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Fall 2023 SFRA Award Winners II

Student Faculty Research Awards (now known as the Graduate Student 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, and creative activity; give students experience writing grants; and foster the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students.

Twenty-three outstanding research programs were awarded for fall 2023 across many colleges and departments. We hope that you will read about the work these graduate students and faculty partners are engaged in here at UT. If you are a graduate student who would like to be considered for the spring 2024 cycle of the newly named Graduate Student Research Awards, the application is now open until February 13.

How social identity shapes provision and receipt of allyship practices 

Kenyette Sheree Garrett—PhD student, social work

Kate McClernon-Chaffin—professor of practice, College of Social Work

Because faculty of color are vastly underrepresented in academia, students and faculty from marginalized groups struggle with feelings of disconnectedness due to a lack of a sense of belonging in the academic environment. This situation underscores the importance of cultivating allies among white faculty, staff, and students. While the importance of this allyship has been explored, there is not much literature surrounding whether underrepresented groups are experiencing the effects of true allyship. Studies indicate that there is a mismatch between the self-perception of white individuals as allies, and the perception of people of color regarding their strongest allies. Are underrepresented groups experiencing the effects of true allyship? Kenyette Sheree Garrett, a PhD student in social work, and Kate McClernon-Chaffin, professor in the College of Social Work, will be undertaking a study of members of the UT community to investigate these perceptions. By studying the view of allyship development practices and the effect of social group status on perceptions, they will develop and implement an allyship model that centers the needs of individuals from marginalized populations.  

Art, movement, and disability: transcending the beauty paradigm  

Ashley Ekstrum—EdS student, teacher education  

Timothy Hiles—associate professor, School of Art  

Ashley Ekstrum, an EdS candidate in teacher education, and Timothy Hiles, associate professor in the School of Art, are co-authoring a book born out of the surge of creative activity by artists with disabilities after the introduction of the Americans with Disability Act. The intention is to create a book structured thematically which can be meaningful to students in disability studies, the arts, and to interdisciplinary approaches within the medical humanities. As they write their book, Ekstrum and Hiles will consider the value of artists’ perspectives to disability studies, encourage a more inclusive representation of artists with disabilities, and highlight the significance of disability arts to humanities education.       

Overnight temperature exposure of encampment residents sleeping in tents in Knoxville, Tennessee    

Seth Thompson—PhD student, geography

Kelsey Ellis—associate professor, Department of Geography and Sustainability  

The frequency of warm nights has increased in the Southeast and this disproportionately negatively impacts unhoused individuals. Because not everyone has access to cooling methods at night, nighttime heat is an understudied obstacle for urban climate resilience. In a pilot study, Seth Thompson, a PhD student in geography, and Kelsey Ellis, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Sustainability, assessed heat in outdoor sleep spaces in Knoxville using iButtons. With this award, they intend to assess the overnight temperature exposure of encampment residents within their structures, which has not been done in previous studies. Thompson and Ellis believe their study will contribute to the understanding of how unhoused residents accumulate heat and cold exposure and attempt to mitigate their exposure.   

Infodemic crisis: measuring social media COVID-19 vaccine disinformation in the United States population

Aritra Moulick—PhD student, social work  

Bill Nugent—professor, College of Social Work  

Vaccine hesitancy, defined as a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite the availability of vaccination services, is complex and context specific. Social media serves an important role in dissemination of information and disinformation about vaccines, so it may especially influence vaccine hesitancy in times of crisis. Aritra Moulick, PhD student in social work, and Bill Nugent, professor in the College of Social Work, believe an instrument to measure COVID-19 vaccine disinformation is needed to facilitate understanding the extent of social media influence among the US population. They will adapt an existing scale, the Social Media Disinformation Scale. The new scale will be used to understand how people in the US process vaccine-related information on social media, how they form opinions about their beliefs, their confidence in this information, and how they engage with content about diseases preventable by vaccines. The findings will help important stakeholders develop robust strategies to increase vaccine intake to prevent re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases.      

Toward an improved social-assessment framework in ecosystem service research: disentangling ecosystems service preferences from values  

Scott Greeves—PhD student, communications and information 

Mustafa Oz—assistant professor, School of Journalism and Media  

Ecosystem services describe the direct and indirect benefits that people derive from ecosystem functions. Research that applies ecosystem service concepts can be used to deliver more sustainable, equitable, and resilient futures. However, one pervasive challenge of ecosystem service research is the context-specific nature of place-based research. Because of the complexity of socio-ecological connections and the diversity of socio-ecological conditions between places, the transferability of such findings to other contexts is problematic. Scott Greeves, a PhD student in communication and information, and Mustafa Oz, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Media, suggest that combining a social-assessment methodology of ecosystem services with a Portrait Values Questionnaire tool (which comes from the field of psychology) would disentangle the value reasoning for ascribed ecosystem services preferences. Greeves and Oz plan to sample broadly across an international participant pool to limit the confounding variation from specific place-based socio-environmental contexts and establish the cross-cultural utility of this theoretical advancement.  

Generating baseline arthropod succession data from human remains in Knoxville, TN  

Makhali Voss—master’s student, entomology and plant pathology 

Charity Grace Owings—research assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology 

Arthropods present on or near deceased bodies can be used to estimate the minimum time elapsed since death or the minimum postmortem interval (PMIMIN). The PMIMIN can be used by investigators and attorneys to implicate or exonerate a perpetrator and can aid in closure for families. One of the best PMIMIN methods available is successional modeling, which quantifies the changes in the composition of an arthropod community on an experimental carcass over time. However, this method is subject to seasonal and geographic variation in arthropod communities, and Tennessee does not have any published successional data. This means that forensic entomologists working death investigation cases from Tennessee must use successional data from Indiana which was formed using animal remains. Makhali Voss, a master’s student in entomology and plant pathology, and Charity Owings, a research assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, aim to generate the first human-derived successional dataset in the world using resources from the Anthropology Research Facility, popularly known as the Body Farm. The goal is to take the crucial first steps towards providing Tennessee with a reproducible, accurate dataset for current and future forensic cases.  

Effect of acute state physical, mental, and combined motor fatigue on military tactical performance  

Joshua Springer—PhD student, kinesiology and sport studies 

Jared Porter—professor and associate head, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies 

Warfare is a multifaceted human endeavor that requires the harmonious synchronization of technical, physical, and mental proficiencies in one of the most demanding environments. Using a synthetic training environment acquired by the UT Motor Behavior Lab, Joshua Springer, a major in the United States Army and a PhD student in kinesiology and sport studies, and Jared Porter, professor and associate department head in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, aim to explore how mental and physical fatigue impacts a soldier’s decision-making, speed, accuracy, and precision during common military marksmanship tasks. This study is the first study to combine physical and mental fatigue leveraging a synthetic training environment used by the United States military. Springer and Porter will begin the novel and necessary exploration of the impact on military motor performance by both types of fatigue. 

The influence of psychosocial risk on youth mental and behavioral health during the transition from childhood to adolescence: the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  

Jillian Dodson—PhD student, psychology  

Chris Elledge—associate professor, Department of Psychology  

Although most youth report the transition from childhood to adolescence as a challenging developmental period, the cohort of youth caught in this transition during the COVID-19 pandemic faced unique, and unprecedented challenges. Jillian Dodson, a PhD student in psychology, and Chris Elledge, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, are revisiting 400 students who participated in one of their studies prior to COVID-19. The students are now in 8th and 9th grade. The questionnaires administered to students will investigate three things: whether COVID-19 beliefs and attitudes impacted emotion regulation and mental health outcomes, the prospective association between peer relationship difficulties in late childhood and mental health behavioral outcomes in adolescents with COVID-19 influence as a moderator, and the association between youth’s experience of significant stressors and mental and behavioral health outcomes and COVID-19 as a moderator.