Thursday, May 31, 2018

USTF Student Effie Anayiotos Present Research at the Eastern Communication Association Convention

At the Eastern Communication Association Convention, I was granted the opportunity to present a year-long worth of research on " The Effectiveness of Social Influencers on Instagram." The experience helped me gain confidence about presenting research and also gave me the chance to meet Graduate Processors and other fellow researchers in the Communication field. I greatly appreciate the OSCAR program for helping me be able to jump out of my comfort zone and share my interests with the other people in the Communication field.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

USTF Student Emiliano Santin Participates in the 6th 'Palaeo-Arctic Spatial and Temporal Gateways' Conference

The third week of April of 2018, I had the honor to participate in the 6th 'Palaeo-Arctic Spatial and Temporal Gateways' (PAST Gateways) Conference hosted by Durham University (one the oldest educational institution in Europe). The event focused on the theme of Arctic palaeo-environmental change beyond instrumental records, and particularly on: Growth and decay of Arctic Ice Sheets, Arctic sea-ice and ocean changes, Non-glaciated Arctic environments including permafrost, and Holocene Arctic paleo-environmental change. The conference icebreaker took place in the magnificent Great Hall of Durham Castle (UNESCO Heritage site and a primary scene in the Harry Potter movies). My attendance to this conference gave me the opportunity to share my ongoing research with world class climate scientists. I was the only undergraduate among seasoned scientists and PhD students. The OSCAR program gave me the opportunity to move one step closer to become a part of the next generation of Arctic scientists.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

URSP Student Tovga Haji Evaluates the Association between Household Consumer Behaviors and Dietary Intake of U.S. Children aged 2-19

I am conducting a secondary data analysis using datasets from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from 2007 through 2010 to evaluate the association between household consumer behaviors and dietary intake of U.S. children age 2-19 years across food security groups. I became interested in this project for two reasons. First, I was curious to understand the process of research by answering a real-time nutrition question. Second, I was interested to learn how to use and manage large interdisciplinary sets of data. Lastly, I was really curious to understand the dietary behaviors of children and what effects these behaviors. 
This project was a continuation of the Summer 2017 FaBULIS (Studying Food and Behavior Using Large Interdisciplinary Sets of Data) Summer Team Project. This data is publicly available and as result used by many researchers to answer different questions. During this project, I am often conducting literature reviews to understand how this survey data was used and whether this association had been evaluated. This literature is also being used to write a paper on the results. In addition, I would do different statistical analysis of the datasets using STATA to understand the characteristics of the sample and the direct association between the food availability and the dietary intake. I spend a fair amount of time creating different ways to present the results data with different data tables and figures. 
I discovered many things during this research project. First, literature review is a time consuming but worthwhile process in order to understand the importance of your research and what has already been done to answer your questions. Another discovery I made was the helpfulness of the library’s data services to understand what can be done with data and how to explain your results to different audiences.

Monday, May 28, 2018

URSP Student Faith Ryan Examines the Effect of Musical Tempo on Performance in the Sustained Attention to Response Task

For my URSP research project, I am examining the effect of varying musical tempo on performance in the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), a computerized task aimed to measure sustained attention. Briefly, the goal of my project is to measure how auditory stimuli affects the apparent speed-accuracy trade-off (SATO) in responding to certain visual signals in the task. 
Before beginning my project, my knowledge on the SART and SATOs was limited. However, I knew I wanted to conduct an experiment involving the two after learning about the purpose of the SART from my mentors, as well as my growing curiosity for computer programming and cognitive ability tasks. Additionally, the premise of the program—to study deficits in attention by measuring participants’ error rates and reaction times to rapidly presented stimuli­—sparked my initial interest due to the relative usability and ease in administering the task to multiple participants in a short time. While reviewing research papers on the SART, I also discovered a gap in the literature about how auditory stimuli such as musical tempo effects SART performance. Since I have had a passion for music since I was young, I saw this as a great opportunity to combine my love for music and psychology for my research project. 
From my project, I am gaining experience and familiarity with the research process in psychology. For example, when submitting forms to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), I have learned to be more precise and thorough when describing my experiment and its procedures. Moreover, I believe this project is a step in my journey as a research student that will allow me to pursue more research opportunities regarding my interests in the future.

Friday, May 25, 2018

URSP Student Senya Donkor Researches How Short-term NGO Projects Create Long-term Impacts in Jamaica & Ghana

My research project is Humanitarian Work & Voluntourism: How can short-term NGO projects create a long-term impact?  My two countries of focus are Jamaica and Ghana, I chose these two countries because I have visited both countries. As the founder of Bright Nations, Africa have done charity work in Ghana, and I have also completed volunteer work in  Jamaica. In both countries I worked with children, and helped to organize events for the less fortunate. In the midst of these   events/opportunities, I realized that there was a disconnect between those that were being served and the impact. 

As a senior majoring in the school on integrative studies with a concentration in Creative Producing and a minor in nonprofit studies. I have made it my life's mission to use my creative works and ideas to address social issues and to advocate for those who do not have a voice. My passion is in developing countries, specifically Black Nations (countries with predominantly black people), example Africa and the Caribbeans. My creative works include music production, movies, and poetry. This goes hand in hand with my final creative project for the OSCARs presentation which is a music video, with a song that I wrote and sang. The purpose of the music video is to showcase the beauty of Jamaica and the beauty of families and communities with the Jamaican people.

On a weekly basis, I communicate with my faculty advisor, I send emails, I communicate with my cinematographer. I also make phone calls to former students who volunteer with alternative spring breaks, and non-profit leaders in Ghana, and Jamaica. I also read books and articles. One thing I discovered this term is the communication is very important, I discovered that you can not do two things at once. The time spent in the hospital, then the psych ward were all because I had been overworking myself, and not getting enough rest. It was also because I was not communicate my thoughts feelings and ideas, they were all bottled up inside of me. Research takes teamwork, having a strong support system and learning to balance.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

URSP Student Anaam Avant Looks at How the Unite the Right Rally that Took Place in Charlottesville Effected Black Students at GMU

My name is Inaam Avant, I am a graduating senior from the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR). My project looks at how the Unite the Right Rally that took place in Charlottesville last year effected Black students here at George Mason. Additionally, it will try to understand how these students rate GMU’s administrative response to the events that took place. The idea for the study came to me after trying to reconcile my own feelings about the event, and trying to process what it meant to me. This question was one I wanted feedback on so I decided to ask the people around me and see what would come of it. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Thomas Flores, an established academic in the S-CAR field, I am excited to be on this journey.  Due to its origins and my concentration in Building Peace in Divided societies, this project is close to my heart and aligns with my interests. After graduation I plan on continuing to ask questions with the intention of serving populations whose challenges are commonly ignored.

My daily schedule varies depending on what stage of the study I am in. Currently I am collecting data in the form of semi-structured interviews, which means that although I have prepared questions I will ask, there is room for the participant to talk about what is especially important to them. I am trying to complete as many as 30 interviews in the month of April so I will be spending a lot of time sitting and learning from my participants. Once concluded, I will analyze my data using a coding scheme that seeks to identify common themes in my results. From here I will hopefully be ready to share what I learned with my peers and maybe influence future policy the school develops towards increasing inclusion and student well being.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

URSP Student Jordan Keller-Martinez Writes a Series of Poems That will be Made into a Handmade Artists Book

My project involves writing a series of poems that will then be made into a handmade artists book. I am choosing to engage with my experiences while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I have been reluctant to write about in the past. I am hopeful that this project is the start of a larger body of writing that I can continue as I join Washington University’s MFA program next Fall.

Much of this project’s writing process has been informed through reading. I have most thoroughly studied Susan Howe and Mina Loy, who both radically employ different elements of language to help establish content. They have been integral in focusing my attention on form and structure. I have been mostly considering how association can be worked in different ways, which I am involving mostly through repetition and signification. I am also inspired by C. G. Jung’s Studies in Word Association and other studies in linguistics.  I am especially interested in Saussure’s notion that language is a system of arbitrary signs attached to a sound-image and concept.

In my writing thus far, I have put significant work into developing the form, such as voice, structure, and motifs. I am working a lot to push the image, which comes heavily inspired by Surrealist poetry. The surrealist process of abstraction often illuminates the signifier, sound-image, and concept by distancing each component from the others. This notion of abstraction is evident in Dada conceptual music, Magritte’s word-image concept, and Marcel Duchamp’s experiments with absurd language, such as his 1915 poem “The” which detaches concept from the text signifier. I believe these formal abstraction techniques have been suitable in representing the experiences of being deployed.

I have gone through several mock drafts in the development of the artists book, which I think I have come to a concluding form. The book plays to the form of the poetry, as there will be multiple reading itineraries. I am excited to start finalized the text of the book so I can begin construction.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

URSP Student Lucas Muratore Conducts A Content Analysis of Tearing Among Male Superheroes in Films

My interest in studying crying superheroes started in my Creative Producing for Film class last semester. The class was the first part of a year-long course which would culminate in the completion of our senior films. As an icebreaker, the class discussed things we hadn’t seen in films to spark new ideas. Serendipitously one of my classmates brought up the idea that superheroes never cry, which I had never really considered. Being a communication major who was also looking for a senior research project I pitched the idea to my professor and she loved it. So here we are today, researching crying superheroes.

Long-term I plan on making movies, in what capacity – I’m not entirely sure yet. But I think this research project will hopefully show potential employers that I’m passionate about the entertainment industry and that I care about the kind of messages we’re sending. Who knows – maybe I even end up doing this kind of research for major studios to make sure they’re creating characters who can be strong role models for our next generation of leaders.

On a weekly basis, I watch superhero movies. I’ve got about 18 superhero films I need to code ranging from Tim Burton’s Batman to more recent films like The Guardians of the Galaxy. In addition to coding I’m working closely with my professor to edit my final research paper, reading more articles about representations of masculinity in mainstream media and thinking about ways to analyze my data that can help me draw some conclusions.

One thing that I discovered this semester other than how bad George Clooney is as Batman is that Superman is a cry baby. So far, my fellow coder and I have managed to get through almost all of the Batman and Superman movies. And Superman is almost always driven by these irrational emotions – he literally spins the earth in reverse to save the life of Lois Lane in the Original Superman. Batman on the other hand is extremely reserved and hardly ever expresses any kind of emotion. So DC comics has two extremes here, either your emotions really take control of all of your actions or you pretend like you don’t have any.

Monday, May 21, 2018

URSP Student Summer Claveau Uses the Lens of Existentialism to Examine the Healthcare System

I decided to participate in the OSCAR Undergraduate Research Program this semester in order to better understand a problem with the healthcare system I have noticed and have been struggling with, since I was a GMU Global Health Fellow in 2016. In the Global Health Fellowship, we studied Bioethics, Human Rights, and Global Health Justice, as well as participated in an internship. My internship was with an awesome organization called Stillbrave Childhood Cancer Foundation, which is run be a truly inspiring man, Tattoo Tom. This organization works to provide non-medical support to families who have a child with cancer. This includes providing gas and grocery cards to these families as well as helping families maintain their living situations and support their kids without cancer.

While working with this organization, combined with my studies in the fellowship, I started to question why this incredible nonprofit organization had to provide these services to these families, though I felt these services are due to these people as a function of the healthcare system. I believe that these standard comforts are deserved because these families, and in fact all people who struggle with disease and disability.

As a philosophy major, I decided to approach this question through a lens of existentialism as well as through social justice theories. In this light an argument can be made that because of the lack of day-to-day aid, people who are affected by disease or disability are being structurally oppressed by the healthcare system and the financial burden of illness or disability. This is the basis of my research and the origin of my thought, which has produced the beginning to a paper that includes philosophical analysis as well as arguments for change.

I am very pleased with my results so far! My research mainly consists of reading, and writing. My favorite part of the process is working with my mentors, who have guided me by suggesting various sources and essays, as well as writing advice throughout the vigorous process. I’m excited to have a completed paper that I can use to apply to graduate school, and possibly submit for publication.

Friday, May 18, 2018

URSP Student Linda Azab Develops a Computational Model of Microparticle Interactions for Lyme Disease Detection in Urine

My name is Linda Azab, I am a senior at George Mason University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in
Bioengineering with a concentration in signals and systems. For my OSCAR URSP project I am working on developing a computational model of microparticle interactions for Lyme disease detection in urine. The concept for this project was developed in lieu of one of my professor’s research in micro fluid dynamics. The goal of the project is to detect the presence of early stage Lyme Disease in urine samples. This project is of strategic value for my post-graduate career path in diagnostics research in Biomedical Engineering, and after consulting with my professor of micro-fluid dynamics, Dr. Nitin Agrawal, I believed this research was going to provide me with an invaluable learning opportunity while advancing empirical research. My goal was to use my engineering foundation to advance a career that contributes to the bridge between engineering and medicine, and this project is a significant investment in that long-term commitment. I go to the lab two days a week; in the lab I develop simulations of the urine sample’s potential environment in a software called COMSOL. In the software, I implement different micro fluidics theorems by varying the conditions the sample is in, for example; the temperatures at the top and bottom of the container, the number of particles in the sample, and the container dimensions. One thing I discovered this term is that no matter the level of difficulty of a research project, you still have to devote a significant amount of time and effort to the process in order to yield results.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

URSP Student Damian Cavanagh Learns How to Successfully Design, Troubleshoot, and Report on a Sequence of Experiments

Several experiences over the course of the past two semesters (and summer) have stirred my interest in the project I am working on now. First and foremost, my experiences working in a virology lab over the Summer left me hungry for more wet-lab action. My Summer research project was done in association with the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program, and centered around the study of South-American viruses similar to the now-infamous Zika virus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the lab, and so was hoping to embark on a second project.

The other main inspiration was a ‘Phage Genomics’ course that was offered last Fall. This course, taught by Professor Anne Scherer, focused on the software aspects of bacteriophage discovery and classification. Much time was spent analyzing and ‘labeling’ bacteriophage genomes using unique sequencing software. Having worked in a ‘dry-lab’ setting on phage discovery, I was now interested in a more hands-on experience. My current project allows me to develop bacterial and bacteriophage cultures under the (loose) supervision of Dr. Scherer and Professor Charles Madden, and provides me with an opportunity to work semi-independently.

The main goal in undertaking this project is to learn how to successfully design, troubleshoot, and report on a sequence of experiments. In the long term, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in the life sciences, and so will need to develop the skills necessary to manage my own projects with minimal supervision.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my experience thus far is the amount of time spent on the logistics of ordering and maintaining stocks of bacteria, phages, reagents and equipment. I was previously unaware of how much effort goes into coordinating the exchange of materials, especially living organisms.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

URSP Student Emiko Ellis Researches the Potential of Curcumin as a Therapy for IPF

My name is Emiko Ellis and I am a junior studying biology, with a concentration in microbiology. I hope to go on to become a physician’s assistant, specializing in emergency medicine. I was first introduced to research when I started working with Dr. Geraldine Grant in Fall 2017 as my mentor for the Biology Research Semester. I initially took interest in her lab because she oversees a series of experiments on a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. I imagined it would be a perfect way to conduct research significant to modern medicine and improve my microbiology lab techniques. I applied to her lab and she offered to let me lead a project exploring the effects of Tylenol on fibroblasts derived from lungs with IPF. My research has become one of the most influential and fulfilling academic endeavors I have had the opportunity to experience. This semester I am exploring the therapeutic potential of curcumin, a naturally occurring compound found in turmeric that has many properties beneficial for the human body. Curcumin has been used for centuries as a holistic medicine, particularly in Asian countries. My Asian heritage has always played a role in my interest in Western science coinciding with and validating Eastern medicine, so the curcumin project has been engaging and culturally relevant. Every week I feed my fibroblast cells, grow them in the presence of curcumin and other compounds, and analyze their RNA. I use my results to determine what I want to challenge the fibroblasts with next, and I have learned new lab techniques like staining and imaging tissue samples to contribute to my results. The processes of qPCR and data analysis may be taxing, but my results often surprise me, reigniting my interest and curiosity. I have discovered that although many projects may end with rejecting the original hypotheses, the most essential part of research is using the information from the results to generate new questions, better techniques, and creative solutions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

URSP Student Christian Malias Researches the Relationship between Leaders Who Embrace Altruistic Behavior/FACCT and Organizational Performance

This semester I have been given the opportunity to participate in the OSCAR undergraduate research program at George Mason. As a business management major, I have spent a lot of time learning about the effects managers can have on an organization. I first heard about this opportunity through my Organizational Development and Consulting professor Dr. Olivia Oneill last semester. You don’t typically hear of business students participating in research programs, so I thought this could be an excellent opportunity to differentiate myself, keeping in mind that I would be a graduating senior looking to start a career in consulting.

My project titled “What is the relationship between a leader who embraces altruistic behavior and “FACCT” (fondness, affection, caring, compassion, and tenderness) and organizational performance, particularly in high results-oriented industries?” Having this experience and bringing it to a employer has been the biggest advantage this opportunity has given me. I have been able to collaborate and rely on my professor for guidance and advice while also being able to work independently and research an answer to this complex problem. I mainly work with a program called RapidMiner trying to find correlations between large sets of data. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience.

If you have any interest in learning more about the program, I would suggest you get in contact with a professor and ask as many questions as you can before applying.

Monday, May 14, 2018

URSP Student Devon Nelson Researches How Symptoms of a Common Hormone Disorder Known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Influences Personal Care Product Use and Self-Esteem

My name is Devon Nelson and I am a senior Biology major with a minor in Psychology.  My current project is on how symptoms of a common hormone disorder known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) influences personal care product use and self esteem.  During Fall of 2017, I participated in the Biology Research Semester.  My research then focused on how personal care product use differed among race/ethnicity and how health risks of cosmetics were perceived among different groups.  While doing preliminary research for the paper, I found myself drawn to PCOS and cosmetic use.

Personal care products contain chemicals that are known to mimic and/or inhibit hormones.  Research on the long-term effects of these chemicals is still being conducted, but there isn't a lot of data on how these chemicals may affect hormone disorders.  That's where my research comes in.  I'm looking at whether individuals with PCOS symptoms use more personal care products.  Most of the symptoms of PCOS are physical (persistent acne, coarse hair growth), so individuals with the disorder might be using more personal care products to cover these symptoms.

On a weekly basis, I work to promote my survey through social media and local advertising avenues such as bulletin boards.  Now that data collection is coming to a close, my time is spent analyzing and cleaning the data.  Since a portion of my participants don’t live in the USA, I'm also spending time researching how beauty standards differ per region.

Friday, May 11, 2018

URSP Student Rebecca Schmidt Follows the Chemical Processes Involved with Changing the Vesuvius Megaporphyry to Unakite

Minerals are predictably produced in a specific environment, regardless of their optical, crystal, chemical and physical properties. This is what excites me the most, their predictable nature can be applied across a combination of different scientific mediums to help bridge the gap between process and formation. I took a two-day field trip to the Appalachians, with Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, where I got to see rocks dated at over a billion years old. On the last day, I saw an atypical granite, the Vesuvius Megaporphyry, that showed noticeable alteration to unakite progressing throughout the formation. Seeing the rock first hand prompted a whole slew of questions regarding the assemblage, but one stood out the most, when did alteration take place and why was it drastically different in age and composition from the surrounding rocks at this location? With the help of my mentor, Dr. Julia Nord, I was able to start to begin to answer these questions. Mineral investigation through thin section examination, whole rock analysis, and working with the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and the Electron Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) I was able to follow, at the micron scale, the chemical processes involved with changing the Vesuvius Megaporphyry to unakite.

Like many scientific questions, you go into it with an idea of what you expect to see. It is not until you really start to get up close with your data that you realize things do not always progress as they should. This has been the most interesting part about the whole project, in that, even though the minerals behave predictably, they do so under specific conditions that can not always be easily inferred. Always evolving, this research has only helped to spark my curiosity regarding other scientific questions that hopefully will be used to create a thesis project and/or eventual publication.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

URSP Student Marcela Villeda Researches Federal Grants and Their Effectiveness in Providing Equitable Educational Opportunities for Immigrant Students

This project is at the essence of my being. Meaning that the educational success of immigrant students, whether at the elementary level or in higher education is incredibly important to me. However, I had not connected the role of federal grants within the availability of opportunities for students until I volunteered at a Title I elementary school. Title I is the biggest allocation of federal funding for public education institutions. Originally created to alleviate the gaps in education felt by underrepresented communities, the grant has allowed for some positive change to be made in institutions. This project is meant to examine the actuality of these positive changes, from the perspective of administration and faculty that work directly with the allocation of the funding as well as those who have direct contact with the student population.

As a sociology major, I am naturally curious about the inner workings institutions that are responsible for the socialization of the masses. And as a (hopeful) future law student, I am especially curious about education policy reform. This project will allow me to explore the institutions in which I want to make change in, and gain better insight into how they are actually run. On a weekly basis, I focus on literature and research. I work through my paper, as well as retain interviews, conduct interviews, and transcribe interviews. I meet with my advisor weekly also. In these meetings, I tell her my success of the week as well as my goal for that week. One thing I have discovered through this semester, is that people will always surprise you. When it comes to interviews, regardless of how much I have shaped the protocol to get the answers I want / need, nothing will ever go the way I have imagined it. It is both exciting, and terrifying at times.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

URSP Student Effie Anayiotos Researches the Effectiveness Behind Social Influencers on Instagram

In the last couple of years, I have become interested in how companies are using social influencers to promote their products more than celebrity endorsers on Instagram. When enrolling in an honors research course at Mason, I decided to explore this idea and came up with the research project Effectiveness of Social Influencers on Instagram. As I began my research, I became even more interested on how these social influencers are effecting the lives of Instagram users in between the ages of 18-34. Social media applications have taken over the lives of millennials and I believe that it is very important to study how they affect decision making when purchasing or consuming a product.

This research will not only help me personally understand how social influencers have affected millennial lives, but will benefit me in my career. As a Communication major with a concentration in Public Relations, I will be using social media in the office frequently. By having an understanding on how social influencers affect the Instagram users, I will be able to understand how to successfully reach a target audience when working on advertising campaigns. This will help me throughout my career when brainstorming with colleagues on the best way to reach the audience of a company or brand.

I began my research in Fall 2017. Between the beginning of Fall to mid-winter, I conducted research to learn about the history behind Instagram, social influencers and what has already been studied about the two. Since then, I have been working weekly on my Introduction, Literature Review and Method of my project. In the past month, I have been collecting data via a survey. Once this data is collected, I will begin putting my research paper together with graphs and other visual tools to help come up with a conclusion to how effective social influencers can be on millennials.

One thing that I have learned/discovered throughout this project is time-management. It is very important to stay on top of my research even though I am a full-time student at Mason, graduating in May. I believe that this research has helped me grow individually and has made me become a more organized person.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

URSP Student Aslihan Imamoglu Investigates the Neural Mechanisms Behind Implicit Biases through Brain Stimulation

I initially got interested in my project after learning about different neural mechanisms that influence
our individual control over implicit biases. As a highly efficient way of categorizing the world, implicit biases have always amazed me with their tendency to lead to over-generalizations and irrational errors when applied to social settings. Although most people do not like to admit to it, all people have implicit biases. Thus, it is important for us researchers to investigate them in a scientifically sound manner in an attempt to better understand how they function. This thought process led me to design a study that investigates the neural mechanisms behind implicit biases through brain stimulation. I eventually want to take my research a step further by pursuing a PhD. in Clinical Psychology with a specific focus on neuropsychology. Working on this OSCAR project and designing my own study from scratch have been really helpful for me to concretely decide on my long-term goal of pursuing a PhD. in clinical neuropsychology and sharpen my skills to prepare for this goal. I am currently in the process of collecting data. So, a regular week for me involves scheduling participants for appointments through the SONA system, administering transcranial direct current stimulation to participants, and monitoring the participants as they perform the study. I am also actively preparing to present by research in an academic setting. This semester, I was able to discover that a good research project is not about having one really good idea, but requires multiple really good ideas to work well together in a coherent way.

Monday, May 7, 2018

URSP Student Deepthi Jayakumar Researches The Relationship between High School Mathematics and Testing and College Performance

For my research project, I am working under Professor Laurence Bray on a continuing project. The project is to look at the relationship between high school mathematics and testing and college engineering performance. The reason behind this project is that there has been a misconception that students with a strong foundation in math and sciences perform better in an engineering major and are successful in the same career. The purpose for this project is to find if there is a correlation between mathematics and engineering performance in order to better serve and prepare students.

As a bioengineering major, I have always been interested in math and what is has to offer. My knowledge of math from before joining the university has carried me through my higher lever math and engineering courses. There are two main reasons that this project interested me. First, I was interested in learning about what the correlation between math and engineering and how that can be used to better help those students who don’t have the necessary education to do well in engineering courses. And second, I was interested in the idea of doing research in a subject that I have not explored, education. It was new to me and gave me a challenge to something that I only started looking into. So through this project I expected to not only better my skills and experience in research and computational analysis skills, while learning new software platforms , but also to analyze the results and devise a plan that can better help students who lack the necessary mathematics knowledge from falling short in engineering.

On a weekly basis, I am focusing on doing literature review about previous similar projects and looking into the demographics of student in schools and George Mason University. Currently, we are in the process of getting the data from the Registrar’s Office. So far, due to previous preliminary data, students who have a lower math education have a greater chance of repeating courses, switching majors, or leaving the university.

Friday, May 4, 2018

URSP Student Monserrat Perez Hernandez Researches How to Reduce Gender-Based Harassment in Male-Dominated Fields

My project this semester looks into the different types of gender-based harassment in male dominated fields, such as the fire department. I first became interested in this project when I began volunteering for the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department as an EMT three years ago. Throughout my years in the organization, I started hearing more and more about the possible gender-based harassment cases in the department through the news. At the same time, sexual harassment began to make national headlines within Hollywood, the government and other places with initiatives such as the #MeToo movement and “Time’s up,” among others. The death of a career firefighter caused me to look the different ways Fairfax County was working to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in the department.

When I first started this project, a lot of my time was spent in literature review, as information regarding this topic has been difficult to find. This gave me the opportunity to learn about studies done in this subject and gave me a better understanding of what anti-harassment initiatives are lacking. Monitoring news daily has also been an extremely important part of my research, as there have been many unexpected changes and announcements within the past few months. My mentor and I have been working on a possible instrument to prevent and end gender-based harassment and have attempted to get in contact with Fairfax County leadership.

Thanks to this project, I have learnt that I have a passion for research and I have grown to appreciate the incredible opportunity OSCAR offers by funding out projects. I believe this research will benefit me in the long term as I continue to pursue research on my own, and it further encouraged me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health in the future. I hope that with this research, someday I can make a difference in empowering women who experience gender-based harassment in male-dominated fields.

This project has taught me that leadership within organizations can change unexpectedly. The Chief of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department announced his retirement midway through our project, which caused the direction of this research to change. Additionally, there were other leadership changes that may have impacted communication with Fairfax County. I also discovered how many resources are missing for those facing gender-based harassment and the importance of the role of bystanders in the prevention of gender-based harassment. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

URSP Student Leonel Cabrera Researches the Pathogenic Effects of Ethanol on the Embryonic Zebrafish Stage

The effects of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is present over the world having a major impact on the lives of children and adults. The term FASD refers to a cluster of ethanol-related disorders of which FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) is the most common. More research is still needed to fully understand the phenotypic and genome patterns of this disorder, and the biological field has turned to analyzing model organisms for this task. Before applying to OSCAR to continue my research experience, I got my interest in this project on Fall of 2017 in order to discover possible new findings on this topic with developmental biology professor Dr. Olmo.

The goal is for the findings from this project to go to the Mason and general scientific literature as a means to advance basic research on the effects of different concentrations of ethanol on 24 hour and 48 hour embryos and encourage other students to extrapolate novel future findings using the past research as a sound platform. The applied laboratory techniques and most importantly, the ability to develop the knowledge on how and why to execute the hypothesis of interest gained from this project has helped me to become better prepared to work in a clinical laboratory environment in the future. 

On a given week, the project consists of a three day phase usually from Wednesday to Friday, where I categorize the current developmental stage of the embryos and administer the concentrations of ethanol, whereas on the next day, I analyze the results from the treatments and prepare the fluorescent solutions to image them on the microscope. The last day is for going over the results and interesting findings with my mentor, where she helps me with advice on how to improve the design of the experiment, and troubleshoot any potential limiting factor in the protocol.

One of the exciting things discovered during this experiment was a growing trend between certain ethanol amounts, particularly 1% with the positive control and the increasing rate of abnormalities along with the decrease of heart beats per minute and attention span. These results seem to support that there is a certain concentration of ethanol where its effects are more prevalent and the change in physiology in newborns is more pronounced.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

URSP Student Madeline Illar Researches Tick-Borne Illnesses in Northern Virginia

My name is Madeline Illar and I am a senior majoring in biology and minoring in math. I began working with my mentor, Dr. von Fricken, last semester for the Biology Research Semester program. I analyzed hospital records and wrote a case series report about Lyme disease presentation in Mongolia. Researching Lyme in Mongolia sparked my interest in tick-borne illnesses in Northern Virginia. Climate change is likely impacting the number of tick species present in the region, so new tick-borne illnesses may be introduced to the region. The aim of my project is to collect ticks from parks using tick drags that I built, organize them by species, stage, and sex, and then break down the ticks chemically, extract their DNA, and run Real-Time PCR using different bacterial primers to determine which diseases the ticks are carrying.  The data can be helpful in determining the density and spread of ticks and tick-borne illnesses in Northern Virginia.

So far this semester I have been doing lots of literature review to design my lab and field protocol and determine which sequences may be successful for primers. I have also worked on grant applications, so that this project may be continued for multiple seasons, so we can begin to track change over time. In a few weeks, when the weather is warm enough for ticks, I will begin collecting in parks and testing the samples in the lab.

After I graduate, I plan to go to medical school, and I believe that conducting research about human disease will be a valuable experience as I work toward my career goals. Working on this project has shown me how much scientists have learned about Lyme disease in a short period of time, and how much there is still to learn about Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

URSP Student Michael Hudgins Measures and Compares the Changes of Morphology in Dinosaurs and the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary

Ever since I was a child, I have had a strong interest in early crocodilians and early dinosaurs, the geologic history of the earth, and evolution. It is fitting that my project, under the guidance of both Dr. Linda Hinnov and Dr. Mark Uhen, measures the change of morphology of air-pocketed, or pneumatic bones of Theropoda and Paracrocodylomorpha and compares the change of morphology to the changing climate over the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Theropoda are a group of dinosaurs that included large carnivorous dinosaurs (Tyrannosaurus rex) and birds. However, during the Triassic, theropods were small carnivorous organism; living in the shadow of Paracrocodylomorpha. Paracrocodylomorpha are a group of reptiles that include crocodilians and their ancestors. During the Triassic, this group was the top terrestrial predator.

My current research has guided me to develop scientific skills, such as, formulating hypotheses, designing experiments, analyzing data, interpreting data, and technical writing. This has allowed me to delve deeper into the paleontological field and acquire a greater understanding for it. My project has provided me the opportunity to develop scientific skills for conducting research before attending graduate school.

What I do varies week to week when I am working on my project. For the first couple of weeks I would search for peer-reviewed articles from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) about the anatomy of Theropoda and Paracrocodylomorpha that I could add to my data set. I collected the presence or absence of the pneumatic bones in the vertebral column of both groups. I then collected pCO2 from the Triassic and compared it with anatomical data over time.

Over the semester I have learned that my research provides insight on the evolution of respiratory systems in early Theropoda and Paracrocodylomorpha, and the relationship between Paracrocodylomorpha and Theropoda at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Overall, I have learned research takes time and patience to be successful, and have learned how many doors it can potentially open.