Past Awards - 2019

Below are abstracts of KU BEARS grant awards from 2019. Click on the titles to read each abstract.

  • Immunofluorescence Microscopy Study of Autoimmune and Normal Immune Cells

    Angelika Antoni

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Biological Sciences

    Andrew Muscara

    Major: Biology - Allied Health

    Overview:  Autoimmunity in mammals is the result of a failure of the immune system to differentiate between normal, self-proteins or cells, and pathogenic threats.  It is the role of macrophages and dendritic cells to identify and begin the immune response to pathogens; but macrophages, in addition, must clean-up normal cell debris without triggering an attack response.  Dr. Antoni and her collaborators have proposed that the misreading of normal debris by macrophages could lead the cells to initiate an attack against normal proteins.  They identified key communication pathways in macrophage cells which are abnormal in all nine tested strains of mice that develop autoimmunity, and none of the thirteen normal strains of mice tested.  It is important to find one or more genes misbehaving in the critical pathways.  One gene, RhoA was found to be abnormally regulated; but not mutated, so the group is searching for another gene whose protein can regulate RhoA.  Drew Muscara completed research on one possible gene (PEBP), but he determined by gene expression analysis that it was not involved autoimmunity.  Drew then focused on a second possible gene, RhoH, and found by gene expression analysis that multiple forms (never previously reported) of the gene are expressed in the macrophage cells.  The protein also was found to be expressed in multiple forms and the expression pattern in autoimmune cells was different from that in normal cells – indicating RhoH could very well be a key component of abnormal signaling in autoimmune animals. 

  • Exploring Social Media Apps as Places and Spaces

    Angela Cirucci

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Communication Studies

    Megan Weiss

    Major: Social Media Theory and Strategy

    Overview:  Specifically attempting to answer “How do ethnographic and qualitative methods allow us to study social media apps?” this project employs methods traditionally used in Social Work and Geography Studies to investigate social media app (SMA) users as inhabitants. Users view their posts and interactions on SMAs through their social value—gaining attention, supporting friends, and connecting with family. However, backend logics that focus on institutional value— collecting, manipulating, repurposing, and disseminating data—are not known or understood by most users. In turn, studying these processes from a user viewpoint, or even asking users about their experiences with these processes, is nearly impossible through traditional media studies methods. This pilot study tests our newly adopted and adapted methods of “subjective sketches” and “structured app walks,” with the expectation of leading to better conceptions of social and institutional life. Like physical structures, users move through SMAs guided by design choices and cultural norms. SMAs may just be spaces—meaningless and context-free. For many, however, they have transformed into places—socially constructed and material, holding memories and emotions. Initial findings indicate that age proves to be an important factor. Participants under 35 were more likely to view SMAs as places. Yet, actual knowledge of backend processes was consistently low across the entire sample. This finding, among others, led us to conclude that young adults experience a type of “pseudo-place” that is designed to make users feel comfortable and share valuable data even though they may not know the SMA as well as they think.

  • Variability in American Late-Spring Transitional Temperatures

    Michael Davis

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Geography

    Codi Rhodes

    Major: Geography

    Overview:  Temperature transitions during the late-spring period, defined as April to May, have experienced greater extreme shifts.  Locations within the United States have observed freezing temperatures, temperatures below 32°F, in April give way to intense heat, such as 90°F days, in May.  Extreme shifts in temperature over a short temporal period have been predicted by climate modeling experiments due to anthropogenic activities.  This quick transition has created a colloquial proverb of “the week of spring” in meteorological and public arenas.  This project aims to assess the spatial properties and quantitative relationships over more than a century of spring temperature data within the United States.   By analyzing this data, additional climate information can be gathered to assess this critical transitional period within the annual climate regime.


    The spring season corresponds to numerous facets of American society.  Switching between heating and cooling can have economic and comfort impacts on Americans. The springtime is critical to the cultivation and germination of some crops leading to potential agricultural losses.  Furthermore, extreme shifts in spring temperature can disrupt ecological systems that impact the behaviors of flora and fauna.  Large swings in temperature can result in earlier snowmelt which impacts hydrological balances on local and regional scales.  Understanding the vulnerability to rapid, extreme temperature changes is essential to community adaptation and resiliency.

  • Determining the Mechanisms of Antifungal Activity of Peppermint Oil against the Fungal Plant Pathogen Alternaria Solani

    Kaoutar El Mounadi

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Biological Sciences

    Christopher Gauntner

    Major: Biology - Organismal Ecology

    Overview: Early blight is one of the most important diseases of tomato. It is caused by the fungal pathogen Alternaria solani. The disease is hard to prevent and leads to significant yield losses. Chemical fungicides remain the only way to control it. Nonetheless, their excessive use has led to the appearance of more aggressive strains of A. solani in addition to various environmental and health issues. There is therefore an urgent need to find safe and durable alternatives to control early blight. We have previously tested the ability of several essential oils to inhibit the growth of A. solani in vitro and control early blight disease in tomato plants. Peppermint oil provided strong resistant to A. solani and the plants treated with this oil did not develop early blight disease symptoms. In this project we aimed to study how peppermint oil inhibits the growth of A. solani. Data showed that peppermint oil has a fungistatic effect on A. solani up until a concentration of 0.3% when it becomes fungicidal. Although a fungicidal effect is more of a permanent control solution but in most cases, it causes the pathogen to develop resistance which will render the control ineffective eventually. When looking at hyphae using scanning electron microscopy and light microscopy, there was no apparent effect of the oil on hyphal morphology. Findings from this project are important in order to fully harness the potential use of peppermint oil as an alternative to chemical fungicides in the control of early blight disease.

  • Evolution of a Virus Under Conditions of Direct Competition

    Richard Heineman

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Biological Sciences

    Cole Matrishin

    Major: Biology - Organismal Ecology

    Overview:  Biofilms, in which bacteria grow on a surface, are important ecologically and also impact human health. Bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, have typically been studied in well-mixed liquid culture. However, in many cases, these viruses are found in conditions that cause them to preferentially infect hosts that are nearby, such as biofilms. This may then change the selective pressures that act on them, causing them to change and potentially interact with cells in a biofilm differently. We investigated T7 bacteriophage, which infects the bacterium Escherichia coli, and its adaptation to grow on cells on the flat surface of a Petri dish. We found that the viruses evolved a number of genetic changes, most of which had also been seen in adaptations to the same host strain in liquid culture. Most of these changes were present in the genomes of almost all individuals, suggesting there was no strong selection for variation. The attachment rate, which theory suggests may have been under selection for lower chances to attach to cells, did not change. Further evolution may allow new mutations that are not universally advantageous on the host to spread.

  • Assessing Nematode Parasite Prevalence in Organic Pig Farm Enclosures

    Alexander Hernandez

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Biological Sciences

    Christine Holland

    Major: Biology - Pre-med

    Overview:  Little information exists about the incidence of parasitic worm infection in organic swine production in the United States, although extensive research about the basic biology of parasites in organic farms has been done in Europe. Thus, a goal of this project is to examine the relative abundance of parasites in an organic farm by quantifying the number of infective egg stages that worms inside pigs produce and spread in the environment when pigs defecate. This project focused on quantifying eggs of 3 intestinal roundworms, Ascaris suum, Trichuris suis and Oesophagostomum sp., which commonly infect pigs. Soil, bedding inside the pigs’ pens, and pig feces were collected at the organic swine facility of Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. The percent of samples positive for each species of egg, and the abundance of eggs in samples was assessed weekly from feces, and bi-weekly from bedding and soil over the May and August 2019. Results show variability in the number of eggs produced by worms of each species over time, and differences in infection between pigs of different age and sex. Bedding samples showed differences between dirty and clean areas of the pigs’ pens. Soil samples yielded less

    conclusive results about how common the infective parasite eggs are in that environment. These results will be compared to that of other farms in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota where organic farming of pigs is an important component of their agricultural economy.

  • Short Film: For Sale Larrie

    Michael Johnston

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Cinema, Television and Media Production

    Joshua Beltran Del Rio

    Major: Cinema, Television and Media Production / Applied Digital Arts

    Overview: Most films start with a screenplay. The screenplay provides a narrative structure, action and dialogue, and clear objectives from scene to scene. The screenplay also provides the details necessary to budget, schedule, and determine the film’s aesthetic. But the security provided by a screenplay can also inhibit the creative process of the director and actors.


    CTM student, Joshua Beltran Del Rio, and CTM professor, Michael Johnston, worked in contrast to this traditional, screenplay-driven filmmaking practice. Similar to the processes of filmmakers, Rick Alverson, and John Cassavetes, we developed a short character-driven film through improvisation with the film’s principal actors and designed a conceptual approach to the film’s visual language not dependent upon continuity for post-production. A screenplay was never written at any point in the process. This was a new method for professor and student. In rehearsals, we isolated beats and pivot points through dialogue and action as well as through extensive conversations with the actors. We determined the next set of directions and built the film’s architecture through various experiments with language and tone and silence.


    Our approach continued through production. Our film crew, composed entirely of CTM students were free to experiment with the shot composition, lensing, and camera movement as a result of the actors’ performances. The film’s post-production will reveal the film’s narrative as we edit the performances, dub new dialogue, and incorporate additional footage. 

  • Building an Algae Bioreactor to Reduce Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

    Matthew Junker and Christopher Sacchi

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences

    Megan O’Neill

    Major: Biochemistry

    Overview: The earth’s climate is warming rapidly due to high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels.  One potential way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide is to employ algae to convert carbon dioxide into algal biomass.  Algae grow rapidly and, unlike terrestrial plants, do not require arable land.  The goal of this project was to develop an economical and easy-to-use algal bioreactor that could be widely adopted for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.  A method was developed for growing and quantifying algae under controlled conditions to enable optimization of different growth variables.  The addition of nutrients was found to greatly enhance growth compared with spring water.  This method is now being used to further optimize growth conditions in order to maximize the conversion of carbon dioxide into algae biomass. 

  • Building an Algae Lamp to reduce atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

    Erin Kraal

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Guliana Simmens

    Major: Environmental Science - Chemistry / Secondary Education Earth, Space Science

    Overview: This two-year pilot program, funded by the National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program, implemented a curricular approach specifically focused on addressing the challenges of STEM introductory courses, such as large classes, minimal laboratory materials/access, and limited faculty support. Using Student Produced Audio Narratives (SPAN) assignments students engage with the geosciences by telling a scientific story using simple audio recording and production techniques in their introductory course.  The pilot program developed a collaborative regional network of eight faculty to design and implement student-produced audio narratives.  Using a mixed method approach, the impact of student-produced audio narratives on students’ engagement and the learning environment was evaluated. 

  • Cycles in Algebraically Defined Graphs

    Brian Kronenthal

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Mathematics

    Liannah Kim

    Major: Mathematics / Computer Science

    Ethan Noe

    Major: Mathematics

    Overview: In Combinatorics, graphs are objects commonly used to represent networks, communicate information, and solve problems. In this project, the students investigated special graphs that are called algebraically defined.

    Imagine an infinitely long row of vertices (imagine them as dots). Label each vertex with a different (x,y) coordinate pair, for instance (1,4), (3,1), or (1/2, 5). Make a copy of the row so that you have two identical rows, one above the other. Now pick a vertex in the top row and a vertex in the bottom row. We will decide whether or not to draw an edge (picture a line segment) connecting them based on whether their (x,y)-coordinates satisfy a particular algebraic equation; that is why these graphs are called algebraically defined. Continue picking pairs of vertices (one from the top row and one from the bottom row) and deciding whether or not to draw an edge based on whether their (x,y)-coordinates satisfy the equation; repeat this process until every vertex in the top row has been considered with every vertex in the bottom row. The resulting object is an algebraically defined graph.

    These special graphs are interesting in their own right, and problems in pure mathematics do not require a direct application; however, these graphs can be used to solve real-world problems, and have applications to coding theory, incidence geometry, and other areas of mathematics. There are infinitely many algebraically defined graphs, and only a small proportion have ever been investigated; the students and professor collaborated to prove new results about graphs that had never been studied. Their contributions were meaningful, and they are currently working to write a paper that will be submitted to a peer-reviewed mathematics journal.

  • Analyzing Playing Card Cryptosystems

    Eric Landquist

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Mathematics

    Isaac Reiter

    Major: Mathematics

    Overview: Spies and soldiers alike have used so-called hand ciphers throughout history to send secret messages using little equipment beyond a pencil and paper. Modern secure communication, by contrast, requires computer software and hardware to execute various cryptosystems. However, a routine calculation shows that the randomness (entropy) of a well-shuffled standard deck of playing cards has the potential to provide security to rival modern cryptosystems. Playing cards have a convenient feature that two suits have 26 cards, so the full deck can encode each uppercase and lowercase letter. For these reasons, Neal Stephenson, author of the novel Cryptonomicon, commissioned security expert Bruce Schneier to create a cryptosystem using playing cards. Since then, several other playing card ciphers have been designed.

    We analyzed the security of Card-Chameleon and Chaocipher, two cryptosystems that are implemented using a deck of playing cards. We found new weaknesses in both cryptosystems and explored variations of these cryptosystems to help reduce these weaknesses. In the case of Card-Chameleon, we showed that a letter will encrypt to itself with probability 1/13; this probability would be 1/26 with a secure cryptosystem. This bias allowed us to demonstrate a practical crack of the cryptosystem when a message was encrypted multiple times with different deck shuffles. A couple of techniques we explored to make these cryptosystems more secure were to implement jokers and also to implement “full deck” versions that utilize the full entropy of the deck in a way that the original versions do not.

  • Documenting Work and Life at a 19th-Century Milling Village in Northeast Pennsylvania

    Khori Newlander

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Anthropology & Sociology

    Samantha Luskin

    Major: Anthropology

    Overview: The rise of American industry during the late-18th and early-19th centuries dramatically transformed the United States. Historical accounts of this period of dramatic socioeconomic transformation commonly focus on the triumphs of famous people and the introduction of innovative technologies, leaving untold the stories of the ordinary men and women on whose backs these triumphs and innovations were achieved. This project seeks to tell the stories of the “invisible” men and women who lived and worked at Stoddartsville, a 19th-century milling village in northeast Pennsylvania. Previous archaeological research has established the links developed between Stoddartsville and the surrounding area as the town grew into a short-lived center of trade and industry in the region. During the summer of 2019, Samantha Luskin worked with me to analyze artifacts recovered from the Stoddart mansion and workers’ cabins in order to document how transformations in the American industrial landscape affected work, as well as domestic life, for the countless men and women who were the real engines of industrialization

  • Temperature Dependent Characterization of Silicon Photovoltaic Cells Under Steady-State Simulated Solar Illumination

    Paul Quinn

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Ana Ozorio

    Major: Physics - Engineering

    Overview: The use of solar cells has continued to increase exponentially since their early incorporation into the space program. The overall worldwide capacity of photo-voltaic systems reached just under 305 gigawatts in 2016. While a promising green technology on earth to help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, the extraction of solar energy from photo-voltaic cells in space-based applications is a necessity. Both terrestrial and space-based applications subject solar cells to large temperature variations. On earth, only a small portion of the electromagnetic energy from the sun, mostly in the visible spectrum, is used in the generation of electricity while the remainder is absorbed only as heat. In space-based applications, the lack of atmosphere exposes the solar cells to extreme thermal variations on a regular basis.

    Previously, students investigated the performance characteristics of mono-crystalline, silicon, photovoltaic cells subjected to a high and low-temperature thermal shock as compared to baseline measurements of the unaltered cells. In this study, we will investigate more thoroughly, the performance of these cells after exposure to cold temperatures, and attempt to model their behavior. In this study, we are able to observe the efficiency output of the photovoltaic cells in real time, allowing us to monitor changes in the performance characteristics of the cell while the temperature is changing. In particular, we will be examining effects to the open circuit voltage, Voc, and the fill-fraction as a function of temperature and then attempt to model them with various simulations and solid-state theories. When designing solar energy systems, this information is helpful in predicting the performance of solar cells over the lifetime of the cell, rather than relying solely on the performance characteristics of a pristine cell.

     Results showed that cooling the cells with liquid nitrogen for significant amounts of time permanently improved the performance of the cells at low temperatures. The Voc of the photovoltaic cells increased when the cell was cooled at low temperatures for long periods of time. This led to an improved performance of the photovoltaic cells when tested at low temperatures. This improvement is a low-temperature effect, that is not noticeable at room temperatures, but is significant for the use of solar cells, particularly in space, where temperatures can be as low as 4 K. This result could be modeled numerically as a function of temperature, using certain know characteristics of the photovoltaic cells, such as the gap energy and the ideality factor.

  • Indirect Imaging of Variable Disks Around Stars and Mass-Transfer Streams Between Stars

    Phillip Reed

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Eric Fischer

    Major:  Physics

    Overview: The 0.6-meter optical telescope at the C. R. Chambliss Astronomical Observatory (CRCAO) on Kutztown University’s campus was employed to study the binary stars U Coronae Borealis (U CrB) and RZ Cassiopeiae (RZ Cas). Both U CrB and RZ Cas are interacting binary stars, meaning that material flows via a mass-transfer stream from one star to the other in each system. RZ Cas is a direct-impact system in which gas strikes the mass-gaining star directly, whereas U CrB builds a variable accretion disk of gas around the star. Since CRCAO was under construction for the replacement of the observatory dome during much of the grant period (summer 2019), we initially analyzed data collected during the previous several semesters. Once the dome replacement was complete, we began planning new observations in order to characterize variations in the mass transfer dynamics and to provide baselines for preparing an observing proposal for the use of the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) array of telescopes at Mount Wilson in California.  We also took some time to conduct observations of new exoplanet candidates in collaboration with NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. The results of this project were presented at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) student research conference at Kutztown University in November 2019 and at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Honolulu, HI in January 2020.  This project is on-going and further results will be presented at the 30th Central Pennsylvania Consortium (CPC) Astronomers’ Meeting at Franklin and Marshall College in April 2020.

  • Family before Gender: Social History in Early East and Central Africa

    Christine Saidi

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | History

    Cynthia Diaz

    Major: English

    Overview: This research project is based on the third year of African fieldwork for A National Endowment for the Humanities Grant.  From June 7 to July 20th, 2018, Dr. Saidi was gathering linguistic, video, oral tradition, life history, ethnographic, art, and archival evidence for NEH research, Expressions and Transformations of Gender, Family, and Status in Eastern and Central Africa, 500-1800 CE.  Summer, 2018, Dr. Saidi and colleagues spent two months collecting evidence in Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. When she returned to KU in 2018, she had a great deal of research data.  Last summer an undergraduate student transcribed oral tradition interviews, and edited videos taken in the field. This summer Cynthia Diaz assisted Dr. Siadi in analyzing primary and secondary research which included ethnographic writings, oral traditions, art and older academic articles found in the archives in Africa. Ms. Diaz learned how to use primary forms of evidence and vocabulary to write history. From previous fieldwork, both for the NEH grant and other research trips to Africa, Dr. Saidi has been able to construct a linguistic database that covers over 72 Bantu languages and has vocabulary relating to gender and gender dynamics. The final aspect of this summer’s work was to historicize the evidence so that it can be analyzed and added to the manuscript Family before Gender: Social History in Early East Central Africa to be published by Cambridge University Press (2021).

  • Construction of Novel Binding Peptides for Heme and Metal

    Carsten Sanders

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Houng Tran

    Major: Biochemistry

    Overview: In this project, we engineered eight novel peptides each with a binding site for a heme compound and a metal (such as Fe, Cu, Zn) using DNA assembly techniques. The heme-binding site for these peptides is based on the electron transfer protein cytochrome c and the heme compound needs to be covalently attached by the biological catalyst cytochrome c heme lyase (CCHL) in a cellular environment. The metals are expected to interact and associate with the peptides in vivo or in vitro in the absence of a specific biological catalyst. In summer 2019, we focused on the genetic construction of novel peptides with binding sites for heme and metal. In fall 2019, we will coexpress these peptides with CCHL in a heterologous bacterial (Escherichia coli) host and purify them via affinity chromatography using an added amino-terminal tag (Strep-tag). Subsequently, we will analyze the purified novel binding peptides using several biochemical or biophysical techniques such as denaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, heme protein staining, UV/Vis spectrometry, and others.

  • Exchange of a Conserved Histidine (H193) in Yeast Cytochrome c Heme Lyase and Analysis of the Mutant Phenotypes

    Carsten Sanders

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Reagin Carpenter

    Major: Biochemistry

    Overview: Cytochrome c heme lyase (CCHL) is an enzyme that catalyzes the thioether bond formation of heme b (iron protoporphyrin IX) compounds to cytochrome c protein precursors (apocytochromes c) to produce functional cytochromes (holocytochromes) c. In many eukaryotic organisms, holocytochrome c is located in the mitochondrion organelle, where it acts as an electron transport component. In humans, defined CCHL mutations are associated with the disease microphthalmia with linear skin defects (MLS). Nonetheless, the molecular mechanisms of CCHL how it binds its substrates (heme b and apoctochrome c) and ligates them together are yet poorly understood. Previously, we showed that a highly conserved histidine (H128, yeast model numbering) is critical for CCHL function. Here, we generated mutations of a second highly conserved histidine (H193) within CCHL. We expressed these mutants together with non-mutated yeast apocytochrome c in an Escherichia coli host. Our data confirmed the critical role of H128 in CCHL. No holocytochromes c is produced with either CCHL mutant H128G, H128A or H128C co-expressed. On the other hand, co-expression of yeast apocytochrome c with CCHL H193 mutant H193G, H193A or H193C led (in all three cases) to holocytochrome c formation, suggesting that H193, although highly conserved, is not directly involved in any necessary catalytic step of CCHL.

  • Long Term Map Maintenance for Mobile Robots

    Dylan Schwesinger

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Computer Science & Information Technology

    Matthew Bartlett

    Major: Computer Science / Mathematics

    Overview: Mobile robot applications typically use a representation of the real-world environment (a map) for navigation tasks. The first step for many mobile robot applications is to create a map of the environment. That map is then used for future navigation tasks. This method assumes that the environment does not change over time; for some navigation tasks, this assumption is valid.

    The goal of this project is to handle mobile robot navigation tasks where the environment is expected to change over time. For example, monitoring crop growth. The main aspect of this project is to investigate map representations that can be easily updated (repaired) when discrepancies are detected between the initial map representation and the sensor measurements of the real-world environment acquired during a navigation task.

  • Variations in the Thermal Boundary Conductance of Au-Si Interfaces During Accelerated Lifetime Testing

    Justin Smoyer

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Physical Sciences

    Erika Minnich

    Major: Physics - Engineering

    Overview: Computing is used in just about every aspect of life in today's society and is especially beneficial in today’s society. However, a major roadblock in creating smaller and faster computers is the thermal management of the systems. This challenge has become increasingly prevalent as the electronics have decreased to nanoscale dimensions. The scientific community has developed many tools to determine the thermal properties of solid-solid interfaces within the past several years, however, little thought has been given to integrating these technologies into real systems and how real-world scenarios would impact the results determined in a laboratory setting.

    To better understand how thermal properties of a solid-solid system can change over a device lifetime, the student and faculty research team will be merging classical physics techniques used to measure the thermal properties with that of an engineering approach of testing the system under accelerated lifetime testing. These results will not only determine the fundamental physics underlying thermal transport at a solid-solid interface but will also study the effects of thermal cycling on the stability of thermal properties across device lifetimes. This information will benefit both fundamental research and set the groundwork for the integration of research principles into engineering applications.

  • Health Assessment of Nesting Diamondback Terrapins at Wallops Island Virginia using Hematological Techniques

    Matthew Stone

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Biological Sciences

    Jessica Christ

    Major: Environmental Science - Biology

    Olivia Crouthamel

    Major: Biology

    Overview: The diamondback terrapin is a medium-sized turtle that is restricted to the coastal estuaries of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States. Many populations of terrapins face a myriad of threats that can influence population viability (e.g. mortality with automobiles, drowning in crab pots, and loss of habitat). Some of these factors result in direct mortality; however, some anthropogenic disturbances/stressors may have sublethal effects on the health of individual terrapins. The goal of this study was to investigate potential sub-lethal health effects in a population of nesting diamondback terrapins on Wallops Island, Va, a population we have been studying for many years.  During summer 2019 we collected blood samples from nesting diamondback terrapins for the purpose of performing individual health assessments. In particular, we focused on the abundance of hemoparasites.  We collected a total of 65 nesting female diamondback terrapins and took a blood sample from a sub-set of these individuals. The results from this study will help us to better understand how terrapins are faring in the region and will provide a framework to identify the impacts of environmental or human-based factors on the health of terrapins.

  • Understanding the Impact of Mutual Solidarity (MUSO) Microfinance Groups on Individual and Community Well-being in Rural Haiti

    Juliana Svistova

    College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Social Work

    Carolyn Rene

    Major: Social Work | Political Science

    Overview: In Haiti, the government’s failure to adequately meet the needs of its citizens has fueled grassroots community organizing and the growth of the solidarity economy. This mixed methods research project investigates group processes and social impact of community-driven, solidarity-based microfinance groups in rural communities in Petit Goave, Haiti. Proposed outcomes of the project include evaluating the processes utilized by seven mutual solidarity groups in order to improve their programmatic effectiveness and identifying evidence-based best-practices in poverty alleviation efforts in the Haitian context. More generally, this research will contribute to the knowledge base on operations and social impacts of microfinance organizations on the well-being of participants and their communities.

  • Gender Bias in the Middle Level Classroom: The Intersection of Data, Teacher Self-Perceptions, and Student Perceptions.

    Carol Watson

    College of Education | Elementary Education

    Jenna Plump

    Major: Middle-level Education (Math and Social Studies)

    James Durham

    Major: Middle-Level Education (Science, Social Studies & Language Arts)

    Overview: This study seeks to better understand instances of gender bias in middle-level classroom practice, and particularly, to give voice to middle-level students themselves. The existence of gender bias (and discrimination based on that bias) in public school classroom practice has been longitudinally well documented (Bellamy, 1994; Shmurak, Ratliff, & Shmurak, 1994; Sadker & Zittleman, 2009). The negative impact of gender bias on students and their learning is also well documented (Rodriguez-Planas & Nollenberger, 2018). Most of what we already know about gender bias in the classroom has been collected through the lens of adults. Few studies have mined the perspective of the students themselves (Feldman, 2002). Evidence suggests that including student voices significantly changes the conversation and provokes adults to think in ways they would not have had the student perspective not been included (Yonezawa & Jones, 2009). The methodology includes three distinct data sources: researcher observed classroom behaviors, teacher perspective, and student perspective. The latter two will be collected through a secure website. Data from the three sources will be analyzed and intersected to address the guiding question: How do the perceptions of teachers and students compare to observable the perceptions of teachers and students compare to observable indicators regarding gender differences? The benefits of this investigation include insight into exactly how students and teachers independently perceive gender bias, and what it looks like in classroom practice.

  • Perceived versus Measured Achievement in the Middle Level Science Classroom: Impact of Socio-economic Status

    Michele White

    College of Education | Elementary Education

    Ian Petrillo

    Major: Elementary Education: 4-8 (Science and Social Studies)

    Overview: The range of challenges faced by students in low socio-economic contexts are well documented. Lack of support, differing cultural norms, poor nutrition, stress, and transiency are just a few. Add to this the lack of adequate school funding, appropriate equipment, and quality instruction, and the chances for the academic success of this demographic group seem even more unlikely. This investigation digs deeper into this situation through the eyes of the students themselves to better understand how the following 3 variables intersect specifically in the area of science: student attitudes toward the content area, self-efficacy toward the content area, and measured academic success through standardized assessments.


    With these issues in mind, the guiding question for this investigation is:

    How does SES influence students’ perceived achievement versus measured achievement?

  • Is Teaching a Performance? Developing Effective Communication in the Classroom

    Mark Wolfmeyer

    College of Education | Secondary Education

    Anna Nissley

    Major: Secondary Education (English)

    David Mohamad

    Major: Secondary Education (English)

    Overview: Research on teacher education practices is an active field of inquiry, with recent studies detailing efforts in promoting teacher candidates' "core practices for teaching" (Allston et al, 2018) through sustained teaching, practice and discussion in teacher education coursework. Many of these studies apply theoretical conceptions and research-based practices in effective teaching to the teacher education setting, producing interventions in teacher education coursework that develop in teacher candidates the methods needed for effective teaching for all learners in public school settings. Most of these studied practices relate in some way to the

    Danielson (2013) Framework for Teacher Evaluation. This research study develops interventions in teacher education coursework that apply educational theory and practice on "teaching as performing" as it relates to core practices from the Danielson framework. Specifically, this analogic thinking will be studied as a means to develop teacher candidates’ ability to deliver instruction effectively, such as "communicate effectively with students (Danielson Domain 3a)" and leading whole-class discussions (Danielson Domain 3b). The extant literature on teaching as performing has not yet been applied specifically to teacher education interventions. Informed by the literature, this novel study includes a three-fold intervention: in-class discussions that unpack the analogy more carefully, practicing effective and inclusive communication using improv theater games, and demonstration lessons and leading of discussions by teacher candidates. Analysis of qualitative data, including teacher candidate reflection journals and recordings of demonstration lessons, determines the impact of these interventions. In particular, and as suggested by our conceptual framework, we are wondering whether direct exposure to the teacher as performer metaphor, and with a focus on improv, reinforces a “scripted” teacher that enacts a curriculum to reproduce social inequality through public education or teacher agents who flip the script, developing teacher/student agency and performativity as a means to increase equity goals for public education.