Monday, April 30, 2018

URSP Student Mario Autore Learns about Chemical Species in the Martian Atmosphere

My name is Mario Autore. It is my fifth year at Mason, and I am a double major in Physics and Chemistry. My project is looking at data collected from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission to learn more about important chemical species in the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN is a satellite launched by NASA orbiting the Red Planet, embarking on an adventure to learn more about the evolution of the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN makes observations that quantify the stripping away of Mars’ atmosphere and studies how it continues to change with time. Dr. Erdal Yiğit is my mentor for the project and he has been using MAVEN in his work to better understand and model atmospheric dynamics. Dr. Yiğit taught one of my classes, and he was always pushing my colleagues and me to pursue knowledge and stand on the shoulders of giants. As I looked for pathways that would allow me to merge my love of research, chemistry, and physics it was almost impossible for me not to stumble across the MAVEN mission; and fortunately for me there was a mentor here at George Mason University who was doing work with the satellite and enthusiastic about helping aspiring researchers such as myself. Before this project my knowledge in the subject of astronomy was essentially none. I had no formal education relating to astronomy or planetary sciences, but my pursuit of knowledge and guidance of those around me propelled me to dive into the unknown. This is a project I am undertaking now that is helping me understand the realities of observational research, lessons I hope to carry on with me to graduate school. Since I started this project I have been searching through hundreds (feels like millions) of measurements to piece together an accurate picture of the chemical distributions of the middle and upper-middle Martian atmosphere. I meet with my mentor weekly, so we can discuss the best path for moving my project forward. This project is the ultimate interdisciplinary experience. I am combining my background in chemistry to learn more about physics and planetary atmospheres, while also gaining experience working with different program languages to perform data analysis. This is essential skill as data analysis becomes increasingly automated.

Friday, April 27, 2018

URSP Student Saad Saleem Determine the Effects of Glyphosate on the Development of Zebrafish Embryos

I am trying to determine the effects of glyphosate on the development of zebrafish embryos, specifically the development of motor function in this animal model. I learned about glyphosate during a class project that was an exercise in learning how to work with zebrafish as an animal model. I found that glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the agricultural industry; however, its

Something so widely used and something that we come into contact with on a regular basis should be studied for any unintended effects it may cause. This applies to us humans as well as the aquatic species that we expose to these chemicals as well. Detailed information about glyphosate could help set appropriate limits on its use so it does not lead to destruction of the environment and those that inhabit it. The findings may be used to determine what would constitute a safe level of exposure.

For my project, I chose zebrafish as the model because it is a vertebrate model that allows assumptions to be made about the effects of glyphosate on other vertebrate species such as humans. It can also inform us on how aquatic species are affected by agricultural runoff. During my OSCAR project I have found that the overall morphology of the zebrafish is not significantly affected by glyphosate exposure. The data suggest that the hatching is delayed in the treated embryos and motor activity is also impaired. The motor axons in the treated fish appear normal as well. I have yet to look at whether the development of the neuromuscular junction may be affected by glyphosate exposure and if so, the way in which it is affected. 
effects on animal species are poorly understood. I decided to pursue this project after seeing significant results in the preliminary experiments that I conducted as part of the project.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

URSP Student Alexander Kourmadas Researches Steller’s Sea Cows

Right now, my research consists of several related procedures. I drill Steller’s sea cow bones to produce bone powder, from which DNA can be isolated. I carry out PCR using primers derived from research on extant sirenians, and use gel electrophoresis to determine whether any DNA was successfully isolated. When the PCR is successful, the resulting DNA sample is cleaned and sent out for sequencing. The most unexpected thing I’ve learned is that drilling the bones of Steller’s sea cow produces a unique, very strong, and very weird smell unlike the smell of bone dust from other organisms.

I have always been interested in natural history. When all of my friends went in and out of the “dinosaur phase” of childhood development, my interest didn’t dissipate. Instead, it progressively expanded to encompass more and more of the history of life. Until I finally got onto social media at the behest of my freshman class at GMU, I used the internet almost exclusively for Wikipedia articles and their bibliographies. My main interest both then and now was the intersection between modernity and deep time: organisms and ecosystems, like the Steller's sea cow, that represented how the world was long ago but lasted until very recently. My research plans for the future all tend to revolve around this principle of using recent history as a window into deep history.

Seven years ago, ancient DNA (aDNA) research took a huge leap in actually creating a fantastically enigmatic question - who were the people that shared Denisova cave with Neanderthals and our ancestors? They lived until relatively recently, interbred with both Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, and produced complex art. They were identified from DNA from a molar and a pinky bone, though, so it is completely unknown what they looked like. This and similar discoveries by aDNA researchers have filled me with awe and inspiration. In carrying out this project, I hope to bring the same sense of wonder at the world to others that existing aDNA research brings me, but right now mainly to learn more about Steller’s sea cows and to learn the methods I need to do this sort of research in the future. In the rest of my career, I would like to use similar procedures to generate and utilize genetic data from diverse recently extinct organisms.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

URSP Student Fionnuala Fisk Seeks to Bring Professionally-designed, Thoughtful Murals to Mason’s Fairfax Campus

As a native Richmonder, I’ve been deeply drawn to the splashes of color that the city’s mural program has brought to the streets over the last few years. As the daughter of two musicians and the granddaughter of an artist, I love being surrounded by art. So when I got to Mason my freshman year, it felt like something was missing on campus. Since then, I’ve been pursuing a vision of sorts with University Curator Don Russell - to bring professionally-designed, thoughtful murals to Mason’s Fairfax campus. I think I was also a little bit bored – I was used to having my time micromanaged in high school, and free time was unfamiliar and rather unwelcome.

My long-term goals are to follow my zany ideas wherever they may lead me. I am passionate about a lot of causes – the environment, women’s rights, education, the arts, access to opportunity, and good governance – and want to make positive impacts wherever I can and for whichever of these causes I am able to touch. More in the short-term, I am already thinking of projects to do after the mural festival.  I’d like to work on an environmental cleanup project, for example, but I also had an idea for connecting vulnerable populations with animals that are up for adoption. This project has also introduced me to a lot of people in the art community, and I really value that as well. I’m not sure what that has to do with my future plans just yet, but I can only imagine that that network will come in handy.

On a weekly basis, I meet with the volunteers on the project as well as the other University institutions that we interact with, such as Facilities and Event Services. We’re currently preparing for our soft opening on April 7th, so it’s been a lot of event planning. I also have been doing independent research in Provisions Library (in the Art and Design Building) on the history of muralism.

I’ve learned countless things during this process, but the biggest have all been life lessons. I’ve been growing a lot as a leader, a professional, and an individual during this process and had some pretty serious growing pains. I’m learning how to manage stress, how to take responsibility and delegate, how to stand up for myself, and most importantly, how to believe in myself.

Monday, April 23, 2018

URSP Student Mitra Kashani Investigates Temporal Patterns of Pathogen Prevalence Across Species of Queen Bumble Bees

The aim of my research project is to investigate temporal patterns of pathogen prevalence across various species of queen bumble bees found in the eastern United States. Bumble bees are crucial pollinators that uphold global economies, agriculture, and ecosystems, so undertaking this project was very important to me as someone who is deeply passionate about ecological sustainability. I am even more interested in my project since it is specifically looking at pathogen prevalence in queen bees, since queen bees play a vital role in overall colony health. Queen bumble bees are involved in foraging and pollination of flowering plants, and can be more susceptible to encountering environmental diseases that may be spread to worker bees and can reduce colony survival. My research will be addressing prevalence of the fungal disease Nosema bombi in queen bumble bees of four species: B. fervidus, B. bimaculatus, B. impatiens, and B. griseocollis. Recent studies indicate that bumble bee species with less stable population counts, such as Bombus fervidus and Bombus bimaculatus, are most at risk for carrying such pathogens. In my lab, I am screening about 60 bees from across the four species, each collected from a unique location in Virginia. I am looking for the Nosema pathogen using Nosema fungal ITS (internal transcribed spacer) primers of the 16s rRNA region. I begin my work by extracting the DNA from each sample. Using that DNA, I conduct PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on the set of samples to amplify the DNA, and use the aforementioned primers that are specific for the pathogen I am trying to detect (Nosema bombi). I subsequently run the PCR DNA on an agarose gel via gel electrophoresis, which will indicate whether the Nosema bombi pathogen is present in my sample. So far, I have discovered that of the bees I have tested, all of the Nosema bombi I have detected has been in the B. fervidus species. This may change however as my research continues. In the long run, I hope this project can serve as a stepping stone for me pursuing a PhD in microbial disease ecology.

Friday, April 20, 2018

URSP Student Emily Harris Tests Whether or Not Perceived Humanness of an Agent Correlates with the Social Cues it Gives Off

I did not become interested in research until I switched from a biology to psychology major last spring. However, when I did become interested in doing my own research, I was afforded a great opportunity by my mentor, Dr. Eva Wiese, to run participants for one of the studies in her lab. The research I am currently conducting is entitled, “Social Eye Gaze Congruency on Perceived Humanness of an Agent”. Dr. Wiese and I are testing whether or not perceived humanness of an agent correlates with the social cues it gives off, which in this case is social eye gaze.

On a weekly basis, I spend quite a bit of time prepping for and running participants. To begin, I set out 10 slots (1 hour each) in which participants may come to the lab to do the experiment. These slots are available via the Sona Systems website offered by the University. Upon arrival, participants are fitted for the eye tracker and given a consent form and instructions on their task. If they consent, they are then run through two tasks which take approximately 45 minutes to complete. Once they complete the task, the computer program stores the data for future review.

Running my research study has been an extremely valuable and enjoyable experience for me. By exploring another avenue of my field, it allows me to expand my career choices more and realize a passion for research that I didn’t know I had previously. In addition, I have been able to learn how to run a study properly and ethically, and how to use the equipment for my study. For example, an important component of the experiment is usage of an eye tracker. Again learning to use this equipment is both interesting and valuable for a future in research or other career paths.

Upon realizing my passion for research and enjoying the experiences I have had thus far, I have really come to appreciate the opportunity as it will benefit me greatly in the future. My goal is to go to graduate school, which is extremely research and experience based. Therefore, conducting a study early gives me an idea of what that may be like, but also a head start to learning the ins and outs of research. Also, psychology is an extremely research based field, therefore learning this aspect of my major is vital to my academic career, and quite possibly a contribution to future research. Overall, this has been a tremendous opportunity that I plan to continue on with as I carry out my education.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

URSP Student Arjit Roshan Researches the Common Patterns that Led to the Intensification of Ethnic Cleavages in the United States and Yugoslavia

On August 12th 2017, I witnessed the United The Right rally in Charlottesville. At the time I had been reading “White Rage” by Carol Anderson and had become very interested on the issue of intensifying racial cleavages, and particularly white nationalism in the United States. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered the story of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and drew some interesting parallels between the factors that caused ethnic boundaries to become more salient in that country and our own. By October of the same year, I had the idea of writing a research paper on these parallels, and with guidance from my professor, Jack Goldstone, I submitted the proposal to OSCAR.

My proposal was accepted, and I’ve spent this semester reading an enormity of material. While a lot of my peers in OSCAR are doing lab work, my research is entirely done at my desk or the library. I look at a great deal of sources, from documentaries and books to economic reports and journal and newspaper articles. Throughout the process, my ideas have developed dramatically. Initially I was very interested in specifically analyzing the role of decline in class boundaries and labor organizations in both countries, but after more reading I have developed a more holistic understanding of what factors lead to the intensification of ethnic cleavages. My mentor, Jack Goldstone, told me I shouldn’t be so concerned about drawing broad nomothetic conclusions but focus on making “thoughtful analogies” and comparisons. With this advice, my paper has evolved. A lot of what I’m trying to do is tell a story, one both digestible to an interdisciplinary audience and one that has meaningful conclusions that meaningfully contribute to the study of ethnic cleavages.

Finding the common patterns that lead to the intensification of ethnic cleavages through my research has been the easy part, telling the story in a way that is both easily understood, creates a compelling narrative on ethnic conflict, and emphasizes those common patterns has been difficult. This project has challenged my skills in composition more than anything else. What has helped me is the saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme; I remind myself that I’m writing a paper on the elements of the Yugoslavian and American experience that rhyme. Among these are uneven regional development, economic displacement, competing visions of the country’s foundational character, and massive demographic change: all factors that I argue make ethnic and cultural boundaries more functional for elites to activate and therefore more important (often much more important than we’d like) in our lives.

OSCAR’s commitment to making our projects approachable to an interdisciplinary audience has made me re-envision scholarship and made me determined to make a paper that follows that goal. The existing literature on ethnic conflict is often jargon-heavy with complex competing theoretical frameworks, early on I was very concerned with matching what I thought were the conventions of the discipline and following some “template.” However, through OSCAR’s mission statement and guidance from my mentor, I’ve rethought what my goal ought to be: to write a paper that tells a story that everyone can understand and learn from. I’m excited to share my first draft with my professors, friends and old teachers and hear what they think. Eventually, I plan to submit this paper to several undergraduate journals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

URSP Student Rimsha Rana Collects the Narratives of Dreamers

Immigration has always been a fascinating topic to me. During my freshman year in college I was a trainer for Undocually Training's at Mason through the student organization, Mason Dreamers. The purpose of these training's was to educate the public about the current immigration system in the US and how attendees can become allies to Dreamers. My favorite part of the training's was when brave Dreamers would come up and share their inspiring stories. In addition to my extra-curriculars, I also wrote my Honors 110 research paper on the need for contemporary immigration reform in the US. I learned a lot about the quantitative aspect about immigration and undocumented immigrants such as average age of arrival, number of undocumented immigrants, etc. However, during my research I noticed that very little qualitative scholarly literature about Dreamers existed. The human side to the immigration debate interested me the most.

On September 5, 2017, DACA had been rescinded by President Donald Trump and the anxiety within the Dreamer community increased. I decided I wanted to broaden the lens the public has on Dreamers and highlight the diversity in experience through an OSCAR research project. I interviewed Dreamers from many countries including Mexico, Pakistan, Chile, Korea, and even Mongolia. Many came to the US on a visa, a few crossed the US-Mexican border, and one Dreamer even crossed the Canadian border! Despite all the hardships they have faced in their quest to a higher education due to inability to get financial aid, lack of scholarships, and status issues; this cohort is extremely resilient. On a weekly basis I interview students, type up narratives, and read through scholarly literature to add information to the paper.

The most important thing I learned in my undergraduate scholarly experience is that each and everyone of us have some privileges. Privilege isn’t something that should be hidden or ignored, it should be something each one of us acknowledges within ourselves and we must use our privilege to help empower others. I am very thankful that I have the privilege to attend college and participate in scholarly research, and I wanted to use this privilege to help empower Dreamers. That’s why I embarked on doing a research project to collect the narratives of Dreamers. I hope that through my project I can expand the lens that the public has on the cohort and help galvanize change in the United States immigration system. This experience has been very beneficial to me as an undergraduate student and has given me ample experience in research, working with the under-served, and empathizing with others. This experience was very valuable to me and will greatly help me in graduate school. My next steps for my project is to finalize the paper and get it published as a book in the near future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

URSP Student Hannah Carrai Examines the Prince William County Fatherhood Initiative Program

My project examines the Prince William County Fatherhood Initiative (PWCFI) program by interpreting data to enhance their fatherhood program. The research I am conducting will allow me to support a public program as well as my local community, which is an essential aspect of my project. I was first introduced to this project last year as I completed a report on the first set of data while working for SWIRL, or also known as the Social Work integrative Research Lab. This research will not only develop my own understanding of an effective fatherhood program, but will have an immediate impact on the operation of a local fatherhood program.

This research has the potential to greatly support my educational and professional goals as I am committed to working with families, youth, and young adults, especially those involved in correctional facilities. Therefore, I would like to work with families, young adults, children, and/or juvenile correctional facilities in the future.

The work I complete on a weekly basis changes depending on what needs to be completed that week. Thus far, I have organized the data, coded pre-and post-tests to better aid the analysis of the research, input the data into Excel, and reviewed the Excel spreadsheet for data quality assurance. Subsequently, I will input the data into SPSS for quantitative testing so that I may then analyze the results. I also meet with my mentor several times a week to discuss my project; she is in fact my professor for my social work research class.

Conducting research throughout this semester has taught me that the research process can be tedious. Tasks that I thought would take me an hour or so to complete, have taken me several hours to finish. In addition, thanks to my mentor and project, I have come to love research and I want research to be incorporated in my life throughout my professional career.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

URSP Student Katrina Sipin Aims to Explore the Experience of Expatriate Workers in the Japanese Workplace

In the Spring Semester of 2017, I studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan at Sophia University and while I was there it was the prime time of shukatsu, or job hunting season. Throughout this time in the semester, I witnessed Japanese college students my age go through the arduous process of trying to find stable employment after graduation. It differed greatly from anything I had ever witnessed in the US. It was this process, as well as the many anecdotes I had heard from fellow classmates about what the Japanese work environment is like, that led me to my current project. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Niklas Hultin, I created a research project that aims to explore the experience of expatriate workers in the Japanese workplace. Focusing specifically on expat English teachers in Japan, I am using interviews to gather data on how expats experience stress and how gender and workplace norms affect their integration into the workplace.

During the research process, I spend a lot of time reading previous articles written on the topic in order to understand the current scope of knowledge related to the subject. I also recently returned from a trip to Japan where I began my interviews. I was able to conduct several interviews and create ties in the expat community in order to reach more participants for my research. The biggest thing I have learned through this experience is just how challenging qualitative data collection can be. Having to rely on others to be willing to participate in my study has had a big impact on my research design. I have had to alter my plans accordingly, but it has shown me the importance of adaptability, and having empathy for your participants.

Since this is my first independent research project, it has been an extremely valuable experience for me. I have gotten a taste of what research is like and learned a lot about the creation and conducting of research studies. As a Global Affairs major with a concentration in Global Economy and Management, I have also been able to learn about the process of internationalization in the workplace.  With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics quickly approaching, Japan is aiming to greatly increase the number of foreign workers within the country – I myself want to work in Japan in the future as well. I hope my research can be used to help ease the process of integration for foreign workers in Japan. In the future, I also hope to expand on my topic and explore the experiences of expat working in different industries as well.

Friday, April 13, 2018

URSP Student Blaize Johnson Researches and Compiles Information on Historic Floods in the National Capital Region

I became interested in conducting an OSCAR project following a conversation with my mentor, Dr. Ferreira. I was in Dr. Ferreira’s Water Resources Engineering class during Hurricane Harvey and the resulting destruction. We discussed issues faced by the D.C. region in relation to flooding and storm events. This conversation is what led to the idea of going back through history and documenting historical storms and flood events in order to help researchers better understand future flooding. I am excited to conduct this project for a few different reasons. This summer I will be interning with Lane Construction and working on the Northeast Boundary Tunnel. This project seeks to redress some of the flooding issues that D.C. currently faces. My hopes entering this project were that the research I did would provide a better understanding of the necessity for the project I will be working on this summer.

My weekly work is constantly changing. At the beginning of my project I focused on research. I began by compiling a list of all significant flood events in the region. I was initially hoping to assemble enough photographic and narrative evidence to be able to map flood extents. I quickly discovered that many flood events lacked the historical records to make this possible. On the other hand, my research did lead to quantitative data about many of these floods. I began indexing this data into a database in attempt to compile all relevant information in one place. With the backbone of my database completed, my current weekly goals are refining the database and gathering information on how to put my database online for people to view. Once this is completed I am hoping to return to the original purpose of my project and attempt to capture field data in order to map at least one historic flood.

This project has pushed me out of my comfort zone in a good way. I am constantly being challenged in my skill set and creativity. One of the unexpected things I have dealt with is the evolution of my project and the flexibility necessary to adapt.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

URSP Student Kailah Hartsfield Explores the Local Perceptions of Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 Food System

This semester I am conducting a project titled Food Deserts: Exploring Local Perceptions of Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 Food System. A food desert is an area that lacks access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. Ward 8 of Washington, D.C., located in Southeast, has been deemed a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture. This ward of the city has only one grocery store out of the more than 50 grocery stores that are distributed throughout the city. This is compared to the average six grocery stores per ward. It is also important to note that this Ward of the city has the highest number of Black residents, the lowest median income, and some of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease throughout the city. This is not by coincidence.

The ways that we choose to nourish our bodies has a direct effect on our potential and possibilities not just as individuals, but also as a community. I view a lack of access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods as a direct attack on a community’s ability to thrive and grow together. Growing up in Richmond, VA, an area also considered a food desert, and taking an environmental justice course that touched on issues of food justice I have grown passionate about these issues.

To center the experiences of Ward 8 residents, I am interviewing local residents and gaining perspective on the ways that they navigate living in food scarce neighborhoods. The first half of my semester was spent traveling to Southeast D.C. multiple times a week to interview residents. While the second half has been spent coding and analyzing my data, which I wish to turn into an article that can be shared with key stakeholders throughout the city and specifically in Ward 8. This project is the start of what I look forward to being a lifelong dedication to fighting for food access in our nation’s urban food deserts. Additionally, as someone considering a career in academia, this project has allowed me to get my feet wet and has shown me what serving a community through academia and research can look like.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

URSP Student Sabrina Lamont Researches Quorum Sensing

The first time I became interested in research quorum sensing, also known as bacterial communication, was my senior year of high school when my biology teacher showed us Bonnie Bassler’s revolutionary TED talk on how bacteria talk. Quorum sensing is a fascinating process where bacteria coordinate their actions by “talking” to each other. This concept is so ground breaking because it is what allows unicellular bacteria to act as a multicellular organism. Therefore, if researchers were to give these bacteria “earplugs” by blocking the external receptors that detect quorum sensing molecules, the actions regulated by quorum sensing would theoretically be inhibited. Identifying a possible “earplug” molecule is what I’ve based my research on.

Preforming this research is vital to my long-term goals because I plan to attain my PhD so that I can research quorum sensing as my career. This research is providing valuable experience and lessons for when I attend grad school.

In terms of a usual week schedule, I would go into the lab Monday through Friday for a few hours before classes. I culture my bacteria, make plates, autoclave everything, make crude methanolic extracts, and then see if the extract worked through minimum inhibition concentration assays. Not necessarily in that order. I usually can only do one test a week because it takes a day to culture the bacteria, a day to do the experiment, then one more day to record results and by then the week is over. Now I say, “I would go into lab” because I am no longer due to the fact that I am currently waiting for a specific bacterial strain from England. Therefore, one thing I can say I’ve discovered this term is how long international shipping takes. I have been anxiously waiting for my bacteria for almost a month and can’t wait to take it into my lab and get back to work before the semester is over.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

URSP Student Fareshta Jan Researches the Association of Stress, Violence, and Discrimination at the Intersection of Gender Identity and Race/Ethnicity

My interest in public health was sparked after participating in the DC Public Health Case Challenge during fall of 2017. I reached out to a faculty member who is an affiliate with Women and Gender Studies, where I work, and asked about potential research studies related to gender identity/expression and public health. Since healthcare has been constantly evolving, I was extremely curious about health-related issues in marginalized communities and wanted to explore how LGBTQ+ health and well-being was being addressed. Through my preliminary literature review, I  was surprised to learn that there were very limited research studies on mental health in the transgender community.

Along with my mentor, Dr. Lisa Lindley, we decided to perform a secondary analysis using American Public Health Association (ACHA) Spring 2015 data. ACHA is a nationally recognized research survey program that collects data about students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions. The aim of the study was to utilize statistical analysis to examine the association of violence, depression, and discrimination with depression and self-harm among transgender college students compared to cisgender college students. Every week, we would analyze the data results and discuss if there was any correlation between rates of depressive symptoms and verbal/physical/sexual assault amongst the two cohorts.

As a prospective future physician, I hope that by learning about the limitation that exists in our database and existing studies, we can place further emphasis regarding the importance of research in marginalized communities to assess their needs and improve their overall health and well-being. In the end, we hope that our result will shed light on the important numbers and help reform campus climate for the transgender community.

Monday, April 9, 2018

URSP Student Gabriela Marmolejos Evaluates Maternal Health Care Services in the Dominican Republic

In 2001, the Dominican Republic approved an integrated reform of the health system. The goal of this ambitious reform was to improve the quality, delivery and accessibility of health care services for the Dominican population. My project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of this reform in improving maternal health care services in public hospitals from 2006-2016. Utilizing a hybrid study design, I am currently analyzing a mix of quantitative and qualitative sources of information to evaluate maternal care services in public hospitals over time. To that end, I recently traveled to Dominican Republic to interview several Dominican women who had given birth in public hospitals. I also had the opportunity to visit various public health institutions and tour the inside of a public women’s hospital. One interesting factor I observed during my trip was the impact of Haitian migration on the Dominican health system. I plan to take a closer look at this factor in the coming weeks.

This project is very important to me because my parents and most of my extended family are Dominican citizens. I applied to the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP) because of the opportunity to give back to my community and contribute to the study of health systems across Latin America. In the future, I plan to pursue a Masters of Public Health and continue researching health systems around the world. This program provided me with invaluable experiences and helped prepare me for future studies in global public health.

Friday, April 6, 2018

URSP Student Bassam Mutawak Creates a Patient-Specific 3D Biomechanical Model of Eyes

Researchers develop and use various models to increase their understanding on a specific topic. In the field of Bioengineering, models are normally used to understand how and why certain functions in the body occur. The idea of transforming something complex into a model that can be easier to understand is what first got me interested in Biomechanics.

For my OSCAR project, I will be creating patient-specific 3D biomechanical models of the left and right eyes. The purpose of these models is to help medical professionals understand why a certain patient suffers from an ocular defect known as strabismus, and possibly suggest surgical corrections that could improve the patient’s condition. The goal of each model is to be as realistically close to the patient’s actual eyes as possible. This would also allow medical professionals to have a “dry run” at correcting the patient’s condition. As most are aware, not all surgical procedures are successful; so this model would be a great aid in increasing the success rate of these procedures.

I would normally begin a new patient’s dataset each week. For each dataset, the entire modeling process can be divided into three parts. The first part is tracing the required ocular muscles in several different viewpoints in order to understand where each muscle is located. The second step is combining all viewpoints into one static representation of a particular eye. Finally, towards the end of the week, I would begin the process of creating the dynamic 3D model.

When I first began working on this project, I was only interested in learning more about modeling. As I went through datasets and understood more about the goal of my project, I became aware of the impact it could have on people. This notion pushed me to work hard on this project for the benefit of those suffering from the condition.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

URSP Student Sarah Moore Researches the Ideas in Economics and Public Policy Regarding the State of Incarceration in the United States

The purpose of my project centers around the ideas in economics and public policy surrounding the current state of incarceration in the United States. It’s pretty much common knowledge that the U.S. leads the world in how many people it incarcerates each year; when I started interning at a criminal defense firm last spring, my interest on the subject was certainly piqued. Furthermore, when I switched my major to economics and realized that it was about more than just markets and supply and demand—yes, it deals with things like public policy and the implications of laws on human rights, individual liberties, etc.—I saw the need to act and culminate the two. My long-term goals are a bit “up in the air” so to speak. I’d like to become a policy advocate of some kind, though I doubt I would remain solely dedicated to matters of criminal law and incarceration specifically. That being said, I still think this is a pertinent issue and would be more than eager to do more to help alleviate what has become such a massive issue in our country. It has inspired me to change the way I think about legal advocacy, the way our political system works, and to become more critical of what “is” and what “could be.” What I do (or did for the sake of my initial paper) was look into as many resources as I could. Since my project was a written analysis in the form of a research paper, most of my work was just dissecting the facts that were already out and available for public consumption. Some of these sources were as simple as news clippings from popular news sources to figure out the modern rhetoric surrounding the subject to hundred-page dissertations from renowned experts on the subjects of drug laws, occupational licensing, and racial discrimination, which are the most talked about issues in the realm of mass incarceration and modern criminal justice. What I discovered this semester is that (though I already kind of knew this) is that politics is hardly ever about what it claims to be about. There are a lot of hidden narratives out there that have hurt a lot of innocent people; it’s incredibly disheartening to see how a few politicians in an era of great hate have managed to pervade modern discourse for as long as they have.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

URSP Student Ashley D. Koranteng Studies Variance between Consumers' Culturally-Based Produce Wants and Grocers' Offerings in Neighborhoods of Washington D.C.’s Ward 7

My name is Ashley D. Koranteng, and I am an Honors College, Community Health junior here at George Mason University. The formal title of my research is, “Availability, Price, and Variety: Identifying Variance between Consumers' Culturally-Based Produce Wants and Grocers' Offerings in Washington D.C.’s Ward 7.” I came up with this research idea through learning about food deserts my sophomore year, and doing some preliminary research on combating the issue of food deserts in Wards 7 & 8 of Washington, D.C while taking Dr. Lindley’s Health Promotion and Education course. Food deserts, as defined by the USDA are, “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas”. When I found out that portions of Wards 7 & 8 in D.C. were food deserts, and I saw the DC Greens Grocery Walk advocating for eradicating food insecurity; I knew I wanted to look closer into this problem in some way. So, I selected 3 neighborhoods in Ward 7 (specifically, the neighborhood that includes 1 of 2 grocery stores in the approximately 75,000 person, Ward 7, and the 2 neighborhoods around it). On a week by week basis, I visit 2 corner stores and the 1 grocery store that service these 3 neighborhoods, and record the prices and products available to customers. I also analyze census data: demographic and income;  and look at the specific cultures and ethnic groups residing in these neighborhoods, as well as, the foods that they eat. I then compare the products available to them with the typical products they need to cook foods based on their cultural background, as well as, the prices produce items cost and the income levels of the residents. One thing I discovered is that many of these residents are living in poverty, but are forced to pay unaffordable prices for their produce needs due to not having any other options available to them, as well as, not being able to afford to travel for their grocery needs. Ward 7 has the second highest rate of physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes in Washington, D.C. I hope my project sheds light on this issue, and creates needed policy changes in Washington, D.C. This project is related to my long  term goals of becoming a DrPH (Doctor of Public Health), and working in the field of health program planning. I hope to create program plans and public health campaigns to combat large public health issues affecting US residents, and people abroad!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

URSP Student Da’Shown Rawl Conducts A Choreographic Study of Different Emotional States of The Body and Mind

I became interested in the study of different emotional states of the body and mind in movement in 2016. I title this dance composition Cold Fire because our emotions can turn us cold or hot when we are overwhelmed with work. This idea to create a work based on emotions came from my second year of college when I experienced four major emotions all at once. I tried to understand how I was able to make it through the year by using dance and choreography. I wanted to focus on how depression, anxiety, fear, and fatigue are all connected and create ideas on how to manipulate these emotions with movement. I want to showcase how the human body can take on each emotion and how a person can push themselves beyond their own physical means. Choreography has been a huge interest of mine for that last 10 years with one of my long-term goals as a choreographer is finding new creative ideas as I build my dance company.

Me and my dancers create creative tasks each week as we build our first full evening dance composition. This is uncharted waters for me and my dancer as we create a work that is 50 to and 1 hour in length. We have discovered so much about ourselves on a person level of exploration both as a group and as individuals. We are now able to truest and understand our emotions in movement. One major thing I have taken away from this project so far is that even when we are under presser or overwhelmed with emotions, we can always find a way to harness our feelings with movement. As dancers learning this tool is one of the biggest tools we use in auditions and performances.

Monday, April 2, 2018

URSP Student Nadine Rozell Investigates Academic Outcomes for Young Dual Language Learners in Miami

Several semesters ago I took a Spanish class that involved learning a lot about language education and policy in the U.S., and it included a service-learning component at a local Spanish-English immersion school. After taking this class, I was very interested in conducting research on dual language development in school contexts. I met my mentor, Dr. Adam Winsler, through the Honors in Psychology Program. I joined his lab to work as a research assistant on a project with him and Dr. Ellen Serafini, who taught the Spanish class, investigating how dual language learners are doing in school based on which type of language education program their schools offered. My senior honors thesis, part of Dr. Winsler’s ongoing Miami School Readiness Project, investigates how the grade at which dual language learners are classified as English proficient by district-wide criteria in Miami-Dade County relates to later academic outcomes such as GPA and high-stakes test scores.

I’ve now been working on my project since Spring 2017 through the Honors in Psychology Program. The amount of time I’ve spent on it has enabled me to learn so much about the topic in depth and to improve my research skills. I want to eventually pursue a PhD, and having undergraduate research experience has definitely made me better prepared! The opportunities for undergraduate research at Mason are excellent, and participating in the OSCAR program has been a great experience. On a daily basis I read a lot of background literature, work on writing the manuscript for my senior honors thesis, and learn about the statistical procedures I’m using and how to interpret results. I’m excited to present my project at NCUR 2018 in April!