One male student stands in a stream to do research while two females stand nearby

Worcester State Foundation awards $17,000 for student and faculty research

November 15, 2022
By: Deborah Alvarez O'Neil

WORCESTER – The Worcester State Foundation has awarded 25 students and faculty members nearly $17,000 in grants for research projects, the arts, and participation in academic conferences. The projects include mapping and dating the rock formations in an abandoned coal mine in Worcester, assessing the overall wellbeing of Division III college student athletes, and investigating oral endocrine therapy in older women with breast cancer, among others.

Each year, the Foundation awards up to $60,000 in grants over the fall and spring semesters to support academic scholarship and creativity. The grants are part of the more than $2 million the Foundation provides to the university from fundraising and private donations. The 25 awards this fall include funding for 12 undergraduate and graduate students and 13 faculty members.

“As Worcester State has broadened its research ambitions, the Foundation has stepped up support for student and faculty research and creativity,” said Vice President of University Advancement Thomas McNamara. “We continue to be impressed by the quality of the research projects across all disciplines by faculty and students. We’re especially proud to provide students with the opportunity to do field work, participate in laboratory research, and travel to academic conferences.”

The grants aim to help students and faculty get research projects off the ground, support visual and performing arts, purchase needed equipment and supplies, and share their findings at academic conferences.

“I’m amazed by the work our students and faculty are doing,” said Foundation Board member Dottie Manning, M.Ed. ’88, who chairs the grants committee and is a retired schoolteacher and guidance counselor. “You can feel that the whole institution is growing in its commitment to helping other people. Our job is to encourage them and applaud them and say, ‘Keep going!’”

Here are the Fall 2022 Foundation Grants awards:

Students Research Grants


Relative dating the Worcester Coal Mine Brook Formation, Alyssa Bishop, geography
This grant will support field work to collect rock samples and map the formation of a Worcester coal mine in Green Hill Park. The coal was mined from an array of different metamorphic rocks referred to as the Coal Mine Brook Formation. The age of the formation is debated and has not been studied in detail since the 1970s. Bishop’s project will help determine the age of the formation and the events that took place to create it.

Presenting research at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Chicago: Caitlin Dellert, environmental science
Last spring, Dellert received grant funding from the Foundation to conduct research on the carbon content of coastal lake sediments from two lakes in Washington State. Lake sediments are often overlooked in global carbon budgets. The data showed that the sediments she studied are very young, which indicates a recent input of sediment into the lake, possibly from human activities. The new grant will support Dellert’s attendance at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the largest geosciences conference in the world, where Dellert will present this data and the results from a second project at Tatnuck Brook.


Facilitating new skill acquisition using virtual reality in head mounted displays: Brooke Gagne, psychology
This grant will support the purchase of two additional virtual reality head-mounted displays for research in the Human Performance and Learning Laboratory (see video above), where Gagne is a lab assistant. The research project creates realistic virtual environments to investigate the connection between the perception of the virtual environment and the ability to elicit a physical response from that perception and how that virtual perception-action cycle varies from the real-world perception-action cycle.

Presenting research at the National Association of School Psychologists Convention in Denver: Emma Duffy, education
This grant will enable Duffy to attend the National Association of School Psychologists Convention where she will present data from her study, Leveraging an Understanding of Administrator Disciplinary Decisions to Reduce Suspensions. Duffy’s research examined the factors that contribute to administrator disciplinary decisions, such as out-of-school suspensions. Understanding these factors will allow educators to advocate for alternatives such as restorative practices, peer mediation, or positive behavioral interventions.

An assessment of overall wellbeing of Division III college student athletes: Erica Hanlon, psychology
This grant will enable Hanlon to complete a senior honors psychology project to complete a longitudinal, holistic assessment of student athlete wellbeing by investigating individual, team, university, and society variables. Hanlon is surveying 200–300 Worcester State students of all class standing with a focused recruitment of student-athletes ages 18–24. The grant will be used to purchase $5 Amazon gift cards as monetary compensation to students for participation in the study. One aim of the project is to explore ways to increase support to meet the needs of student athletes, and Hanlon plans to share the results with Athletics, the Wellness Center, the Counseling Center, and university administrators.

Exploring the consequences of urbanization on diversity and structure of freshwater communities in Worcester County: Stephen Humphrey, Zachary Trudell, Briana Chang, and Katie Steeves, environmental science and biology
A major driver of the degradation of freshwater ecosystems is increased urban land use. This research project aims to quantify the impacts of urbanization by focusing on macroinvertebrates, like snails, clams, and crayfish, which are a useful proxy for the overall health of freshwater ecosystems. The research team collected samples from the Tatnuck Brook Watershed in Worcester County, and through the spring the students will be doing lab analysis of the samples. The grant supports the purchase of research equipment and materials for the project, as well as technology to facilitate data capture and storage.

Identifying forest fires in coastal Maine: Emily Maynard, environmental science
This grant will support research to collect and analyze sediment cores from the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Maynard aims to identify charcoal deposits from an extensive forest fire in 1947 that burned most of Arcadia and areas of Southern Coastal Maine. Samples will be taken from areas that were known to have burned and areas that were not burned in 1947. Through the analysis, Maynard hopes to understand how ash in this fire spread, and how the fire signal extends.

Presenting research on anthropocene history of Patch Reservoir in Worcester at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Chicago: Kari Mickunas, environmental science
In spring 2020, Mickunas received a Foundation grant for a research project to explore the human history of an urban lake in Worcester. The research aimed to understand stream flow and sediment input dynamics and how they have changed over time. Urban lakes have become important topics in environmental science as they have experienced significant human impacts in recent years, and little research has been done on Patch Reservoir. This year’s grant will enable Mickunas to present the research findings at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Characterizing biofilm and precipitate formation in an environmental Pseudonomas bacterium: Adam Tubman, biotechnology
Tubman’s graduate thesis project is focused on characterizing a green precipitate produced by an environmental bacterium in the genus Pseudonomas. Bacteria in the Pseudonomas genus are prolific biofilm formers and impact the natural environment. Some are involved in ice nucleation, and others are medically relevant as they are resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. In the case of Psuedonomas aeruginosa, they produce a biofilm that is medically challenging to treat if immunocompromised individuals acquire it in an infection.

Faculty Research Grants


The effect of anticipated embarrassment on use of AI chatbots: Lagnajita Chatterjee, business administration
AI-powered chatbots have become a fast growing digital communication trend. Advances in design features have made the chatbots seem increasingly humanlike, which enables people to anthropomorp`hize them and increases the user’s experience of “social presence” when using the chatbot. This research project expands on Chatterjee’s previous research with colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago on social presence to examine customer willingness to use chatbots in situations they deem embarrassing. The study will look at different consequences of social presence that may result in chatbot avoidance, including fear of judgment. The grant will support two experimental studies in the final phase of the research project.

Overcoming barriers to seeking mental health among Afghan refugees in Worcester: Elinor Fondell, health sciences
Many refugees experience psychological disorders and post-traumatic stress, yet very few seek help. This project aims to develop a mental health presentation for Afghan refugees in Worcester that reduces mental health stigma by normalizing mental health struggles and clarifying concrete ways to seek care. The grant will support the employment of an undergraduate research assistant, as well as gift cards for participants.

Preparing Special Education and Service Provider for Interpersonal Collaboration: Sue Foo, education
This grant will support Dr. Foo’s participation in the Council for Exceptional Children Conference in Louisville, KY where she will present “Preparing Special Education and Service Provider for Interpersonal Collaboration.”

Advancing Anti-Racist Democratic Education: Three Innovative Approaches: Aldo Garcia-Guevara, history and political science
This grant will support Professor Garcia-Guevara’s attendance at the 2023 American Association of Colleges and Universities Annual Meeting to share the multifaceted and equity based work of the New England Equity and Engagement Consortium, made up of members from nine public and private institutions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to address the fundamental democratic mission and public purposes of higher education by creating educational practices that ensure all students are prepared to participate in our multi-racial, globally engaged democracy.

Investigating air pollution in Worcester with low-cost sensors: Nabin Malakar, earth, environment, and physics
Although air pollution is one of the serious causes of health issues worldwide, its impact is not well communicated. This research project will measure air quality in the city of Worcester and its surroundings using hand-held sensors. Professor Malakar’s research plan also includes raising awareness and deploying the hand-held sensors in the form of citizen science campaigns to involve students in hands-on research.

Disseminating the new album Obomanye, Carlos Odria, visual and performing arts:
The Carlos Odria Trio spent two years composing, arranging, rehearsing, and recording 11 tracks for the new album Obomanye, a melange of diverse Latin American and world rhythms. This grant will be used for CD replication and online streaming publication.

Student achievement, motivation, and engagement in online and in-person courses: Jacquelyn Raftery-Helmer, Colleen Sullivan, Nicole Rosa, Kathryn Frazier, psychology
As many institutions shifted to an online or remote learning format in the spring of 2020, a prominent challenge associated with that transition—and one that has persisted in the return to in-person classes—was a steep decline in student academic engagement and motivation. This study investigates whether a student’s experience of their classes as supporting their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness might impact their motivation across a pandemic semester. The data was collected from a broad and diverse group of Worcester State students in fall 2021. This grant will fund a statistical consultant for the final phase of the study, to help use the data to assess the relationship between course activities and trajectories of student engagement, motivation, and performance.

Oral endocrine therapy adherence in older women with breast cancer: Sunny Yoo Ruggeri, nursing
This grant supports a study that will identify the rate of medication adherence and the multi-level determinants influencing oral endocrine therapy adherence among a large and diverse sample of women with breast cancer. Determining the rates and determinants is a first step in developing and testing interventions to improve adherence and increase quality of life. This research is important for the nursing field because nurses are uniquely positioned to guide and support women with breast cancer to achieve better medication adherence.

Mapping the women, peace, and security agenda in the UN Security Council 2000-2020: Catriona Standfield, history and political science
The UN Security Council in 2000 adopted a resolution calling for the inclusion of women and gender issues in all aspects of peace and security. Since then the council has adopted a further nine resolutions, which together form the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. Despite these resolutions, the Security Council is inconsistent in incorporating the agenda in its work. This grant supports ongoing research, previously funded by the Worcester State Foundation, to map where the Security Council includes language on women, peace, and security in its resolutions and to test why there is such variation in the quality and quantity of the language. The project will result in a dataset of 1,200 Security Council resolutions and research that contributes to knowledge of whether the Women, Peace, and Security agenda has meaningfully changed the Security Council’s work.

Decolonizing or doing the best with what we have? Feminist community engagement in liberal arts programs: Nafisa Tanjeem, interdisciplinary studies
This grant will support Professor Tanjeem’s attendance at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, the largest gathering of feminist scholars in the world. The conference will feature panels and workshops related to Tanjeem’s research, including a project focused on decolonizing community engagement in small liberal arts colleges.

Top photo: Andrew Simpson, Kari Mickunas, and Caitlin Dellert create a stream discharge survey along the Tatnuck Brook in Worcester. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Dellert.

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