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Graduate School Funds 16 Student-Faculty Research Teams

Studying how to use 3D printing to make parts for soft robots.

Developing better devices to detect chemical warfare agents.

Learning why people in rural settings are less likely to seek professional help for mental illness.

These are the objectives of three of the 16 projects funded this fall through the Graduate School’s Student/Faculty Research Awards.

Graduate students and faculty collaborate to submit proposals for grants up to $5,000 to support research or creative projects. The awards advance important research while also fostering the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students.

This semester’s awardees:

“Improving Species Distribution Models by Incorporating Population Genetic Variation”

PhD student Shannon Bayliss and Associate Professor Joe Bailey in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will study how genetic variation might impact the traditional species distribution model, which predicts where a species will live based on environmental conditions. Their work will help identify populations, communities, and ecosystems most at risk to climate change.

“Concentric Precurved Bellows: New Bending Actuators for Soft Robots”

PhD student Jake Childs and Associate Professor Caleb Rucker in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering will explore the use of 3D printing to create strong, durable parts that will improve the use of soft robots for surgery and other functions. Soft robots are a new generation of robots that have great potential in applications ranging from colon cancer screening robots to search-and-rescue robots that can burrow through rubble to rehabilitation exoskeletons that patients can wear.

“Dirhodium (II) Complexes for Organophosphate Nerve Agent Detection”

PhD student Eric Fussell and Assistant Professor Ampofo Darko in the Department of Chemistry will seek to develop a paper test strip that can quickly and more accurately detect a particular class of nerve agents to improve emergency personnel response in both civilian and military settings. Treatment requires that an antidote be delivered to victims within minutes, so an easy-to-use transportable detection system is critical.

“Exploring Animal Use in Prehistoric Southern Florida: Collagen Peptide Fingerprinting of Archaeological Worked Bone”

PhD student Jennifer Green and Assistant Professor Anneke Janzen from the Department of Anthropology will study the animal species used to make bone pins to explore the symbolic roles animals played in the lives of prehistoric peoples in southern Florida.

“The Interrelation Between Sleep Quality, Emotion Regulation, Alcohol Use and Partner Violence: A Daily Diary Study”

PhD student Hannah Grigorian and Professor Gregory Stuart from the Department of Psychology, will study how sleep impairment might play into intimate partner violence. They will also look at the effect of alcohol use on emotional regulation and see how that, too, might factor into intimate partner violence. This study has the potential to enhance efforts to curb intimate partner violence and the associated physical, psychological, and economic costs for victims.

“Understanding Help-Seeking in Rural Counties: A Serial Mediation Model of Self-Reliance, Stigma, and Attitudes toward Psychologists”

PhD student Emily Keller and Professor Gina Owens in the Department of Psychology will study barriers that people in rural communities may encounter in seeking treatment for mental illness. Their findings may also suggest interventions that can be implemented in rural communities and in therapy.

“The Environmental History of Savannas in Central America: How Fire and Climate Have Interacted to Produce the Modern Savannas of Southern Belize and the El General Valley of Costa Rica”

Luke Blentlinger, a master’s degree student in geography, will work with Professor Sally Horn of the Department of Geography. Using lake-sediment core samples, they will reconstruct changes in vegetation over time to determine how climate, fire, and human activity have driven the development of savanna vegetation at two sites—the pine savannas on the coastal plain of southern Belize and the grass savannas in the El General Valley of Costa Rica. The results will form the basis for Blentlinger’s master’s thesis and multiple journal publications.

“Post, Update, Tweet, or Snap? Promoting Safe Social Media Use for Young Adults with Intellectual Disability”

Education PhD student Mary Krile will work with David Cihak, professor of special education and associate dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, to look at social media use by young Americans with intellectual disabilities. Past studies have shown a digital divide between people with an intellectual disability and people without disabilities, in part because of concerns over safely using social media. This study will glean more information about young Americans with intellectual disabilities in terms of their use, their desire to use, and their desire to learn about social media safety. Findings will provide insights about digital inclusion and teaching people with intellectual disabilities how to use social media safely.

“The Lived Resettlement Experience for Single Refugee Mothers from the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Phenomenological Study”

PhD student Lauren Mefford and Professor Sandra Thomas from the College of Nursing will study single refugee mothers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Experts already know that single refugee mothers are at a profound disadvantage when it comes to successful integration into the United States, largely because they have limited English proficiency and inadequate access to child care and transportation. The researchers will collect the women’s stories about their experiences to better understand their perception of the resettlement process. The findings could challenge and potentially initiate change in current resettlement policies and nursing practices.

“Geologic and Remote Sensing Analysis of Alluvial Fans in Southern Nevada as an Analog for Identifying Climate Indicators in Martian Alluvial Fans”

Claire Mondro, a PhD student in geology specializing in planetary science, will work with Professor Jeffrey Moersch, from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, to study alluvial fans, a specific type of sedimentary feature, in southern Nevada. The alluvial fans in this area are similar to those seen on Mars in terms of geologic composition and the arid environment in which they formed. The researchers will use what they find in the Nevada studies to better understand what remote sensing data reveals about the Martian terrain. The goal is to learn more about the climate history of Mars—information that is relevant to the question of whether Mars could have ever sustained life.

“Gendered Racism, Coping, and Traumatic Stress: The Moderating Role of Womanist Identity and the Strong Black Woman Schema”

PhD student Anahvia Moody and Associate Professor Jioni Lewis, both from the Department of Psychology, will look at subtle gendered racism, coping strategies, and traumatic stress symptoms experienced by a multiply marginalized group: black women.

“Cankers No More: Evaluation of Chemical and Biological Control Treatments for Control of Geosmithia morbida, the Causal Agent of Thousand Cankers Disease”

Aaron Onufrak, a PhD student in entomology, plant pathology and nematology, and Assistant Professor Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry, both from the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, will study chemical and fungal treatment options for Thousand Cankers Disease, which damages walnut and wingnut trees. The study will look at the possibility of using a chemical treatment as well as biological control.

“Evaluation of Genetic Diversity of Asian Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana

Shiwani Sapkota, a master’s degree student, and Research Assistant Professor Marcin Nowicki, both from the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, will study the massive spread and invasiveness of the Callery pear tree. The tree, native to southeast Asia, was brought to the US from China to combat the fire blight problem in another species in the early 1900s. The Bradford pear was cultivated from this species. This and other similar varieties of pear trees have now spread through southern and eastern states, threatening to become an invasive species. The researchers will look at the genetic diversity of these various pear trees to better understand the population.

“The Effects of Ground Cover and Fungicides on Incidence of Phytophthora Blight in Pumpkin”

Timothy Siegenthaler, a master’s degree student, and Assistant Professor Zachariah Hansen, both from the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, are collaborating on a project to help farmers control a major plant disease called Phytophthora blight. They will be testing the effectiveness of chemical fungicides, ground cover with straw mulch, and the combination of both strategies in managing this disease on pumpkin plants.

“Beyond ‘Help-Seeking,’ Toward ‘Engagement:’ Understanding Barriers to Mental Health Equity Among Sexual Minority Individuals

Elliot Spengler, a PhD student in counseling psychology, is working with Associate Professor Patrick Grzanka of the Department of Psychology to investigate barriers to mental health care among individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or any other nonheterosexual orientation. This is Spengler’s dissertation project and will result in multiple presentations and peer-reviewed publications; the project recently won the American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award. Findings will inform future interventions to improve mental health care for these individuals.

Cycling Intervention on Symptoms of Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis

PhD student Tanner Thorsen and Professor Songning Zhang, both in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport Studies, will work to determine the degree to which cycling training will improve gait biomechanics and symptoms in persons with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. The results from this study will be used as preliminary results in Zhang’s future grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health.