academic standpoint, this project was perfect for that in that it took a traumatic event from overseas, explored it personally, and made it into a celebration of culture creating hope for the future. This project also subtly tackled the Western issue of associating Middle Easterners and Muslims with terrorism and made the focus sharing of culture and art. From a more personal standpoint, it was amazing in that it’s really beautiful to see people proud of something they make, plus I met great people and learned a lot.