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Spring 2023 Student Faculty Research Awards

The Student Faculty Research Awards are used to advance the scholarship of graduate students and faculty working in partnership. Grants up to $5,000 are awarded to the selected student/faculty pairs and are intended to help support student research/scholarship/creative activity; give students experience writing grants; and foster the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students. This spring, 18 student/faculty pairs were selected to receive the awards. Read some of the winning proposal summaries below that include topics in psychology, anthropology, plant pathology, music, natural resources, communication, and more.

A Deeper Look into the Microbial Community of Soils Treated with Anaerobic Disinfestation to Control Plant Pathogens using Metagenomics

Wilson Kihugu Ouma—PhD student, plant pathology and nematology
Bonnie Ownley—professor, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
Strawberries are one of the most widely cultivated and consumed fruits in the world, and the US produced 11% of the total worldwide crop in 2021. California and Florida are responsible for 99% of this output, and there is an opportunity for other states like Tennessee to increase strawberry production. However, although Tennessee has soil and climate conditions that favor production of high-quality, high-value strawberries, those same conditions also favor plant pathogens, such as species of Fusarium. Wilson Kihugu Ouma, a PhD student majoring in entomology, plant pathology and nematology, and Bonnie Ownley, professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, are building upon previous work in their lab to study the effect of anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) on pathogens like Fusarium. ASD involves mixing various organic amendments into the soil, followed by irrigation and covering the planting beds with plastic. This study investigates the effect of sorghum as an organic amendment as opposed to other amendments, such as those involving wheat bran. They hope to improve the ability to implement ASD, control pathogens, and enhance strawberry production.

Materiality and Modernity in Balinese Ritual Music

Ethan Rohl—MMusic student, music
Jonathan Adams—adjunct assistant professor, School of Music
Balinese gamelan ensembles are among the most vibrant and studied musical practices outside the Western world. Although there has been considerable work focused on its historical role (and the complex relationship between colonial and local narratives), there is a lack of scholarship that demonstrates the role that these musics play as forms of contemporary cultural expression. Ethan Rohl, a Master of Music student, and Jonathan Adams, adjunct assistant professor in the School of Music, seek to reconcile this lack for an ensemble of bamboo and bronze instruments that performs repertoire associated with 18th century Javano-Balinese poetry called gambang. Their study builds on existing work with a new focus on the many and diverse relationships in which gambang music is embedded today. This study is to liberate gambang ensembles from discourses that undervalue their role in both the present and the past.

Effects of Agriculture on Ancient Human Oral Microbiomes in the Cusco Valley of Peru

Rachel Lawrence Robrecht—MA student, anthropology
Graciela Cabana—associate professor, Department of Anthropology
Recent research has revealed connections between the community of microorganisms in the human body (the human microbiome) and overall health. Changes in diet can affect oral microbiomes, and there have been studies investigating the dietary shifts from foraging to agriculture, and, more recently, from traditional agriculture to a post-industrial diet. While some of these microbiome studies have used modern populations as proxies for ancient populations, Rachel Lawrence Robrecht, MA student in anthropology, and Graciela Cabana, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, seek to get a more accurate picture by reconstructing ancient human microbiomes through dental calculus samples from South America. Dental plaque hardens and remains stuck to the surface of teeth thousands of years after death. This hardened plaque is called dental calculus and can be thought of as a “mini-fossil” that preserves genetic material from microbes and food particles. This project is not only an important contribution to the body of knowledge about ancient oral microbiomes and the impact of agriculture, but will help with diversifying available data, which have been almost exclusively from continental Europe.

How Does the Story of Intimate Partner Violence End? A Narrative Victimological Approach

Madison Ross—PhD student, sociology
Lois Presser—professor, Department of Sociology
Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is a massive cause of harm. A multi-national survey sponsored by the World Health Organization found that 26 percent of ever-partnered women 15 and older had experienced physical and/or sexual assault by an intimate partner, based on data from 2000-2018. Common, idealized responses to IPV involve arresting and imprisoning violence perpetrators, sometimes exposing them to cognitive, emotional, or behavioral treatment. However, evidence abounds that carceral interventions do not generally achieve safety and well-being. Violence picks back up – often more viciously – after terms of incarceration. Lasting solutions are urgently needed. Madison Ross, a PhD student in sociology, and Lois Presser, professor in the Department of Sociology, intend to research intimate partner violence from the perspective of victims and their advocates, including service providers and political leaders. By using an innovative narrative approach, they ultimately hope to address the question: Can relationships and societies be brought to a ‘better place’ after violence?

Establishing the first whole mitochondrial genomes for Cornales

Israel Shade Niece—MS student, entomology and plant pathology
Marcin Nowicki—assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
In 2020, the USDA reported that dogwoods ranked third overall in deciduous flowering tree sales and generated over $31 million in sales. Whether it is due to their colorful bracts (specialized leaf structures that can be mistaken for the flower) in the spring, or their attractive bark and berries in the winter, dogwoods have been at the forefront of ornamental horticulture research for decades. Israel Shade Niece, an MS student majoring in entomology and plant pathology, and Marcin Nowicki, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, plan to study the complex evolutionary history of the dogwood using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondrial genomes are useful resources due to their higher genetic diversity and larger genome size when compared with chloroplast genomes, which have gained popularity in phylogenetics, the study of relationships among or within organisms. The development of mitochondrial “super-barcodes” would enable the plant breeding industry to accurately verify the identity of dogwood cultivars, which is critical to maintaining the economic and ornamental value of these species.

Seeing speech: The role of visual input in infant statistical learning

McKenzie Sheets—PhD student, psychology
Jessica Hay—professor, Department of Psychology
Language learning is complex. Infants are faced with an overwhelming amount of sensory input with little explicit information about which input is linguistically relevant, which sounds go together to form words, and how words map onto visual referents. The kind of audiovisual information infants get from speakers’ faces may vary across development; whereas 3- to 6-month-olds appear to attend predominantly to a speaker’s eyes, around 8 months, infants begin to attend more to a speaker’s mouth. This shift in attention may have important consequences for early speech segmentation. McKenzie Sheets, a PhD student in psychology, and Jessica Hay, professor in the Department of Psychology, hope to extend previous findings about statistical language learning by exploring whether synchronous audiovisual statistical information benefits infants’ ability to segment speech in a non-native natural language. Findings from this research could provide novel information about how infants learn language in the first year of life.

Investigating the effects of growing-season fire in upland hardwood forests on vegetation and focal wildlife species

Mark Turner—PhD student, natural resources
Craig Harper—professor, School of Natural Resources
Fire is commonly used to manage upland hardwood forests in the eastern US for multiple objectives, such as restoring woodland and savannah communities, reducing wildfire risk, and managing wildlife habitat. Given the important role fire plays in these systems, there is great interest in improving our understanding of fire effects on vegetation and wildlife. Most prescribed fire in upland hardwoods currently is applied during the dormant season but applying fire during the growing season can have its own benefits. Many landowners and managers are interested in how growing-season fire affects habitat for white-tailed deer and wild turkey, the most culturally and economically important species in the eastern US. By utilizing camera traps paired with vegetation metrics such as composition, structure, and forage availability, Mark Turner, a PhD student in natural resources, and Craig Harper, professor in the School of Natural Resources, will provide fire managers with important information on fire effects and wildlife selection during different fire maintenance seasons.

Communication style as a novel personality trait in nonhuman animals

Heather Brooks—PhD student, experimental psychology
Todd Freeberg—professor, Department of Psychology
The study of consistent and repeatable individual behavioral traits (or “behavioral syndromes”) has become increasingly popular in the field of animal behavior over the past few decades. To date, almost nothing is known about whether personality-like influences on communication exist in animals. Communication is crucial for social species to maintain group cohesion, find appropriate mates, and signal when under predation risk, and engagement in these activities may be influenced by behavioral syndromes. Heather Brooks, PhD student in experimental psychology, and Todd Freeberg, professor in the Department of Psychology, intend to fill this gap in understanding of animal communication by examining naturally occurring mixed-species flocks of tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees across a variety of contexts and measuring their communicative output. Findings from their study would contribute to our understanding of the fields of animal personality and conservation ecology and could impact the way that we understand group dynamics, dominance hierarchies, habitat-wide communication networks, and impacts of increased anthropogenic noise.

Digital Ownership Rights and Digital Equity for Older Adults: A Community-Engaged Investigation

Joseph Winberry—PhD student, communication and information
Awa Zhu—associate professor, School of Information Sciences
Research has found that older persons are more likely to lack access to or not benefit fully from technology and experience more barriers to adopting and using information technologies than the younger generation. The design of media technologies often ignores this vital age group, and current media consumption models may have been imposing changes to their old habits, such as circulating magazines among friends, building their DVD collections, and gifting books to grandchildren. Joseph Winberry, PhD student in communication and information, and Awa Zhu, associate professor in the School of Information Sciences, believe it is critical to understand this older age group’s perceptions of digital ownership rights and digital media consumption. Findings from their study could help inform technology designers how to best serve this older population, provide future directions for consumer rights advocates, and significantly impact the ongoing debate of digital rights for public institutions such as libraries.

The Efficacy of using Augmented Reality to Enhance Nursing Education

Andrew Shaw—PhD student, kinesiology and sport studies
Jared Porter—professor, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies
The medical field is experiencing a dramatic shortage of qualified nurses, resulting in an increased workload and subsequent burnout among remaining nurses. Moreover, efforts to support this shortage are commonly hindered due to a scarcity of qualified nursing instructors and clinical training facilities. The utilization of augmented reality (AR), as part of the future of simulation in nursing education, has the potential to provide learning opportunities and increases in practice time with nursing mannequins, while decreasing the need for an instructor to be present during practice. There may also be advantages to the ability to use AR in the clinical environment in situ. Andrew Shaw, PhD student in kinesiology and sport studies, and Jared Porter, professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, aim to investigate the efficacy of using AR to provide procedural instruction. The utilization of this technology in nursing education may alleviate some of the challenges of the worldwide shortage of qualified nursing instructors.