Inside USD

Students Display Creative Collaboration Research

Friday, April 11, 2014

Want to get a true sense of what today’s students at the University of San Diego are studying? Want to see what moves them, what interests them, where their passion, emotion and curiosity take them? On Thursday, for two-plus hours, the 24th annual Creative Collaborations event, held in the Hahn University Center, was the place to be.

Inside the UC Forums, alcoves and the UC Exhibit Hall were more than 200 posters, artwork and projects with live elements and physical demonstrations of undergraduate student research showcasing many disciplines and work done with faculty advisement and encouragement.

“The name Creative Collaborations implies that the work done by students and faculty is a collaborative process, but here, students are treated as peers, their work is important and their contribution to the research is as impactful as our faculty,” said Sonia Zarate, director of USD’s Office of Undergraduate Research.

Students certainly took the lead on Thursday by giving presentations to a large and interested audience that included USD President Mary E. Lyons, Vice President of Student Affairs Carmen Vazquez, a cross-section of faculty, visiting local high school students, and USD students, some of whom were assigned to observe the posters and provide feedback on student presentations.

Said Alex DeVito, a student in Ethnic Studies Professor Michelle Jacob’s class, about what he took away from viewing Katherine Pfost’s Communication Studies project titled, Mental Illness in the Media: Where is the Silver Lining? “The limited portrayal of mental illness in film and media limits our understanding and acceptance of real illnesses and many people fear seeking help because of this.”

Another presentation proved to be a learning experience for both the student reviewer of freshman Shanna McKenzie’s “Working Wonders: An Analysis of the Tensions Between Catholicism and Indigenous Culture” poster and for McKenzie (pictured, at right). The latter is a Native American student, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, whose home base is in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains town of Bishop.

“Before I started, I had no idea there was a Native American saint [Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was bestowed this honor in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI],” McKenzie said. “This showed me a whole different side of my culture and opened my eyes more about Catholicism.”

McKenzie examined tensions and points of convergence between traditional indigenous culture and Catholicism and explained that Kateri’s saint status is important because of the skepticism that remains due to her canonization.

“It was very interesting, especially at a Catholic university,” said Jesse Frost in her review of McKenzie’s poster. “It was interesting to look at the tensions that exist, but also the ways in which they connect.”

Meanwhile, one project with a strong engineering connection, between Advantageous Systems LLC and electrical engineering majors Sergio Palacios, Moath Alzahrani, David Polo (pictured, top left) and Samuel Wood from the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, was on display in the UC alcove. The student group’s Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) temperature sensor has a visual cue that is set when a critical temperature is reached or surpassed. The RFID tag can be read with a field communication-compatible Android phone.

Psychology major Emily Knuutine (pictured, at left) took an interdisciplinary approach to her project. She did a survey with 302 participants for “Organic Food and Politics: How Political Affiliation Influences Perception of Environmental and Health Messaging Regarding Organic Food.” The project set to frame pesticides as being bad for human health versus bad for the environment to see if it would lead to significant changes in positive attitudes toward organic foods.

Her survey, which polled people between ages 18-72 and represented 44 of 50 states, drew two conclusions.

“Using education of any kind improved attitudes toward organic food; and political affiliation does not influence the presumption of the message,” Knuutine said.

There were numerous thought-provoking research projects displayed, too, including a sociology topic by Denise Ambriz (pictured, at right) called “Rethinking American: the Double Consciousness of Undocumented Students”; Nicholas Dilonardo’s English topic: “On Social Media, Subjectivity and Kanye West”; and a large group of sophomore engineering students who worked together on the project: “It’s Critical: Student Attitudes Toward Critical Thinking and an Assessment of a Lecture to an introductory Engineering Class.”

The latter project seemed particularly fitting Thursday. Understanding and being able to convey critical thinking is an essential skill for students who participate in Creative Collaborations. Undergraduate research is a hallmark of a USD undergraduate education and Thursday’s event showed once again that research can happen in any field of study.

For Zarate, who started in her leadership role at USD in January, she was pleased to see the students’ excitement. She was quite impressed with the proactive support campus-wide and appreciative of donors whose funding makes the research and the event possible.

“It was so beautiful to see,” she said. “You know that saying that it takes a village to raise a child? This is our village. This is our Creative Collaborations.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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