Posts Tagged ‘Research/Undergraduate’

Celebration Day to Highlight Student Research, Accomplishments

Allegheny College will welcome students, their families and friends, staff, faculty and the public to a daylong celebration of student research and achievement on Tuesday, May 2.

The College’s first-ever Celebration Day, created by and for students, will include sessions at various locations across campus spotlighting hands-on student research across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, as well as a panel focusing on the positive social, economic and environmental effects that have resulted from the work of the Community Wellness Initiative to increase food security in Meadville.

The aim of Celebration Day is “to recognize the hard work our students have done all year,” said Aimee Knupsky, chair of the Psychology Department and director of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities.

“We have really awesome students who do really cool stuff and we want to have a moment where we pause and recognize that,” Knupsky said.

The day also serves to show students who have not yet participated in research projects or other activities that those opportunities are available, and to highlight the strength of an Allegheny education, she said. (more…)

Allegheny Students Develop Ad Campaign, Film Commercial

Clay Dawson stood under a giant American flag hanging from the plant’s rafters and studied his lines.

A few steps away, Allegheny College senior Shu Yi Tang flipped through sheets of paper that laid out the entire video shoot in detail: what scenes would be filmed and when, where and how they would be shot, and the people involved in each.

Lily Loreno, a senior at Allegheny, framed the opening scene with her hands, her fingers forming a square in front of her face. Sophomore Margaret West wheeled the camera into place.

“Every single second (of the video) has to be exactly perfect,” West, a 20-year-old communication arts major, said later.

The Allegheny trio had an important client to impress: Acutec Precision Aerospace Inc., a Meadville-based company that makes parts of the braking system used on Southwest Airlines jets, among other products, had tapped the group to create a commercial that would re-introduce the company to the community after a rebranding and, ultimately, encourage more prospective employees to walk through Acutec’s doors. Dawson, project manager for new product integration, would be one of the stars.

Acutec President and CEO Elisabeth Smith had worked with Allegheny students before and felt confident West, Loreno and Tang would bring the breadth of a liberal arts education to bear on the project.

“Who we look for (to work with) are people who think,” Smith said. “Allegheny students know how to think.”

The Acutec project is just one part of a larger multidisciplinary effort, still in the pilot stage, to create a student-run media agency at Allegheny that would connect students with local businesses and nonprofit organizations that need media, marketing and advertising services.

Vice President of College Relations Susan Salton proposed the idea of a student-run media agency when she came to Allegheny in 2015. Intrigued, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts/Theatre Julie Wilson started talking about the possibility with other faculty partners in and across departments.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase the creative talents of our students and serve the community in a real, tangible way at the same time,” Salton said. “Our students gain experience working with clients in professional settings, applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to the benefit of our region.”


Allegheny @ Acutec

The Acutec project started as a college-wide competition among groups of students interested in vying for the company’s business. Interdisciplinary groups of three students each pitched a storyboard and tagline. Tang, West and Loreno’s winning tagline? “It all starts here,” a nod to the region’s manufacturing roots and Acutec’s essential role in the supply chain creating individual parts that, pieced together, make the whole.

Once selected, the students were mentored to handle all the pre-planning and contract logistics. They hired a makeup artist and another person to help with some technical aspects of the shoot, scouted the Acutec’s Meadville and Saegertown plants, and shot the video over the course of several days

Tang relished the opportunity to put what she’d learned in her advertising and video production classes into practice.

“You get to have a real-life experience and talk to a client and get to know people. Why not take part?” she said. “It’s a very valuable experience, something I can talk about.”

They all felt pressure to deliver a quality product. The heightened expectations that came with working for a client gave the group “an opportunity to rise to the occasion,” West said.

“When you’re (working for) someone else, when you’re taking their time and their money, you want it to be that much better,” Loreno said of the video.

After a late-night scramble to the finish, the commercial debuted at a companywide breakfast on Feb. 8.

It was a success, Smith said.

“People really enjoyed it,” she said. “In terms of working with students, (the experience) was excellent. They were very professional.”

Associate Professor of Communication Arts/Theatre Ishita Sinha Roy ran the Acutec storyboard competition and worked with the students, along with Assistant Professor of Art Byron Rich.

The Acutec project and the larger media agency effort are “a great way to respond to the critics that say that the liberal arts are impractical,” Rich said. “The ideas and critical thinking skills that we foster here can be put into practice in the business world.”

Working on the commercial “empowered students to bring their ideas to life” and allowed them to take ownership of a project from start to finish, Sinha Roy said. The commercial and other projects that will fall under the media agency umbrella also help foster and strengthen ties between the college and community — and that’s a good thing for all involved, Sinha Roy said.

When students work for and within the community and learn the stories of its people, “suddenly your neighborhood starts to become friendlier and more well-known in your mind,” she said.

The Acutec video is not the only project of the nascent media agency, though it might be the most visible. A group of communication arts students working under the direction of Professor of Communication Arts/Theatre Michael Keeley have also filmed videos for the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center. And students working with Wilson and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Janyl Jumadinova developed a website and pitched a logo for an online food hub that, when launched, will connect restaurants and food wholesalers with local farmers.

Wilson stressed that the agency is still in very early stages of development. But if it’s successful, she said, it could be a model for business incubation that leverages the resources of the college to help promote economic development.

Wilson said she doesn’t know of many other colleges or universities similar to Allegheny doing that important work.

“If we get this up and running soon, we’ll be pretty cutting edge.”

Allegheny Senior Awarded Grant for Environmental Research

Allegheny College senior Alexandrea Rice has been awarded a Davey Foundation Annual Arbor Grant for her work in eco-friendly research. Rice is an environmental science major, with a focus in forest and soil science, and a geology minor.

“The award is a testament to Alex’s work as an undergraduate in (Professor) Rich Bowden’s lab on a green-industry approach to forestry and arboriculture,” says Scott Wissinger, chair of Allegheny’s Environmental Science Department.


Looking for a Health Coach? Try a Robot

Imagine a world where robots help those with special health needs continue living independently at home.

That’s what Assistant Professor of Computer Science Janyl Jumadinova and three of her research students are striving to do.

We’re not talking about robots like Rosie from “The Jetsons.” What Jumadinova and Allegheny students Almog Boanos ’17, Michael Camara ’17 and Victor Zheng ’17 are doing is creating a monitoring system consisting of multiple robots, wearable sensors and software that can provide personalized monitoring of a user’s well-being in his or her own home.

For example, if a person is at risk for falling or for having a stroke, the robots can be trained to follow this person and monitor certain parts of his or her condition, such as temperature, speed, location and blood pressure. If there is a sudden change in the data – signaling a life-threatening situation – the robots can send an emergency message to a caregiver’s computer or cell phone, or to a doctor’s office. They also can send a message to 911, if needed.

Caregivers or physicians outside the home also can have access to the health data, allowing for continuous monitoring.

“With the growing special-needs and aging baby-boomer population, paired with a deficit in caregivers, there is an increasing need for personalized care,” Jumadinova says. “I have always had an interest in developing life-enhancing technologies, so that’s where this idea originated.”

The system requires the user to wear a small sensor which monitors the person’s vital signs, the researchers explain.

“My job for this project was to make sure the information coming from the sensor was transmitting to a database, which then analyzes the different health conditions,” says Boanos, who is double majoring in neuroscience and computer science. “If anything changes rapidly, the robot can sense the change and create an event, like calling emergency personnel. The GPS device can even give the person’s location, so it can send an ambulance if needed.”

According to Jumadinova, the sensor can communicate wirelessly with the robot, which looks similar to a Roomba vacuum cleaner with a laptop on it. The base, called a Turtlebot, is on wheels so it can move at different speeds.

Also part of the unit are Kinect sensors, which are the same sensors used in the Xbox gaming system. These sensors allow the computer to “see” a picture of a human. They also allow the robot to detect the distance between itself and an object in front of it.

“The laptop is basically the brain of the robot, and the Kinect sensors are the camera,” says Zheng, who is majoring in computer science with minors in math and economics. “My job for this project was writing algorithms to establish a connection between the laptop and the robot. ”

The third student, Camara, worked behind-the-scenes this summer to develop what’s called a “text mining system.”

“The robots can collect data and analyze it to find long-term trends. The data is then saved in a database, which then can be processed by the text mining system,” Jumadinova says. “The idea is that the robots may not see long-term trends, but the text mining system can go through the long-term data and find any alarming trends, and then notify the robots, if needed, by sending them a message.”

Allegheny currently has four robots. When turning them on, Jumadinova says they must first travel around the room to create a map of it. The robot then will use the map to find the person it is tracking.

“Only one robot will follow a person at a time. And if it needs to charge itself, it can go directly to its docking station and call another robot to its location,” she says.

“The greatest challenge has been getting the robots to talk to each other,” Zheng adds. “But they now can communicate and tell each other to ‘come here’ if needed.”

A Long Way From Home
While growing up in Israel, Almog Boanos ’17 always knew he wanted to do something with computers. As he grew older, he also became interested in neuroscience.

As he started to research colleges, he couldn’t find one in Israel that would allow him to pursue both passions. That’s when he found Allegheny.

“The only neuroscience program available in Israel was for Ph.D. students. Then I found Allegheny, which would allow me to double major in both,” he says.

Boanos would like someday to use small computers to simulate different neurons and see how different chemical changes affect brain activity.

“Eventually, I’d like to work with the Blue Brain Project, which is an attempt to reverse engineer the human brain and re-create it at the cellular level inside a computer simulation,” he says. “I hope my background here can help me get there.”

The opportunity to do this type of hands-on research as an undergraduate is surprising, says Boanos. “We are given a lot of independence. But if you have any questions, the professors are always there. It’s really amazing to be working on something like this as a junior. I can see the power of computer science through this project.”

Applying what he has learned in his computer classes to this research is enjoyable. “To me, computer science is about using all the information you learn in class in a really creative way. And learning how to program gives you the ability to use your imagination to create whatever you want; you can create amazing things. I think this project is impressive – it will really affect people’s lives,” says Boanos.

What’s next for the project? Jumadinova says they will continue testing and refining the system. But she doesn’t plan to stop there.

“In addition to monitoring a person, we hope that our team of robots will be able to provide motivation for cognitive and physical exercises to the user by considering the history of the user’s daily tasks and coaching the person to fulfill appropriate tasks, such as taking medicine, exercising or being socially active,” she says. “I also hope to meet with those in the medical community to get a better understanding of various health conditions so we can tailor the robots to those conditions.

“So far, I haven’t seen any other systems out there using data from wearable sensors with robots in this continuous way,” she adds. “It’s exciting.”

Humanities Research Opens Students’ – and Professor’s – Eyes

Catherine LeBlanc and Leah Thirkill spent last summer reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).

Although you may picture them sitting by the beach leisurely paging through the novel, the scene and purpose for their reading was much different. Instead, the students were on campus conducting humanities research alongside Briana Lewis, assistant professor of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.

LeBlanc and Thirkill, both freshmen at the time, conducted this research as part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for Collaborative Undergraduate Research in the Humanities, a grant the College received in 2013. Each six- to 10-week grant supports student-faculty collaborative research in the humanities.

“Being on the Steering Committee and seeing the variety of projects encouraged me to think about how it could apply to my work,” Lewis explains. “In the foreign languages, we have an extra hurdle when involving students in research, because the students need to have the necessary language skills. I was motivated to create our own model of how this could work, and it ended up going very well.”

For their research project, Lewis tasked the students with reading Notre-Dame de Paris – in French – and looking for certain themes. The ultimate goal was to connect their findings with Lewis’ past research.

“The first week, we did a really intensive study on background information about author Victor Hugo and my past research,” Lewis says. “Then we spent four weeks reading and taking notes chapter by chapter. We studied themes such as women, vision, who’s seeing whom when and how that is gendered. It took other directions too, such as the ambiguity between the living and the dead. It was all interconnected.”

When LeBlanc, a French major and history minor, first learned about this research opportunity, she admits that she didn’t know how she would conduct humanities research.

“When you think about research, you usually think about microscopes and test tubes. Humanities is different, so I wondered what I really would be doing,” she says. “But I quickly learned valuable research skills. I had some previous experience analyzing text, but I had never done it with so large of a text with so much depth.”

“Research isn’t typically thought about in the languages. But this experience – as a freshman – allowed me to see what I can do with language in a master’s program or beyond,” adds Thirkill, who is double majoring in French and psychology.

Although the students are taking a break from their research this summer, they will be digging back into it this fall as they work with Lewis to prepare for a conference at Princeton University in November. According to Lewis, the conference, “the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium,” is the top conference for 19th century French studies in the country.

“I probably wouldn’t be presenting on Notre-Dame de Paris if it weren’t for the work Catherine and Leah did last summer,” Lewis says. “This was my first time doing summer research with students, and it pushed me in a different direction as a scholar. Their work definitely advanced my research.

“Working with Catherine and Leah also helped me as a teacher,” she adds. “In the fall, I am teaching a new research methods course for the modern languages department, and this experience has very much informed the way I will teach research at a much more student-focused level. I have a clearer sense of what I need to articulate in the form of a course.”

Learn more about student-faculty humanities research at Allegheny.

Faculty and Staff Present Work at Council on Undergraduate Research Conference

Several Allegheny faculty and staff recently presented at the Council on Undergraduate Research biennial conference held in Washington, D.C. Associate Professor of English Soledad Caballero and Professor of Art Amelia Carr presented a panel on “Finding Connections: Faculty and Undergraduate Collaborative Research in the Humanities,” and Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Lee Coates, Associate Professor of Psychology Aimee Knupsky, and Soledad Caballero presented the session “Scaffolding Experiences that Prepare Students for a Required Senior Research Project: Case Studies in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences.” In addition, Reference Librarian Cynthia Burton exhibited a poster titled “Fostering a Community of Scholarship in Humanities Undergraduate Research: A Modest Exercise.” Participation in this conference was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for Collaborative Undergraduate Research in the Humanities and the Cathy Forsyth McKeever ’63 Faculty Support Fund.

Senior Patricia Belle Presents Her Work on Cystic Fibrosis at Biomedical Research Conference

Patricia Belle ’14 presented her summer research, done at Case Western School of Medicine, at the 2013 national Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Nashville, Tennessee on November 13-16. ABRCMS is the largest professional conference for underrepresented minority students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Patricia gave a poster presentation in biochemistry on her research, titled “Mitochondrial Complex 1 Deficiency Leads to an Increase in Cystic Fibrosis Signaling Markers.” Her research involved testing various inhibitors and activators of the electron transport system to determine its role in creating oxidative stress in cystic fibrosis cells.

Faculty-Student Research on Aquaponics Is Focus of Two Presentations

Samantha Laurence ’14 and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science TJ Eatmon presented a poster titled “Aquaponics as an Integrative Context for Campus and Community Sustainability” at the 42nd Annual Conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education on October 10 in Baltimore. The presentation highlighted the ways in which the College’s aquaponics project has brought together various actors across the campus and community through education, research, campus operations, and community engagement projects. Samantha also gave a poster presentation titled “Food for Sustainability,” highlighting the activities of the aquaponics project, at the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium’s fall conference in Harrisburg on October 29. PERC recognized the project as a Pennsylvania Campus Sustainability Champion, advancing sustainability in Pennsylvania colleges and communities.

Junior Seminar Students Present Work on Community Health Needs Assessment

Students from Assistant Professor of Biology Becky Dawson’s Junior Seminar — Erica Bryson, Kevin Crooks, Hana Falein, Cailyn Lingwall, Mary Nagel, Kim Seymour, Paul Vojtek, and Alejandro Weil — presented “A Proposed Methodology for Conducting a Community Health Needs Assessment in Meadville, PA” at the Regional Science Consortium 9th Annual Research Symposium in Erie on November 7.

Coates, Homan and Stoner Present Research at Society for Neuroscience Meeting

Annie Homan ’13, Hudson Stoner ’13, and Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Lee Coates recently presented research at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting held in San Diego. The title of the presentation was “Vitamin A deficiency attenuates olfactory receptor neuron responses in mice.” Annie is a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Neuroscience, and Hudson is working at the National Institutes of Health for a couple of years before applying to PhD programs in neuroscience.