A student sits at a table with a desktop computer and a book on coding. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Faculty and students receive summer research grants

July 11, 2023
By: Rebecca Cross

Twelve faculty have received grants to conduct research projects with students this summer through the Summer Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) program. Each faculty member was awarded a $1,500 stipend, and each student received a $3,000 stipend made possible through the donor support.

Established in 2020 through a bequest from Lt. Col. James F. Sheehan ’55, the SURG program gives motivated students the chance to gain skills and learn advanced research methodology. Students who participate often receive co-authorship credit on research papers and/or present their research at a conference.

Students are nominated by faculty each spring, and award decisions are made in June. This year’s projects represent a range of disciplines, including mathematics, psychology, computer science, business, and earth science.

Summer 2023 Projects

Faculty: Hansun To, PhD, Department of Mathematics
Student: Tommy Thach
Project: “Study of Advanced Partial Differential Equations”

Partial differential equations (PDEs) describe a function in which there is more than one independent variable and are widely used in mathematics and the physical sciences and are a powerful tool for describing physical phenomena and making predictions about how systems will behave. The fundamental laws of many physical sciences are expressed in the language of PDEs, and most papers published in applied mathematics are devoted to the study of PDEs. This project will explore physical equations of PDEs from a mathematical perspective, covering a wide range of topics, from basic equations to more complex problems and how they are used in the physical sciences and engineering, both in theory and in practical applications.

Faculty: Dr. Nabin Malakar, Department of Earth, Environment, and Physics
Student: Abdallah Al-Obaidi
Project: “Investigating Air Quality and Heat Vulnerability in Worcester, MA”

Air pollution is a global public health issue affecting both the environment and human health, with air pollution responsible for approximately one out of eight global deaths (WHO, 2014). The Urban Heat Island (UHI) phenomenon refers to the elevation of temperatures in urban areas due to the replacement of natural surfaces and vegetation with dark, impermeable surfaces such as concrete, roofing, and asphalt, resulting in an ambient temperature that is higher than the surrounding natural environment. The focus of this research project is to investigate the relationship between air quality, urban heat islands, and health disparities using Worcester, Mass., and its surroundings as a case study. Al-Obaidi will create comprehensive air and urban heat island databases using a portable air quality sensor and air temperature device to gather data from different neighborhoods in Worcester.

Two students stand on each side of a board with information on their research.

Left to right: Callie Tavares ’23, Scout Beaudoin (SURG 2023 Award student), Jessica Rancourt (SURG 2023 Award student), and Anna Belculfine ’23. Photo by Colleen Sullivan.

Faculty: Dr. Colleen Sullivan, Department of Psychology
Students: Scout Beaudoin and Jessica Rancourt
Project: “Bringing the Library Home: Fostering Library Engagement and Family Involvement”

Many libraries incorporate a range of programs (e.g., story time) and resources (e.g., pretend play areas, STEM kits, arts and crafts packets) that aim to engage children and involve families. The proposed study will examine how children engage with and learn from experiences they have in a library and how parents and children are using and communicating together around library activities and resources. Understanding how children and parents use library resources and activities at home may contribute to how librarians develop programming, resources, and activities.

Faculty: Dr. Alexandra Burgess, Department of Psychology
Student: Riane Anderson
Project: Alcohol use and COVID-19

This student-led project, which began as an Independent Study in spring 2023, focuses on patterns of emotion regulation and alcohol use before and during different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anderson will investigate the ways in which the emotion regulation strategies of cognitive reappraisal and suppression relate to alcohol use and misuse among college students. The data, which was collected from 2019 to 2022, offers a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these topics. Anderson will also consider the gender of participants, as gender has been shown to be an important factor in emotion regulation, alcohol use, and the relationship between them.

Faculty: Dr. Nafisa Tanjeem, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Student: Christina Howland
Project: Book on labor activism in Bangladesh

Tanjeem will conduct 20 interviews for the fifth and last chapter of her book examining transnational labor activism and activist discourses that developed in relation to the deadliest garment industrial disaster in human history: the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza—a building housing five garment factories in Savar, Bangladesh. The interviews will focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women garment workers’ work, organizing, and lived experiences in Bangladesh. She will complete writing the chapter with research assistance from Howland.

Faculty: Dr. Benjamin Jee, Department of Psychology
Student: Andja Kola
Project: “Simple Card Games to Promote Children’s Learning about Biological Variability”

This collaborative project between researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Rochester, the College of the Holy Cross, and museum education specialists at the EcoTarium in Worcester will investigate how simple card games can be used to promote young children’s learning in the life sciences, with a focus on biological variability. The research will involve collecting data on parent-child play and knowledge of biology concepts and coding and analyzing videos of parent-child play in terms of speech and gestures relevant to understanding biological variability (e.g., comparisons between species or between life stages of an organism). Ultimately, this research will contribute new findings about the effects of game play on caregiver-child interaction and on science learning.

Faculty: Dr. Katie Frazier, Department of Psychology
Student: Alix Barry
Project: Intensive mothering

Relying on a diverse, community dataset of 284 survey responses and 37 in-depth interviews, the project aims to investigate mothers’ endorsement of “intensive mothering,” a powerful, widespread belief that mothers should devote immense amounts of time, energy, and resources to the rearing of their children. A priority of the study will be to explore whether intensive mothering beliefs impact mothering behaviors as well as well-being, and whether these relationships hold true for women of diverse racial, cultural, and class backgrounds.

Faculty: Dr. Alex Briesacher, Department of Sociology, and Dr. Tom Conroy, Department of Urban Studies
Students: Abigail Holden and Elizabeth Stone
Project: “AP & WPS, Part II – A Qualitative Study”

Findings from CityLab’s quantitative report indicate profound inequities exist among different groups of advanced placement test takers in Worcester Public Schools. This research project will consider what failing an AP exam means for students and how it impacts their college-going plans. Data will be gathered through a guided survey process with students who took and passed at least one AP exam, who took and failed all the AP exams they took, and who did not take any AP exams.

Faculty: Dr. Abir Bukhatwa, Department of Business Administration and Economics
Student: Samuel Fonseca
Project: “Financial Literacy among College Students”

Research indicates that college students often lack the necessary financial knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors required to make informed financial decisions. This study will investigate the factors that affect financial literacy among college students, focusing on the exposure to economic concepts while studying microeconomics and/or macroeconomics theories as part of their introductory-level courses in economics. The findings can help the university and faculty develop effective financial literacy programs to improve financial knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors among Worcester State students.

Faculty: Dr. Nada Alsallami, Department of Computer Science
Student: Jason Lee
Project: “Health Care Android App”

The main goal of this project is to create an app that will be used to monitor human health conditions and help them to overcome some life difficulties. Programming languages Java and XML will be used to create the app in Android Studio. The results of this project will be used later as an assistant tool for those facing specific health conditions like anxiety. The project results could be shared with colleagues in the Occupational Therapy and Health Sciences Departments.

Faculty: Dr. Anne Armstrong, Department of Earth, Environment, and Physics
Student: Andrew Stefanik
Project: Patch Reservoir pollinator garden invertebrates

This research project is an extension of work begun as part of a Patch Reservoir pollinator garden project, a transdisciplinary project that aims to enhance biodiversity of plant and animal species while supporting student and resident community-building and science literacy through native plant gardening. Stefanik will collect soil samples and examine these and samples taken by Worcester Green Corps to measure the numbers of soil invertebrates as invasive plant species are replaced by native ones.

Top image: Student Alix Barry ’24. Photo by Katie Frazier.

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