Tuesday, September 29, 2020

STIP Student Jordan Boyle Examines the Interconnectedness of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (FEWS) in Rural Rapidan

When I first applied for the FEWS Summer Team Impact Project, I never would have guessed that I would be doing my work remotely and meeting with my peers and project leaders over WebEx. The FEWS Summer Team Impact Project examines the interconnectedness of food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) in rural Rapidan, located in Culpeper County, VA and finding solutions to FEWS problems in the area. The location for this project was chosen for many reasons, one of which being that Rapidan is relatively close to Fairfax. This made it possible for the team members to be able to go to the project location and see the farms, observe the flooding of the Rapidan River, and speak directly with the community members. Of course, this did not happen due to COVID-19. However, the FEWS team did not let this alter the main goals of the project.

The FEWS Project shifted gears. Now, instead of in-person interviews, we have been meeting with dozens of farmers, community leaders, and community members online. On a positive note, it has allowed us to interview many more people than expected, because working remotely has increased the flexibility of many people’s schedules. Our enthusiasm for this project has certainly not been stifled by COVID-19, as we have been able to meet virtually with so many locals of Rapidan and Culpeper County and deepen our understanding of the various issues they have been facing. Flooding is a prominent issue for many community members. Obesity and adverse health effects of malnutrition are two more prominent issues. I could go on and on about the multifaceted issues that community members of Rapidan have faced, but our project is still ongoing and every day we learn more about the negatives and positives of being a resident of Rapidan. Our hopes for this project remain the same during COVID-19: that we can find solutions for Rapidan residents and work to solve the issues relating to food, energy, and water systems in their town.

Monday, September 21, 2020

STIP Student Sarah Blanton Studies Student Activism, Well-being, and Burnout

My name is Sarah Blanton, and I am entering my senior year studying Global Affairs at George Mason. During the summer, my colleagues and I have continued a project Dr. Cher Chen of the School of Integrative Studies started about a half-decade ago on student activism and well-being. Although literature on student activism is well-established, almost no studies address student activism, well-being, and burnout in conjunction. This study seeks to address this gap in research, and eventually provide the foundation for student support networks to be built. We worked with 3 faculty members: Dr. Chen, Dr. McCarron, and Dr. Cai. I worked on a team of 6 undergraduate researchers. My colleagues were divided into three teams: Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, and Immigration Rights. Our teams contacted participants in the relevant areas, and conducted interviews for participants with activist interests which matched our teams. My partner and I, Anagha, worked on the Women’s Studies portion of the project and also interviewed LGBT+ activists. 

In order to meet COVID-19 guidelines, all of our meetings have been conducted virtually. All interviews with participants were entirely digital, using the Blackboard Collaborate function. We recorded and transcripted interviews using the Otter.ai app, and polished transcriptions by correcting any discrepancies between the transcription and audio file. We also attempted to address how the pandemic places a strain on student activists by incorporating questions about well-being and COVID in our interviews. 

Although I have about a year of qualitative research skills, this has been my first experience gathering data. I really enjoyed conducting interviews, and my passion for the subject motivates me to do the best work possible. By learning to conduct interviews, I gathered a valuable research skill which will stay with me throughout my career. Transcribing has been an exercise in concentration and attention to detail. The most valuable thing I have learned during this project is how to code transcripts, which I have aspired to learn for over a year. I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally understand this process. I feel like I have all the tools I need to conduct my own research projects in the future. Hopefully, having this knowledge will make me more competitive for TA positions or graduate research positions, since I have always dreamed of continuing to grad school and need to finance my ambitions.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

URSP Student Dominique Bernardino Creates a Short Film Simulating the effect of Drug-related Violence

For my project, I am going to create a short film simulating the effect of drug-related violence on children in the Philippines. I was motivated to pursue this project because I believe that it is an important story that must be told to the world through a visual narrative. Since being given this opportunity, I have been working closely with a production team in the Philippines to successfully execute pre-production, production and post-production.

Now that my team and I are nearing the post-production phase of the project, I began to realize how fast everything went by, and how I have not been able to process all my achievements, big or small. Now that I have taken the time to indulge in these new experiences, I realize how this summer has been eye-opening, encouraging and fulfilling. I learned more about the film industry in the Philippines and how they operate in these struggling times. I also learned more about myself and how I work in fast paced environments. Originally, I was supposed to create a fiction film a big production crew, but due to COVID-19 I transitioned toward a smaller production for a non-fiction film, with an entirely new script and approach. Instead of traveling to the Philippines to direct the film, I have been working remotely with a team of six. I have been actively meeting virtually with this team. Also, instead of interviewing children affected by the war on drugs, I consulted with a psychiatrist who worked closely with the children in order to gain a deeper understanding of the children’s experience and to get their approval for the script.

In the beginning, the weight that COVID-19 had on my project was overwhelming, but I soon turned it into motivation that fueled my passion for filmmaking even more. Through this opportunity, I will be able to take a closer step into the film industry by submitting my film to local and international film festivals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

STIP Student Sydney Allworth begins to Build a Non-Native Articulatory (NNA) Corpus Online

 The broad goal for this summer was to begin building a Non-Native Articulatory (NNA) Corpus online; the idea was that other researchers could use the articulatory and acoustic data compiled on this corpus in order to explore their own research questions about second language (L2) acquisition. Although the long term goal for the corpus was to compile data from L2 speakers of any language, we planned on starting with speakers who’s L2 is French this summer. Little did we know that we would need to narrow our scope much more significantly in order to adapt to the changes caused by Covid-19. 

Because the goal was to build an articulatory corpus, we originally planned to collect both auditory and articulatory data to measure how each speaker was producing speech sounds in French. We set out to use ultrasound technology in order to capture images of speech while in action, but we soon discovered that even collecting audio in person was unlikely. This is when we changed our course for the summer. Instead of launching the corpus itself, we would be focusing on building its core structures such as the language background questionnaire and list of stimuli. In addition to this, we would conduct a pilot study focusing only on the analysis of auditory data that was collected and sent to us remotely.

While this is a much more modest plan than we had before, we still had a lot of work cut out for us. After a full month of remote training, we put all our effort into developing a questionnaire that would provide pertinent information on the many variables that go into L2 speech production, as well as creating a stimuli list that contained as many possible sounds—and sound combinations—as are known to appear in the target language, French. However, the hardest part was yet to come: data collection and analysis. We were only able to recruit five speakers—three non-native French speakers, and two native French speakers who served as controls—but annotating the 825 sound files they produced certainly took up plenty of our time, and we were able to find many interesting patterns.

Though we were limited greatly by the reality of the global pandemic, I gained extremely valuable experience while participating in this Summer Team Impact Project. Not only did I learn more about Linguistics and the research community, I also learned some computer programming techniques that I doubt I would have encountered on my own had I not participated this summer. As a freshman at GMU last year, I didn’t expect to come across an opportunity like this. I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of such an interesting and important program.