Thursday, October 31, 2013

URSP Student Justin Sellman Learns about Biomedical Coordination During Parallel Bar Swing Training

My project is to use the computer simulation OpenSim and take motion data to calculate muscle excitations for certain movements. The goal is then to refine the model in order to compare and match it to data recorded from an EMG device. Originally I was working on this project over the summer under the SURE program for bioengineers. Over the summer the OpenSim model was used only to calculate Inverse Kinematics and Inverse Dynamics for motion data. Now the goal is to advance the same model in order to calculate more data. Long-term I hope that this experience will open more doors to more research opportunities.

A weekly basis I write and modify various types of code in order to take kinematic data given by a sensorimotor robot and map it in to OpenSim. This includes analyzing large sets of data, and writing XML scripts that are updated via Matlab and fed into OpenSim. Next OpenSim feeds calculated data back into Matlab for analyzing. This past week I learned to take the recorded velocity of an arm movement and the maximum force applied by the robot and calculate the exact force of the robot at the testers hand. This will allow me to better calculate muscle excitations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

URSP Student Evelyn Seay Uses the Prose Poem as Narrative and Lyric Intersection

I became interested in my prose poetry subject through course my mentor, Eric Pankey, offers by that name. I first heard about it through one of his former MFA students and the idea of poetry in paragraph form was so strange that I knew I had to try it for myself. While beginning the project, I thought that simply defining prose poetry and writing some poems would not be enough. So, I added a thematic element and the goal to create a small chapbook.

The theme came to me through family history. I am distantly related to a famous imagist poet, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) since her daughter, Perdita, married my great-uncle. I became curious about my connection with these famous women and began asking my grandmother and mother questions about our relatives.

My endeavors were met with conflicting information. For example, my Grandmother remembered that my Great Uncle Johnny and Perdita’s editing business in New York mostly worked with cook books. Through his obituary in the NY Times, I found that he did edit books for James Beard, an extremely famous chef. He also edited for Ray Bradbury, who wrote Fahrenheit 451. Needless to say, my impressions of Uncle Johnny changed pretty quickly. Amazed with how memory changes family history, I knew that this family history and memory element would serve as the joining thread for my prose poetry project.

To make the project successful, I am reading anything I can get my hands on. In addition to poetry and prose poetry, I am researching other related documents, such as photographs and letters, every week. Along with works by H.D. and Perdita Schaffner, I am reading poets who have undertaken projects with similar themes and techniques. I write 2-4 poems every week and work on editing.

At project’s end, I hope to have a chapbook-length manuscript, about 20 pages. In a very competitive pool of Masters of Fine Arts hopefuls, this kind of project will help set me apart from other students, whether or not I get published. On a deeper, more personal level, this is helping my writing tremendously. The process reminds me why I love poetry and gives me intellectual energy every week.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

URSP Student Ariel Smith Researches Pathways to Young Adulthood Status Attainment

      The transition from adolescence into adulthood sparked my interest due to its prevalence in my own life. As I learn more about the variables effecting a successful transition, I find myself comparing the results to my own upbringing and personality traits. This not only makes the process of gathering research interesting, but also reflective. Although the specific research of adolescent development isn’t necessarily applicable to my future, the knowledge I am gaining of the process of research will certainly be applicable to in any aspect of life.

     In any field of study I choose to pursue, research skills will be valuable. Being able to sort through the mass of information made readily available from the internet is a very necessary skill in our technology-based society today. Even more importantly, being able to apply the information discovered is a highly valuable skill to have in any career I may choose. Each week so far I have been practicing the skill of determining relevant and reliable information. Using The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health’s database and Proquest, I read, list supporting and contrasting clauses, and also find gaps relevant to my research. Pooling this information helps justify and support my research. At the end of the week, I meet with my mentor, Professor Mahatmya and two peers also researching social science topics. We discuss the progress we’ve made and point out additional information needed to actually perform our research.

      This week, I was able to create a visual representation of the variables I’m researching, the paths they take, and the overall topic I hope to conclude about. Specifically, the graph helps show the extent of an adolescent’s family education, expectations, and familial warmth on the internal processes of aspirations, school engagement, and cognitive personality and how it ultimately leads to educational attainment and different personal perceptions of this attainment while transitioning into adulthood. Overall, this research is not only an experience I look forward to participating in, but also it adds to the current knowledge on the subject of adolescent development.

Monday, October 28, 2013

URSP Student Brittany Owen Examines the Sociological Factors that Contribute to the Use of Racial and Ethnic Humor in College Students

     Racial and ethnic humor has always been fascinating to me as it is a microinteraction that can carry so much weight – either as light or disparaging humor. People often claim that humor is in the eye of the beholder, and while this may be true, humor has been shown to reinforce stereotypes and create a norm for prejudice to be released . Humor also has a great deal of potential to harm the butt of the joke. So, when is a joke “just a joke”? 

      On a weekly basis, my schedule varies quite a bit. I am taking both Honors in Sociology and UNIV 495, so my project counts as 6 credits – and has a workload to match. The past few weeks, I have been preparing IRB documents, contacting different schools’ offices, and allotting funding for supplies and stipends – a lot of administrative stuff. Once I have IRB approval, I will start my focus groups, analyze the data, and apply it to a survey questionnaire I’ll be piloting in the winter. 

      I’ve discovered this week how much work goes on behind the scenes of a project. In a published paper, you don’t read about the hours and hours someone spent connecting contacts from different offices, allotting funding, or training co-facilitators. It may sound corny, but I’ve also found that collaborating can be a rich and rewarding experience – other people can be your best sounding board and support system. 

     Next year I will be applying to PhD programs in Sociology and possibly Economics across the country. I am interested in a wide variety of topics across social life, but so far cultural studies, such as humor transactions, have a special place in my heart – and my funny bone.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

URSP Student Lela Ross Assesses the Conflict Resolution Skills of First and Fifth Graders in Fairfax County Public Elementary Schools

      Upon learning about the Students as Scholars program at Mason as a freshman, I knew that I wanted to apply for this excellent opportunity to receive funding for my own research project. I was uncertain about what I wanted to research, but I certainly knew that if I left GMU without at least applying for the grant, I would regret it. By the time I entered my sophomore year, I started brainstorming possible project topics pertaining to my academic interests, such as conflict resolution and foreign policy. Despite all of the ideas that I had, none of them stood out to me as a project that I really wanted to pursue. Finally, one day last spring, I decided that I was going to ask my professor, Al Fuertes, if he would be my faculty mentor for the project. I had not developed a project objective nor had I considered revisiting any of the ideas that I had formulated the previous year. Before I could change my mind, I made the suggestion to Dr. Fuertes, who agreed to serve as my mentor. That was it – I was applying for the OSCAR grant, Dr. Fuertes would be my mentor, and he had requested that I send him an outline of my project as soon as I could. I had some work to do. 

     That evening, I started drafting my research question, project activities, a list of potential participants, and other important components of the project. Despite all of the brainstorming that I had done the year before, I finally created an objective that I found to be valuable and relevant to my interests – assessing the conflict resolution skills of first and fifth grade students. I would hold a workshop for each age group to determine how they respond to conflict through a variety of hypothetical scenarios as well as an assessment of how they perceive conflict before and after participating in my workshop. The results would be used to encourage schools to adopt similar workshops as preliminary conflict resolution training. My long-term goal is to help transform schools into safer institutions for students by exposing them to positive skills as early in life as possible.

     Once I found out last May that I was a recipient of the OSCAR grant, Dr. Fuertes and I have been striving to put my project into action. During the summer, I worked on the major details of the project and had them approved by GMU’s Institutional Review Board. Now, a typical week consists of reaching out to schools to extend an invitation to their students to participate, finalizing the content in the consent forms and letters to the parents, and adding the finishing touches to the activities and questionnaires for each grade level. My workshops are scheduled for October and they have generated a lot of interest from local schools. Although I have not conducted my study yet, every week I discover something new about the subjective nature of research and the process of planning and implementing a project. Since May, I have revised the content for my workshops multiple times, changed the venue of my study, and considered including other age groups in the research. I appreciate every change that has been made to my project whether it was one that I made myself or one that occurred inevitably because they will help me learn more from my research than I could have hoped.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

URSP Student Kelsey Ryan Creates A Traffic Network Vulnerability and Evacuation Strategy Study Supported by a Dynamic Flooding Model

     The summer after my freshman year I had an internship in Ballston, Virginia. My commute to work every day took over an hour and included a car ride to the bus stop, a 45 minute bus ride, a 10 minute metro ride, and finally a 10 minute walk. This was my first real exposure to public transportation and I was quickly met with the frustrations of Northern Virginia traffic. Ever since, I have been interested in the transportation networks in the local area.

     My research this semester looks into evacuation planning based on flooding models in the eastern shore region of Maryland. When a disastrous event occurs, such as a hurricane, it is imperative that emergency personnel are able to coordinate optimal evacuation routes so that people can reach safety as quickly as possible. This past week, I spent time learning about Wardrop’s Principle of traffic user equilibrium. In 1956, an economist, Martin Beckmann, developed an equivalent mathematical problem to Wardrop’s Principle. This mathematical problem was translated into an algorithm that is used today in many network models to determine user equilibrium and system optimal evacuation routes for a network. The next step is to modify this algorithm so that it inputs current flooding data, thereby making the model dynamic. Hurricane landfall is a dynamic process, and the impact zone and network integrity evolve as the event develops. Therefore, the evacuation plan and route guidance need to change as the hurricane makes landfall.

      As a civil engineer, we are faced with new challenges every day. The changing global climate has increased the frequency of extreme weather, and these events put added stress on our already deteriorating infrastructure. Roads can be flooded, bridges can be impassable, and the safe evacuation of all people is the number one priority in these events. In my future career, I will be faced with these sorts of challenges on a daily basis, and research will pave the way for new solutions to these problems.

Friday, October 25, 2013

URSP Student Ed Martin Designs an HIV mini-game for deeper understanding of HIV cell biology

      I became interested in this project while I was studying game design last semester, and Dr. Kauffman, one of my previous professors, mentioned a project another student was looking to complete this semester on the subject of creating a game to teach essential HIV concepts. I felt it was a great opportunity to apply what I had learned in my game design class, while learning a lot about the biology involved.

      This project related to my long-term goals in that I see it helping me two-fold, in relation to my career, and academic agenda. As with any major project, the experience and results of this research project will be a great addition to my resume, and to prepare for a position which requires much research, creation and analysis. I am also very interested in earning a Graduate degree in a few years after starting my career and, although perhaps not quite as intense as some of the Graduate programs, this research opportunity will assist in preparation.

      On a weekly basis my project involves another person, including myself, in the creation and research. I work with Hyun Sung, who is studying Neuroscience here at Mason. She focuses on the depth of the biology, and her research assists in the 'gameifying' of the subject material, while I focus mostly on game design. We meet each week to discuss topics such as a storyboard for the game, clarification on particular design elements and specifics in biology. In addition, each week I continue work toward a finished game which, when played, will teach the essential information pertaining to HIV. This past week I’ve focused on finalizing the decision on a game engine for a web-based game. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered how difficult it can be to find the right material, tool, or information to fit in the research puzzle. But that’s part of what makes it research. And sometimes, the researcher must create their own tools for the task.