Friday, February 24, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Julizza Canales Helps Latino Children and Their Families in Fairfax Combat Childhood Obesity

I have been working on the Child Health Exercise and Wellness (CHEW) Intervention Program that the Nutrition Department at Mason has been running since January 2016.  I was able to see the study go from the early stages when it was still going through IRB approval, to personally having to call potential participants to recruit and screen them for the study, to now in December where we are wrapping up the study by conducting the final 6 month assessment visits.

What got me interested in this study is that it was created to help Latino children and their families in Fairfax combat childhood obesity. Being Latina and majoring in community health, I know that Latinos are at higher risk of becoming overweight/obese. When I heard that my nutrition professor, Dr. Sina Gallo, needed someone who could speak Spanish and was interested in helping the Latino community, I jumped at the opportunity. It is great being able to give back to my community and help provide them with resources that they might not have been able to get have they not enrolled in the intervention.

Being a part of this research study is also beneficial to my career goals. I hope to go into nursing and still be able to educate my community on how to live a healthier life and how to prevent diseases; working on this research study has given me hands on experience on trying to effectively educate a population group. As well as how to create a wellness program that will help treat and/or prevent a certain health condition.

Prior to the start of the intervention, I was recruiting participants and screening them over the phone, as well as translating documents that had to get IRB approval. Once the intervention began and we started collecting data I became in charge of translating the data since it was all in Spanish, inputting the data onto Nutritionist Pro in order to do a nutrition analysis on what the participants were consuming, as well inputting other data we collected throughout the six months of the intervention program. The intervention lasted six months, in which participants met one-on-one with a nutrition educator once month. Now that the intervention is over, we have been conducting the final assessment visit in which participants get a DXA scan, go on the metabolic cart to obtain their resting expenditure, and collect other data in order to compare it to the data collected in the baseline visit; this helps us determine whether there is a significant difference between the control and intervention groups and whether the intervention was effective. Once the final visits are complete we will be doing data analysis. It has been very rewarding seeing the study from start to finish, as well as seeing the impact the program has had on the families.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Phiet Vo Determines a Method for Storing Fuel Effectively and Safely

Sustainable energy is an important industry for many scientists and engineers that are interested in improving the environment. There are countless methods for producing clean renewable energy that are more than capable of meeting power demands. These power sources may also come with the added benefits such as waste reduction. For example, anaerobic digestion is a process that involves converting organic waste into usable biofuel in the absence of oxygen. The fuel being produced in this case would be methane, a natural biofuel with chemical composition CH4. Although producing this energy is a straight forward process, determining an effective method for storing significant amounts of fuel presents various safety hazards.

For this project, two 55-gallon drums were chosen to be used as an organic waste reactor and fuel tank. However, since the drums must be pressurized in order to store significant amounts of methane, it was important that they meet industry safety standards. The plastic drums currently being used for the system did not meet these requirements, so new steel open-head drums have been introduced. One of the main disadvantages of using steel is its susceptibility to corrosion. Since many corrosive toxins are present during methane digestion, one of the main responsibilities of this project included investigating proper solutions to this issue.

Various vendors were contacted in order to get appropriate safety information for the parts. Industry experts were also able to provide important insight on current methods being used to address similar problems. By organizing all this information, it is possible to determine the most effective solution. Future work includes working with the same vendors as well as contacting the drum manufacturer for more specific information.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Chyna Staten Measures Effectiveness of Provost Courses an CTFE Programs

I am a senior communication major currently working with the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence (CTFE). The CTFE is an office at Mason that offers a range of opportunities for instructors, adjunct faculty, and full-time professors. I was hired under Laura Lukes who is the Assistant Director for the office. What interested me about my job is the opportunity to work on various projects and programs. I assist in database analysis and management to measure effectiveness of Provost courses and CTFE events and programs that are being implemented. On a weekly basis, I usually spend my time updating the website, entering data into Microsoft Excel as well as creating and reviewing materials distributed in events sponsored by the office.

I would say that I learn something substantial every week. Being around faculty, I gain insight to their efforts to create a beneficial environment for their students, especially with George Masons’ active learning classrooms. The staff at CTFE work hard to come up with innovative ways to push the agenda of teaching and learning. My work-study is a unique experience where I get to learn about the concerns teaching staff have and join CTFE in developing ways to improve these concerns for the future of George Mason University.

My concentration is public relations and that field requires creativity, interpersonal communication, and individual capability. PR involves creating and implementing communication efforts for a specific organization or business and I feel as though I am doing just that as a Research Assistant for CTFE. I spend my day getting familiar with software that I must use in future positions. Overall, I am appreciative of this position that I have been granted at the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence. I work with individuals who are dedicated to making a difference in their environment, which is exactly what I plan to do in my career. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Federal Work-Study student David Pisil Examines Health on Workers in the Cleaning Industry

My name is David Pisfil and I study Community Health and Biology here are George Mason. Community Health has been fascinating to me since I see how it can help shape the way a healthy community thrives. In 2016, I began working with Dr. Pollack as a lab assistant for her pilot study on Cleaning Worker Health research. The purpose of the study is to explore health among women who currently or have formally worked in the cleaning industry. This is accomplished by the completion of a survey and a feasible urine specimen (depending on the willingness of the participant). Questions asked on the survey give insights on the participant’s demographics, work, socioeconomic status, pregnancy history, health related behaviors, and medical history which take approximately thirty minutes to answer. When analyzed, the collected urine samples will be used to help comprehend the levels between certain chemicals used in the industry.

On a daily basis, my tasks include contacting women who have worked or currently work in the cleaning business to recruit them as participants for the study. Often times, it is necessary to speak in Spanish in order to maintain clarity and avoid any language barriers. If the workers accepted, I explain the study to them, allow them to fill out the survey, and collect a urine sample.

This study interested me because some day, I aspire to be a medical provider. Studies like these will help me understand the cause of some illnesses or will even help trace the origin of an ailment. OSCAR has given me the opportunity to become a better student by allowing me to expand my lab skills through perfecting safe specimen handling in the laboratory and how to skillfully approach participants by explaining everything they need to know about the study. An added bonus is that I can practice all of this in both English and Spanish! I am very excited to see the progress of the study and am extremely grateful to have been given an opportunity to work with such a devoted team. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Shawn Pham Hopes to Find A Change In Adult Behavioral Patterns

To make a social difference through the world of research is an area that I have always been interested in. Throughout my educational career, I have been gaining technical writing skills and wanted to use those skills for a purpose. I wanted to make a change in the world through the skills I learned and when the weekly social work emails came out with an opportunity to become an undergraduate research assistant, I eagerly applied.

Every week, I worked on the assigned tasks with my supervisor. Since most of the qualitative data collecting was done over the summer, we mostly transcribed the audio files, quality checked them, and then coded them. Through inputting data into our database, we hope to find a change in behavioral patterns among older adults with dementia after coding the music listening sessions through our Music and Memory and Dementia Care research projects. Through these two research projects, we strive to understand the effects of music with the older adults with dementia population. Learning the effects of music on this demographic could potentially assist the treatment plan for mitigating the symptoms of dementia.  By doing this research, we are shaping the future of social work policy for caregiving plans for this population. Here in this little, yet lively office of Social Work integrative Research Lab, we are making progress in macro social work in order to make a change in policy and practice.

We are making a change in a different way from what most social work undergraduates imagine their careers to be like. Most social work majors see their career primarily in micro social work, focusing on the individual and group, while in research social work, it focuses on general populations by shaping policy that micro social workers follow. Being in SWIRL, I understand how the policies that I must follow as a future social worker are made and why they are necessary. Through research, social workers can become effective advocates for change. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Devon Nelson Researches Salad Bars in Elementary Schools and Tests a Metabolic Cart

My name is Devon Nelson and I am currently a Junior biology major.   My current research focuses on a variety of topics.  The main two involve putting salad bars in elementary schools to see if this helps change their attitudes towards fruits and vegetables and testing the repeatability of a metabolic cart to determine if it's a reliable instrument to use for energy expenditure.  I got interested in the project because I'm a strong believer that lifestyle intervention early on is more beneficial than trying to change your habits later in life, especially when it comes to eating habits.  I also really like working with data, but that was beside the point.

I usually work on location two or three times a week.  My work involves researching a variety of different topics that our research projects focus on so that proposals can be written.  When I'm not assisting with that, I'm in the nutritional assessment lab practicing using the metabolic cart.  The metabolic cart is a machine that determines how much oxygen you breathe in and how much carbon dioxide you breathe out.  From these values, the machine can calculate how much energy it takes to keep your body going at rest.        

As a new researcher, I never realized some of the things that researchers have to face that I took for granted.  Working has also helped me understand that even if you have the best research idea, sometimes your project doesn't get approval or participants don't come in, so you need to postpone your work and find something else. I never appreciated how much researchers rely upon volunteers for their projects until this semester and it's made me start signing up for more research projects around campus.

So far, the projects have changed the way that I go about my day.  Now that my knowledge in subjects such as gut health and how that affects the body has increased, I'm more aware of what I'm eating and excluding some unhealthy items from my diet.  Since we're working on gut micro biomes and how different levels of certain bacteria's can make you more prone to certain diseases, I'm starting to understand how even if you have a good BMI, what you put in your body can still hurt your health.  I'm happy that I worked this semester because it's broadened my understanding in the field of research and in myself.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Alina Moody Scans Picture Negatives for the Broadside Project

My name is Alina Moody and I’m a senior Creative Writing major with a Multimedia minor working with Special Collections and Archives in Fenwick. I am working on the Broadside project, in which we scan in picture negatives taken by members of the old on-campus newspaper, Broadside. I actually began working on this project last year and became invested in it.

Since I first began working on this project, I have gained a lot of knowledge in keeping metadata, working with excel spreadsheets (which is always a useful skill), using Adobe photoshop, and working with scanners. As I am working toward a Multimedia minor, gaining skills with scanners—both regular skills and troubleshooting any problems—is quite helpful. I also hope to work with a publishing company one day, possibly a magazine, where I will need some sort of experience with all of these programs. I’m gaining a large base knowledge in programs that I will probably need no matter what I end up doing.

Every week, I work at my station flipping through pages of old 35mm picture negatives and scan them in on an Epson printer. As I scan, I look for any minor flaws that I can correct using photoshop and log in a detailed description of every frame to be used later in the project. Right now, we’re working on our last two boxes of picture negatives. I’ve scanned in pictures spanning 1998-2000 since I began work. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Emma Howes Researches the Evolution of Communication in Birds and Endangered Animals

Senior year of high school is when I knew that I wanted to major in Biology. The reason I wanted to major in Biology is because I think that learning about the science behind life is fascinating. More specifically, my dream is to research and study animals and the environment. I’ve always loved all kinds of animals and have been interested in how they live mentally, physically, anatomically, and physiologically. I hope to research conservation for animals and the environment to create a healthier place to live for all living creatures in the future. I’m not yet sure what I plan to do after college, but so far, I’m settled on getting my master’s in graduate school. Then I plan on finding a job researching and studying some area related to animals – probably mammals of some sort -- and their environment.

As a research assistant for Dr. Luther, I help with his research on the evolution of communication in birds and endangered animals in the United States. With researching animals and the environment, I imagine that I would have to do some research like this, gathering information from databases and the internet, along with going out to gather my own data.

On a weekly basis, I usually research information related to the task given to me and then I type it up either as a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet. Throughout the week, I report back to Dr. Luther on the progress I’ve made. Once I’m done, I inform Dr. Luther and then he gives me another task to research. There are multiple people working on different parts of this project. The project has not been completed yet, so there are no conclusive results.

This research job has been a good learning experience for me and has given me a taste of what I might be doing in the future and that is what most interested me in this job. I will carry this experience throughout my life and incorporate what I’ve learned into my own research one day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Jaimarie Epistola Studies the Effects of Synergistic Combinations of Antibiotics on a Bacterium Called Acinetobacter baumannii

Hello, Mason Nation! I am Jaimarie Epistola, and I am sophomore pursing a major in Medical Laboratory Science and a minor in Public Health. My interest in microbiology began in high school. I was amazed by the huge impact that tiny organisms can cause on the human body. Due to my great interest for microbiology and desire to help others, I hope to become a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) in a hospital. This profession plays a vital role in the health care team. A MLS performs a variety of laboratory tests on patient samples, such as blood and urine, and helps interpret results for the rest of the team. About 80% of all medical decisions are based on these results!

I have been working as a research assistant in Dr. Monique van Hoek Lab located at the Science and Technology campus. I learned about her lab when I attended her colloquium for the Honors College. My OSCAR project focuses on effects of synergistic combinations of antibiotics on a bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii (A. baumannii). This bacterium causes infections such as meningitis and urinary tract infection, especially in immuno-compromised patients. Treatment options are becoming limited due to antibiotic resistance. During the course of my research, I will test different combinations of antibiotics and determine which combination works the best to kill the bacteria. This determination is based on minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC), the lowest concentration of an antibiotic that will inhibit bacterial growth. As of right now, I am determining the MIC of several antibiotics on A. baumannii individually. I use a spectrophotometer to measure the MIC and make calculations to determine percent bacterial growth. When I am not testing the antibiotics, I sterilize lab equipment and make sure the lab is neat and tidy. I also restock my lab supplies by making media and agar plates and by growing bacteria. During my work in the lab, I am learning more about microbiology and the research side of this field.

Even though my career goals are more focused on health care rather than research, my project and experience in van Hoek lab will develop a greater appreciation of the microbial world and treatment development. I am very grateful for this opportunity! I will use the knowledge and skills that I have gained from being a research assistant in my future endeavors.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Frah Ejaz Works with 20 Year Old Data on Sedimentary Rocks

The Oscar project I have been working on is about geology where sedimentary rocks from the earth’s core are analyzed. The history, depth and age of the rocks are currently being determined to later publish findings in a research novel. The data I am working with is around 20 years old and is original data that another research assistant left behind because they graduated from George Mason University. There is no copy or imitation of this data anywhere, which makes working on this project all the more special. The main reason I am interested in working on this project is because I have the privilege to learn something new each day, which makes going to work very exciting. This current research has helped me to view biology from the perspective of nature and to open up my mind of the various possibilities that are in the field of science.

This research is related to my long-term goals in that it gives me the opportunity to practice the proper way to conduct, record and analyze data. This allows me to understand and help me grow each day in the field of research where I could one-day plan and conduct my own research for medical school. I now have an idea of the struggles and effort it takes to create a successful research experiment. Another reason why this is related to my long-term goals is that it is preparing me for what I should expect after George Mason University in the field of science, particularly Biology. The fact that I have grown passionate about this project is an indication that I am probably in the right field because I will be looking at things through a different perspective just like this project in the near future. What I do on a weekly basis is analyze and interpret data that is already scanned on the computer. I convert pictures in different programs and create, save and group files according to their locations at the Earth’s core.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Jenniffer Andino Cruz Works on A Pediatric Obesity Group Treatment for Latino Youth

My name is Jenniffer Andino Cruz, I am a freshman double-majoring in Criminology and Spanish. I am currently an undergraduate Research Assistant at the Department of Nutrition & Food Studies at George Mason University. During this semester, I have had the honor of working with Dr. Sina Gallo RD, PhD and other scholars on a pediatric obesity group treatment for Latino youth. The purpose of this study is to test whether a 3-month intervention program for Latino children between 4 to 9 years of age, who are overweight or obese, can help improve their nutrition and activity habits.

Before we started recruitment, I worked a lot on translating the documents needed for the study. Since we are working with the Latino population, we need to have Spanish versions of all the documents we will be using during the study. I have currently been attending the Manassas Park Community Center MAP’s clinic on a weekly basis to conduct recruitment.  My job entails checking if the patients are eligible for the study, going over consent forms, and administering the survey. During recruitment, I interpret a lot for the parents that do not speak English or for those that would rather get the information in Spanish. Once we get all the participants and start the study, I will be helping with the lessons and with the interpretation for the parents.

I aspire to be become a certified court interpreter for the state of Virginia in the future so being able to assist with this research study will help me improve my skills as I interact with the Latino population. This project is not only helping me to learn new ways of conducting research but it is also helping me at a personal level. By teaching young children to eliminate bad habits and instill healthy behavior, will be able to eradicate numerous diseases and allow them to have healthy lifestyles.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Ha Nguyen Studies the Health of Nail Salon Workers

Since the summer of 2016 I have been working with Dr. Anna Pollack from the Department of Community and Global Health on her pilot research on the Health of Nail Salon Workers. As her research assistant in this project, I have been involved in translating the drafted questions of the survey to capture the information we needed into Vietnamese and learning how to navigate Qualtrics to enable the process of online data collection to be more user-friendly. Additionally, I also participate in finding prospective participants and interviewing them for our projects.

On one hand, I continuously practice my interpersonal communication skills when approaching prospects, bilingually in both English and Vietnamese. I learn to connect with people and introduce them to our study. Essentially, I compare my experience to cold networking where the prospects are extremely skeptical and as a result I learned a great deal on the arts of persuasion.

On the other hand, I have the chance to look more closely into the methodology of our recruitment. As the project moves onward, our research team finds that referrals from recruited participants have played a major significance in the data collection process. Therefore, Dr. Pollack introduced me to the academic methods of studying hidden populations such as snowball sampling and other forms of chain referral samples, and respondent-driven sampling. “Hidden populations” are considered to have two characteristics: no sampling frame exists and there exist strong privacy concerns; and our population target of nail salon workers indeed falls into this category.

It is so interesting and fascinating for me to learn about these methodologies and at the same time see how it is applied to our research. Since I will be conducting my own research about the rise of private tutoring industry in Vietnam and its responding government policies in this upcoming Spring Semester for a research class, these experiences have provided me extremely valuable insights.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Daniel Howe Develops a Set of Simulations Using the MatLab Simscape Multibody Software Package

Hello! My name is Daniel Howe, and I am a senior in Mechanical Engineering performing research into computer modelling of dynamics problems. Currently, myself and my mentor, Dr. Oscar Barton, are developing a set of simulations for use in instruction in the actual ME 231 Dynamic Course this coming spring using the MatLab Simscape Multibody software package. Every week, I continue to develop my own skills using the software and to build a catalog of modelled problems based on problems found in the dynamics textbook, as well as carefully document my work so that it can be used for teaching other students.

This current project is an extension of the project I’ve been working on since Spring 2015. Initially, Dr. Barton and I developed software in MATHEMATICA that can model mass-spring-damper systems, and we decided to evolve the project in this direction after realizing its potential as a teaching and learning aid. I got interested in the original project because I am interested in simulation and modeling, and I have maintained my interest because of my great interest in improving the tools available for students learning dynamics.

Long term, my work on this project has provided an excellent training ground for crucial skills in modelling. Even more importantly, Dr. Barton’s mentorship has provided for the opportunity to actually present results to other engineers outside of George Mason at ASEE Annual Conference this last summer, which is an absolutely crucial career skill for engineers. Although a research position and not a professional one, it has nonetheless provided me the opportunity for developing important professional skills which will be of immense importance in my career.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Tony Wang Assesses the Impact of the Newly Created Mason Innovation Exchange

I'm Tony Wang, currently a sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science here at George Mason University. My current OSCAR project focuses on assessing the impact of the newly created Mason Innovation Exchange with Dr. Patrick Vora and Dr. Colin Reagle. The Mason Innovation Exchange, better known as The MIX, is a place where students can work together on projects spanning science, engineering, art, and entrepreneurship. Staff members help guide students in their projects and work to gain access to resources, equipment, and space.

I work with the MIX staff members (mostly undergraduates) to coordinate the best ways to make the MIX achieve its full potential. My research focuses on data-driven assessment of current demand for the MIX, the types of projects students work on here, operational areas that could be improved, and the overall impact on the GMU student body. Using this data, I hope to quantify the positive impact the MIX has had thus far and emphasize that establishing additional facilities similar to the MIX is very important for helping students realize what they can achieve with their own creativity and hard work.

Each week I collect relevant data regarding the operations of the MIX and also help with some staff work. Usually before staff meetings or towards the end of each week, I will sift through the collected data and analyze it, finding issues and making remarks on how the MIX is doing. During the weekdays, I help staff the mix and work on improving our data collection. On the weekends, I will take the data collected and analyze it. If there are any issues that need to be addressed I bring them up at the next staff meeting.

Working with Dr. Vora on the MIX has allowed me to expand my horizons. It has allowed me to work towards bringing STEAM to the general public and also hone my personal skill so that I can be better prepared for the professional world and future research opportunities. From learning how to 3D print to figuring out how to organize and analyze varying types of data sets, to getting first hand experience on how difficult it is to start a new program and keep it running. The MIX is a great opportunity for all students to expand their horizons and this OSCAR research position has allowed me to be a part of this amazing opportunity to help make that happen.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Federal Work-Study student Jesse Glendon Raises awareness of Environmental Issues in the Mason Community

I became interested in the EcoScience + Art project after speaking with my mentor Dr. Changwoo Ahn. Dr. Ahn discussed with me his vision for creating a multi-disciplinary organization tasked with raising awareness of environmental issues in the mason community. I saw the vision that he had in mind, and immediately said I wanted to be a part of the project. Over the course of a year we grew our student group into a large and active part of the mason community. Also, during that time created projects such as a floating wetland which was even featured on the local news. Every semester The EcoScience + Art student group hosts a speaker series to involve the on and off campus community, and to share the experiences they’ve made. Keynote speakers include eco-artists, scientist, water resource engineers, and local organizations. 

I believe that the management of this student group has helped me to better understand how to work with people from many different backgrounds. This project has shown me how to plan complex projects, meet deadlines, deal with issues, and organize a large group of people.

On a weekly basis, as the president and student group leader I work with student group members and our mentor to accomplish the initiative at the time. At this time we are in-between projects so we are actively looking for initiatives that student group members would like to be a part of. I also edit our website, sending out updates for the progress of our initiative, and help increase over all awareness of the project in the mason community. I maintain a line of connection between the students and Dr. Ahn and I handle essential communications to the group. Additionally, I setup the event rooms and get all the necessary technology ready. My work keeps our student group organized, on track, constantly working, and fully informed and connected to each other.