Shared Scholarship Series highlights research on food insecurity and water pollution

February 5, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

The Shared Scholarship Series resumed for its tenth year on Friday, January 26, with presentations by Danielle Morales, assistant professor in the Urban Studies Department, and Laura Reynolds, assistant professor in the Earth, Environment, and Physics Department.

Morales started the event by presenting her initial research on “The Mental Cost of Food Insecurity among LGBTQ+ Americans.”

In April 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau released the Household Pulse Survey, which set out to track the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey has gone out every two weeks since then, and each survey has collected data from tens of thousands of respondents.

This survey differed from previous ones in two important ways for Morales’s research: it gathered data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender assigned at birth and it provided a statistically significant data set—more than 60,000 respondents. With this information, Morales was able to determine that LGBTQ+ individuals seemed to experience food insecurity at a higher rate than others.

Her work didn’t stop there, though. Because the data included information on other factors, such as ethnicity and level of education, Morales was able to statistically control for other factors that might contribute to food insecurity. When she did that, the results no longer showed a strong correlation between food insecurity and gay and lesbian cis-gender individuals, but they still showed that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experienced greater levels of food insecurity.

“Food insecurity is more like a symptom for a social disease,” Morales said. “In this case, the social disease is discrimination.”

The next step for Morales is looking at how these results connect with mental health data for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. 

In her presentation, “Love That Dirty Water: A Journey in Community Engaged Scholarship along the Tatnuck Brook,” Reynolds gave an overview of a multi-year, multi-pronged research project looking at the quality of the water in multiple areas around Worcester. The project has been ongoing since 2018 and has involved the work of numerous Worcester State students and faculty.

A Campus Compact Grant in 2018 provided funding for students to collect water samples every two weeks from two locations along the Tatnuck Brook: in an upstream, rural area and a downstream, urban area. The data collected revealed that the water in the urban location contained much more salt than the water in the rural location—potentially due to run-off from salting the streets in winter.

In 2022, an Aisiku Interdisciplinary Research Grant funded the fieldwork of three teams collecting samples from Cooks Pond, Patch Reservoir, and Coes Reservoir. These teams measured the amount of phosphorus, nitrate, salt, and lead. The results of their data show a correlation between the amount of impermeable surfaces on the land surrounding a body of water and salt in the water, but the data around phosphorus, nitrate, and lead is unclear.

“We haven’t stopped doing fieldwork,” Reynolds said.

The Shared Scholarship series gives faculty the chance to present research that is still in progress with their peers and get feedback. The questions other faculty ask can lead the researcher to look at their work from a different angle or inspire a new path of inquiry.

Riley McGuire, assistant professor in the English Department, coordinates the series along with the Faculty Development Center. He says this series gives faculty an important outlet for their scholarly pursuits. “We’re a very teaching intensive institution,” Riley McGuire said. “We spend so much time talking about our teaching and pedagogy, we don’t always know what folks are doing in terms of their scholarly agendas.” The series showcases some of the exciting research projects that faculty are engaged with.

Another important aspect of the series is its interdisciplinarity. McGuire said, “We get to hear, like today, from someone from urban studies and someone working in earth sciences doing very different kinds of work, but that have very interesting overlaps as well.”

The audience for the series is largely faculty, but the presentations are open to anyone in the Worcester State community.

The series continues this spring with two more gatherings—on Thursday, February 29, and Friday, April 26. Both events take place in Sheehan, Room 109, and begin at 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 29

  • “Can Workers of the World Unite? Disjunctures of Transnational Garment Labor Organizing,” presented by Nafisa Tanjeem, Interdisciplinary Studies
  • “The RESILIENT Study: A Retrospective, Descriptive, Correlational Investigation of Rate and Correlates of OET Adherence in Older Women with Breast Cancer,” presented by Sunny Ruggeri, Nursing

Friday, April 26

  • “Investigating Air Pollution Status in the South Asia Domain,” presented by Nabin Malakar, Earth, Environment, & Physics
  • “Innovative Teaching with AI: Unlocking the Potential of Generative Technologies,” presented by Don Vescio, English

Top image: Laura Reynolds (left) and Danielle Morales (right)

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