Wednesday, May 31, 2017

URSP Student Tabatha Donley Researches the Struggles for West Papuan Merdeka from Indonesia

My name is Tabatha Donley and I am a senior majoring in Global Affairs, with a concentration in International Development and minors in Social Justice and Conflict Analysis/Resolution. With the support of OSCAR, I am studying the struggle for West Papuan merdeka (freedom) from its occupying force, Indonesia. I first learned about West Papua through a CULT 320 course, with my interest in the Melanesian region heightening after meeting GMU’s Visiting Scholar and West Papuan activist Herman Wainggai (huge thanks to Professor John Dale, my current mentor, for the introduction). Together, Mr. Wainggai and I coordinated several campus events where he shared his experience and perspective as a displaced Papuan. My interactions with Mr. Wainggai left me wanting to learn and contribute more towards the movement for Papuan Merdeka; thus, began my OSCAR research.

Drawing upon interviews with Mr. Wainggai, as well as anthropological and sociological literature, my study serves to highlight the importance of establishing localized human rights discourses within an indigenous sovereignty movement, thereby increasing understanding of how indigenous communities can best mobilize and achieve self-determination without compromising their collective cultures and identities. My research also explores indigenous leadership, burnout, and intellectual property rights (IPR) within the context of Papuan merdeka. Unlike STEM research, I spend no time in labs or with vast amounts of quantitative data. Instead, my days are spent in the library, analyzing scholarly journals, coding documents, interviewing Mr. Wainggai, or making connections between various global indigenous movements.

As a senior who plans to attend graduate school, this experience has been instrumental in gaining further insight into the world of scholarly research, both its challenges and rewards. Being mentored by Professor Dale has also expanded my understanding of human rights discourse, and guided me into new fields of research methodologies, theories, and movements.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

URSP Student Katharine Lai Researches Researches the Perceptions of Behavioral Control Among College-Aged Students

As part of my capstone communication course, I was introduced to OSCAR and the possibility of pursuing a scholarly research project as an undergraduate. Immediately, I thought of my interest in mental health and decided I wanted to explore how to improve access to counseling and psychological services for students of George Mason University. After applying for and receiving a URSP research grant, I was able to follow my curiosity and develop a unique research question, collect data, and analyze results – setting me up for success in future academic and career opportunities. Through my research, I have learned invaluable skills which I can apply to my long-term career goal of creating a non-profit organization designed to give mentally disabled people access to quality health care and community inclusion. I have enhanced my writing, research, and time management abilities, learned about research ethics and protocols, and practiced presentational skills. While completing a research project from start to finish may seem daunting, on a weekly basis my tasks are manageable. I spend a good portion of time finding and reading existing research on the topic of mental health access, specifically looking at perceptions of behavioral control among college-aged students. While not researching, I am designing survey questions on the software program Qualtrics, sending emails asking for survey participants, or analyzing data using the statistical software SPSS. Throughout this semester, I have discovered how much I enjoy researching, synthesizing data, and being able to tangibly contribute to my academic field. OSCAR has given me such a valuable opportunity to expand my knowledge and appreciation of communication research.

Monday, May 29, 2017

URSP Student Stephen Guion Researches to Pursue His Goals

Two experiences inspired me to conduct my current experiment. First, my current mentor Dr. Craig McDonald, taught us about intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells and how they respond to short-wavelength light. With a basic interest in the interaction between humans and modern technology, this topic intrigued me. Later, I saw an advertisement for blue-enriched lights with the branding promising an increase in cognitive efficiency. Having learned of the effects of blue light on arousal, and with an understanding of the top-down modulation of expectation, this advertisement campaign also inspired me to investigate which variable was most responsible for the observed

I chose this research question in order to begin the process of chipping away at my long- term goals. With a goal of investigating the effects of modern technology on human behavior, cognition, and physiological adaptation, it may be difficult to narrow down and find a focused research question. This topic, however, provided me with a window, with which I could approach my long-term goals in a scholarly and interdisciplinary fashion.

On a weekly basis, my assignments heavily depend on my participants. I have twenty sessions per week available for participants to request both research credit through SONA, or extra credit through their professors, if applicable. Recently, I have been running ten participants a week in my experiment, which takes about fifteen hours a week. Research acts as somewhat of a part-time job, so the other five to ten hours per week are spent preparing data for final analysis and drafting my thesis for my honors thesis defense scheduled for April 25th, 2017.

This term, I discovered the responsibility involved in independent research. Last semester, I was aiding a PhD student with his dissertation, which sparked my current research question. This semester, however, I have been working alone, with advice from my research mentor, which has taught me the dedication and responsibility that research requires. Also, I have taken on a research assistant (who is a wonderful student entering her first semester of the Honors Psychology Thesis Program), and this has given me further motivation to pursue my goal of becoming a research professor and director of a university thesis program.

Friday, May 26, 2017

URSP Student Selena Chaivaranon Researches Creator Commentary and the Creation Process of the Transformers Franchise

My name is Selena Chaivaranon; I am a senior and Sociology major, and am deeply interested in the ability of the media to influence public agenda and to cultivate the idea of what is considered normative. In my university capstone course, I had previously investigated the ways in which Transformers characters are portrayed on-screen in the original 1984 cartoon, the live-action movies, and the Transformers: Prime cartoon, with respect to how they embodied American cultural values, such as the promotion of patriarchy and freedom, the division of gender into a strict binary system,
the norm of violence, and the division of what is “right” versus what is “wrong.” This semester, I am focusing on how the creators themselves (such as the artists, script writers, directors, voice actors, etc.) discuss the characters and the creation process of the Transformers TV shows, movies, and toys. How deliberate are their decisions? What sorts of stages do these characters go through in their initial design phases, and how are those elements translated into a final product? How are the characters, and the principle values they embody, divided up between their factions? These are but a few of the questions I had wanted to explore in order to gain a better understand the process and degree of intentionality that goes into creating a long-lasting, well-known franchise.

The messages that these creators try to embed in TV shows, which are intended to market material products (toys) to children in part illustrate what is accepted and appreciated in American culture today. I am interested not only in the ways in which children’s media often perpetuates harmful stereotypes of minority groups, but in how it can also promote ideas of equality and acceptance. This has become especially important to me given the recent surge in hate-crime across the USA, and I am thrilled to have been able to gain additional first-hand experience in conducting my own research in this topic.  

I recorded and analyzed quantitative and qualitative data from print materials (such as art concept books and memorabilia collections), web pages, and online videos (such as interviews and panel presentations), and synthesized the data as they corresponded to themes surrounding gender and sexuality, the division of “right” and “wrong,” and violence. At this point in time, I have finished the first draft of my research paper and am currently working on editing a second draft, and putting together a poster presentation. It is my hope to also prepare a version of my paper for publication, so that I may add to the existing body of literature surrounding not only the Transformers franchise but of American media and pop-culture. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

URSP Student Clare Yordy Researches How Bisexuality is Portrayed in Film and Television

My name is Clare Yordy, and I am a freshman studying Government and International Politics. I am conducting research on how bisexuality is portrayed in film and television, which I began working on in my Honors 110 class last semester. I’ve always had a passion to learn more about sexuality and gender, so I thought it would be interesting to look into a sexuality that gets very little positive attention: bisexuality. Because bisexuality rarely appears in any form of mass media, I wanted to find out how it’s represented and how it affects society as a whole. After completing the class, I realized how much work there was to do on this topic, and was inspired to pursue it further. Eventually, I came to realize that I will also want to research how portrayals of bisexuality affect bisexual individuals and societal views of bisexuality. However, for the sake of time this semester, I am only focusing on mediated portrayals of bisexuality.

On a weekly basis I watch movies and television from 2000 to the present that contain bisexual characters. I have a running list of shows and movies to watch and take careful notes on what the characters are saying, what other characters are saying abo
ut them, and their actions. I then take these notes and try to find common themes and patterns among these characters. These notes will be used to perform a rhetorical analysis on my chosen characters.

This semester I’ve discovered how much there is to learn about bisexuality, particularly in mass media. Although I was concerned about the lack of evidence on this topic, conducting this research has shown me that there are definite patterns among bisexual characters and that most representations of bisexuality in mass media are extremely negative. Additionally, exploring bisexual characters in film and television has given me insight on societal views of bisexuality, how sexuality as a whole is constructed in mass media, and how heteronormativity is consistently upheld in mass media.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

URSP Student Luc Tran Researches the Role of Toxic Metabolite from Acetaminophen and NAPQI on Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

My name is Luc Tran and I am currently a senior within the Biology and Neuroscience Departments of George Mason University. My current OSCAR project is focused on the role of a toxic metabolite from acetaminophen, NAPQI, on the progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a fatal lung disease that is associated with scarring of the lung tissue over time and increased secretion of collagen. My current project stemmed from my previous research regarding the role of oxidative phosphorylation on apoptosis of the IPF fibroblasts. I completed my previous project as a member of the Biology Research Semester in Dr. Geraldine Grant’s lab. Prior to the beginning of the Research Semester, I had to choose from three different labs to join. I chose Dr. Grant’s lab as my primary choice because her research directly dealt with a medical issue which best correlated with my future goal of medical school. By the end of this project, I could warn my future patients about the risks of acetaminophen and how it may contribute to the progression of IPF. I can also use my findings to help identify potential therapeutics to cure IPF.

From the Research Semester project to my OSCAR project, I have worked most closely with Sarah Bui, who is currently a PhD student within Dr. Grant’s lab. Sarah has always been there to guide me through my research. It is through her patient guidance and detailed directions that I have learned so much about the lab techniques and article readings. On a weekly basis, I have collected RNA from the fibroblasts and synthesized cDNA. Next, I performed quantitative PCRs to determine the effect of NAPQI on the expression level of certain IPF markers. I would like to thank Dr. Grant and Sarah for giving me this opportunity to improve my laboratory techniques, continue my IPF research, and expand my horizon in the fields of IPF and biochemical research. I hope to have the opportunity to continue my research in the summer.          

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

URSP Student Jenna Cann Researches Jupiter-sized Exoplanets

My name is Jenna Cann and I am a senior studying astronomy. One of the things that initially got me interested in astronomy, and my OSCAR project, is the idea that there are so many other worlds and places out in the Universe that are so different from what we see in everyday life on Earth.  My current project deals with Hot Jupiters, which are Jupiter-sized exoplanets that are orbiting very close to their host stars.  Despite having a sizable atmosphere that could feasibly circulate the heat this planet receives from its star, astronomers have found that there is a large day-night side temperature change – sometimes up to 1000K in magnitude.  My project deals with trying to find a physical mechanism to explain this.

This project has helped me confirm that I do want to continue on to a research-based PhD program.  The skills I’ve honed over the course of this semester, in modeling and theory, will prove invaluable as I start research at a higher level.  Besides working with my advisor here at GMU, Dr. Michael Summers, I also collaborate with an advisor, Dr. Prabal Saxena, at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.  Visiting Goddard and working with my advisor there has provided me with several contacts that could be research collaborators in the future.

My project consists of several different parts, using both theory and models, so on any given week I spend almost equal amounts of time working out pen and paper derivations as I do running transit simulations or plotting real K2 data from the Kepler telescope.

This semester, I learned a lot about energy transfer and tidal processes in atmospheric physics.  I’ve also learned that a lot of the questions scientists are looking to answer about exoplanets were the same ones asked decades ago about Titan, Europa, and other planets and moons in our Solar System.  Knowing that we now know the answers to those questions with respect to Solar System bodies, despite them seeming so out of reach decades ago, it is extremely inspiring to think of what we can learn from the thousands of new exoplanets we’ve discovered so far.

Monday, May 22, 2017

URSP Student Marla Lauber Examines Relationships Between Different Elements of Personality, Creative Ability and Creative Activity

My name is MarLa and I am a senior at George Mason. I am majoring in Psychology and English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. Through my OSCAR project, I examine the relationships between different elements of personality and both creative ability and creative activity. More specifically, the personality is often divided into five qualities, called the Big Five, which an individual might either be high or low on. Because creativity is a much desired and highly marketable skill, much research has been done on different aspects of it, but to research to date only consistently correlates it with one of the five qualities. However, it may be that creativity have a nonlinear relationship with other characteristics within the Big Five, that have previously been overlooked due to a tendency of researchers to look strictly for linear correlations.
My OSCAR project was developed as a means of engaging with my passion for both of my majors. My interests in art (literary and visual) and psychology developed almost simultaneously, when I was very young. It is perhaps because of this that I came to think of creative production as a key component of the human experience, and developed the desire to understand it more completely.
I have been working on this project for what will be a year and a half at the end of this semester, and it has gone through immense changes. The data I will be analyzing will come from a larger study on psychological flexibility, led by my mentor, Dr. Todd Kashdan. My week consists of lab meetings, refinement of the surveys and interviews we will give our participants, and a great deal of reading, writing, and rewriting. In the coming weeks, we will begin running participants, at which point my duties will involve scheduling participants according to research assistant availability.
This term I have learned a lot about the process of conducting and then presenting research. Specifically, I have gained a substantial amount of experience writing abstracts and considering the genre differences between posters and papers. I could not have learned any of those things with the theory alone; this program has given me the chance to learn by doing, for which I am very grateful.

Friday, May 19, 2017

URSP Student Mercy Wheeler Analyzes Potential Correlations Between Long Distance

My name is Mercy Wheeler, and I am a senior in the Communication department. My OSCAR project is a survey study that seeks connections and potential correlations between satisfaction in long distance relationships and computer mediated communication channel choice. Computer mediated communication channels are any and all methods of communication that are mediated via a computer, such as instant messaging, Skyping and audio calls; and many long distance relationships rely solely on these methods to communicate. While this may sound somewhat complicated, the reason that I chose the topic is rooted in personal experience. The picture is of myself and my partner, and we’ve been long distance for the entire duration of the relationship. When I began studying interpersonal relationships in my communication courses, I was curious to see if there had been studies done on relationships like mine. To my surprise and sadness, there was and still is an incredible lack of credible research done on long distance relationships. When I was given the opportunity to create my own study, I immediately chose this subject because of the need for research and my own personal experience in the subject.

Over the course of this research project, I’ve learned how to create an effective and ethical survey that has both validity and reliability. This is a skill that I’ve learned to be a relative rarity and incredibly helpful in my internships and current positions when my employers want feedback from their customers, and I expect it to continue to be a helpful skill in the future. I’m hoping that the data collected will be helpful for future studies in long distance relationships as well.

On a weekly basis, my time is dedicated to refining my literature review, working on survey questions and ensuring the validity of the questions asked, and in the coming weeks most of my time will be dedicated to analyzing and verifying my collected data.

One important thing that I learned over the course of this term is that part of research is uncertainty. Even though I’m incredibly invested in my study because of the academic value and the personal nature of the topic, I am still very uncertain about what kinds of responses I’ll have and if any of it will be interesting or surprising. Despite this, I have learned to accept what I cannot control and take my data as it comes, without the expectation that I’ll find anything groundbreaking at first glance. Flexibility and forgoing expectations about results will ultimately make my research less biased and more objective.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

URSP Student Nicholas Sanders Creates and Checks the Viability of Devices Using Computer Designs Programs

My original interest in beginning this project stemmed from a desire to attain a more in depth knowledge on the workings of the brain on the cellular level.  With a greater understanding of how the human brain functions, from a biochemistry perspective, I believe I will be better able to achieve
my future goal of working in the field of psychiatry.

The work that I am currently undergoing involves creating a device using several computer design programs, checking the design for validity between programs, actually creating the design physically, and then checking for viability of the design.  If there are any errors or unintended outcome during any stage I then circle back to the last successful stage and begin again.

Over the course of this semester I have discovered that the more intricate a design is the more difficult it can be to produce.  This semester’s goal of creating more nuanced and a larger quantities of devices has been hindered by the exponentially more difficult task of bringing the designs to a viable end state as the margin for error on each system is within the scale of microns. This project may have applications in a variety of instances, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and spinal cord/nerve cell regeneration.  With continued perseverance, and a bit of luck, the results of this work may be published and put to further use of other scientist in their respective field in the very near future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

URSP Student Katherine Marsh Uses the POMS and PSS Evaluation Methods

Under the Mentorship of Dr. James Metcalf, I am looking at the relationship between injuries and stress in student-athletes at George Mason University. By utilizing the POMS and PSS evaluation methods, I am looking to see if there is a difference in stress experienced by student-athletes who are injured and those who are not injured. 
I first became interested in my research topic as a freshman when I experienced an injury that kept me out of competition for the majority of the season. After speaking with some of my peers who have experienced similar situations, I began to realize that our day-to-day lives were affected dramatically by our injuries. No longer being able to participate in the sport we have dedicated so much time to, not being able to exercise at the same intensity as we have become accustomed to, and missing out on the social aspect of team bonding during practice and competition are just a few of the common themes we all seemed to notice having an impact on our daily lives. 
I then began to wonder if consequent these circumstances, our mental health, was being adversely affected. While countless hours are spent in the training room rehabbing injuries to get athletes back in competition, there are little to no resources provided by the athletic department to insure that the mental health of the athlete is cared for as much as the physical injury. 
While my project is still in the early stages of development, I hope to bring light to the issue of mental health in athletics, specifically, in student-athletes here at George Mason University. I would like to see more mental health resources made available to student-athletes, especially those who have endured an injury that has limited their participation in their sport. 
Eventually, I would like to see these resources as easily accessible and utilized as often as grabbing an ice bag after practice. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

URSP Student Stephanie Kortchak Analyzes Host-Based Kinase Inhibitors

My name is Stephanie Kortchak and I am a senior working on a biochemistry degree and a minor in biology. After being exposed to microbiology and vaccine development in elective classes, I grew interested in the biomedical technology development field. I started volunteering at a biomedical research laboratory for Dr. Aarthi Narayanan at the start of the Fall semester (2016). After graduation, I plan to gain more experience through work or internships before applying to biomedical graduate programs.

Currently, we are working on analyzing host-based kinase inhibitors and their effect on diverse viral agents, with the intent of developing inhibitors that can have more than one application. To support these studies, we work with Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus (VEEV), Rift Valley Fever Virus (RVFV), and Zika Virus (ZIKV). We work with attenuated strains of VEEV and RVFV so that the research can be performed in a BSL2 laboratory in a safe manner. Our first candidate ZIKV inhibitors were NFkB inhibitors as these have demonstrated efficacy in the context of VEEV and RVFV.  However, our experiments revealed that the inhibitor candidates we were working with were not capable of inhibiting ZIKV. We have therefore expanded our net to include additional classes of inhibitors that have prior history of working with at least one of the three target viruses and are evaluating the broad spectrum applicability against all target agents. During the school year, I come in twice a week for lab meetings and providing technical support for various techniques such as plaque assays to determine infectious viral load or performing quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (q-RT-PCR) to figure out the amount of viral genetic material. Proper cell maintenance is another aspect that resonates throughout the project since each lab technique requires different types of confluent cells. At this point, we have supported our initial hypothesis that these inhibitors have a significant effect on VEEV infection at several nontoxic concentrations. We are in the process of extending this effort to RVFV and ZIKV now and anticipate to have supporting data in the next few weeks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

URSP Student Jesse Muzzy Uses a Mathematical Equation to Determine Potential Food Growth in D.C.

My interest in urban agriculture specifically began my Junior year of college when I worked in the hydroponic greenhouse on campus. I began learning about so many new technologies and innovative growing methods to grow food in urban areas and how urban agriculture addresses environmental and social issues related to food insecurity.

After graduation, I personally plan to learn more about growing food at the individual and community level using ecologically sustainable practices. Once my experience in growing is deepened, I plan to pursue urban agriculture either through non-profit work, commercial growing, or an entrepreneurial endeavor. 

For my URSP project, I meet with my mentor just about every week for 1-2 hours. Our meetings are extremely helpful because she keeps me on track and holds me accountable to deadlines, as well as helps me work through certain questions and issues that come up as I’m doing my research. Much of my time is spent reading articles, researching public records, and making notes so that I can easily keep track of sources and connections that I make between articles. From now until the rest of the semester, I will be working on my analyses and creating a research paper, as well as creating a poster to display my research and conclusions.

One thing I discovered this term was that I am capable of more than I originally thought. After a lot of brainstorming with my mentor, I came up with the idea of using a mathematical equation to figure out how much food could potentially be grown in Washington D.C. If you had asked me in January if I would be using math to answer my research question, I probably would have giggled and responded with the inherently casual response of “math is not my thing.” However, now I feel more guided, focused, and excited about my research and believe that I do have the tools and brains to figure something out that hasn’t been attempted before, and that just might have an impact on the future of urban agriculture.

Friday, May 12, 2017

URSP Student Katrina Colucci-Chang Recruits Students to Use Robotic Arms

My trajectory toward a Bioengineer began when I started dancing Ballet, Jazz and Modern Dance performing in recitals such as The Nutcracker, Giselle, Dracula, and Don Quixote. Dancers are in need of rehabilitation since they experience broken bones, ripped muscle or a sprain due to lack of rest, malnutrition, or incorrect body placement. I personally experienced this when I sprained my ankle and broke my toe. Because of this, I felt a need to help the rehabilitation community. Consequently, I partake in many outreach and community service activities that give back to the community, especially to minorities who desire to enter the STEM field.  Therefore, I developed my personal and professional goals: to inspire the future generation with the creative thinking and love of engineering towards the goal of inventing neural engineering systems for rehabilitation. To
accomplish this I must study the human interaction, human-stimuli and human connectivity. To accomplish my goal, I worked in the Department of Energy launching a Lunch and Learn Brown Bag Program and a mentoring program. Then I worked for two summers at NASA Langley with biomedical engineers and psychologists to understand and predict a pilot’s mental state such as surprised, distraction and focus in a plane simulator. To complete the trifecta, I joined the Sensorimotor Integration Lab, studying the neural connectivity by studying how humans adapt their visual and motor responses while performing a repetitive task using a robot. It is important to understand this phenomenon since neurons are the messengers in the body. If the message is not transported properly, it causes issues in human productivity and efficiency. In my project, I recruit students to use a robotic arm to hit a target. If they perform the movement correctly, they are rewarded with visual and auditory feedback response. Once they are masters in the movement, they will be given certain obstacles thus adapting their movement. These manipulations will allow us to determine the relative influence of proprioception and vision on the amount of generalization. With all this in mind, I have learned that research takes time commitment. Likewise, I enjoy the research field. Therefore, in my next journey I will be going to graduate school to enhance my knowledge on ergonomic and human factor engineering principle.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

URSP Student Min Ji Kim Studies Stigmatization Against Mental Illnesses Between Koreans and Korean Americans

My name is Min Ji Kim and I am a Junior majoring in Global Affairs and Psychology. I am experimenting on the difference of stigmatization of mental illnesses between Koreans and Korean Americans with Professor Byunghwan Son. I got invested in my study because as a Korean-American, I had many personal encounters where my peers were struggling with mental illnesses without being able to tell their parents, or got shot down when they did tell their parents. Furthermore, I was concerned when I found that Korea was the second highest in suicide in OECD states. For that reason, I wanted to get statistics on how stigmatized the Koreans and Korean Americans are. My hope is that I will be able to follow up this experiment with other experiments targeted to reduce the stigmatization of mental illnesses so that individuals will be able to pursue the help that they need.

I am interested in pursuing a career in research and plan on continuing to graduate school in Psychology. The URSP is a great program for me because it gives me research experience that I need, as well as allowing me to pursue a question that I want an answer. This opportunity is a great way for me to practice research methods and gives me hands on experience that would be hard for me to get elsewhere. On a weekly basis, I evaluate my research methods as well as working on my final paper. Once the experiment gets approved by the IRB, I will be collecting data and performing data analysis to get my results. Personally, it has been a lot of translating and coming up with questionnaires for the experiment as well as writing up all the necessary documents.

The one thing that I have discovered in this term is that research involves a lot of preparation and being able to push through even when things get difficult. I think I will be able to better prepare myself for future experiments as well as building perseverance that is necessary in any experiment.